- Founders: Cédric Vanhoeck, Vanessa Counaert
- Founded in: 2017
- Employees: 12 (6 full time)
- Money raised: Among others: La Maison des Start-ups by LVMH/France, Desigual Awesome Lab/Spain, Respond BMW Foundation/Germany, Fashion for Good/Netherlands, Global Change Award/Sweden; Sales: yes.
- Ultimate goal: To become the new ecological standard in the fashion industry and reduce its CO2 emissions to 1 million tons per year by 2040
In the fashion industry, processes start very slowly, but once they start moving, they get going quickly, says Davidson Leite, spokesperson for Belgian startup Resortecs. The start-up presented an end-to-end solution for recycling in the fashion industry in 2018. This was despite the fact that co-founder Cédric Vanhoeck was actually aiming for his own fashion label. But while studying at the Fashion Academy of Antwerp, Belgium, he was confronted with the pressing problems of the fashion industry and refused to accept them. By then, he had a master’s degree from the Delft University of Technology and decided to drop out and establish a circular economy that would eliminate overproduction and overconsumption and reduce CO2 emissions.
In this episode of the Start-up of the Day series, Davidson talks about the solution Cédric developed – and the challenges it faced.
What motivates you?
The recycling rate in the fashion industry is still very low. This is because recycling has to be done manually and is too costly to be profitable. Therefore, some garments are not recycled at all or only in parts. In the case of jeans, for example, only the legs of the pants are recycled because the body consists of so many seams that it is not even disassembled.
A second option is to mechanically disassemble – i.e., shred – the garments to be recycled. In this process, however, the fibers become so short that they are no longer suitable for closed-loop recycling and can only be reused in downcycling.
These are the existing methods that Cédric wanted to replace with his innovation. In 2018, the time had come: he patented two products in crucial markets: Smart Stitch, a sewing thread that dissolves when exposed to heat, and Smart Disassembly, an oven-like thermal disassembly system that facilitates textile recycling. These two innovations make recycling possible on an industrial scale for the first time in the fashion industry.
Can you describe how your innovation works?
With Smart Stitch, we have developed a sewing thread that is no different from conventional sewing threads in terms of appearance, feel, and performance. It is available in different types, which have different melting temperatures. This makes it suitable for various substances, products, and applications.
With our large Smart Disassembly industrial oven, the process of disassembly can be done without manual intervention. The furnace is operated without oxygen, thus no fire is involved and there is no oxidation. This allows the oven to operate at temperatures of up to 190 degrees Celsius. High temperatures are necessary because the seams should not disintegrate when the end users iron their clothes or put them in the dryer. The oven is energy-efficient to operate because it operates in a closed-loop system and the heat, once generated, can be used again and again.
I like to use an analogy and compare Resortecs to the Nespresso model: the sewing thread is the capsule and the intelligent disassembly of the clothing is the machine. Combined, the system allows for easy recycling – and without touching the quality and design possibilities.
What was the biggest stumbling block you faced?
There were a lot of them (laughs) and there still are. But in the meantime, it has become much easier. For a long time, it was difficult to explain to companies in the fashion industry why a circular economy is so important, even in 2018, after we won the H&M Global Change Award. In the meantime, we have so many requests that we can hardly respond to all of them. We did a project with H&M in 2021, last summer with Bershka, and currently with Decathlon. The big companies have realized that it is high time to respond to the European Union’s Green Deal and related legislation. In addition, cotton prices have recently skyrocketed. Global warming and Covid-19 have led to a shortage of raw materials, presenting manufacturing companies with a new reality in which a circular economy is an attractive option.
How does the collaboration work?
It depends on the individual agreement. But basically, we can offer fashion companies the sewing thread together with the smart disassembly process, the latter being offered for a price per kilo. In addition, we also offer recycling-as-a-service. For this, we cooperate with a Europe-wide network of recyclers and link them with companies. We also have various contracts with recyclers. But basically, they have the option of integrating our oven into their space and having our team operate it. As soon as the goods come out of the oven, they can send them for recycling. They agree on the conditions for recycling with the fashion companies, who remain the owners of the goods through the whole process, and have different options. Sorted and high-quality merchandise is in demand on the market. So they could sell them or reprocess them into fiber, yarn, fabric, and garments to close the loop. This is also interesting since some brands often have large quantities of unsold goods at the end of the season – up to 40 percent. Until now, this is often just burned.
So we’re not just selling the sewing thread and the oven, but also the network and our expertise.
What accomplishments have made you proud?
I think everyone on the team would answer that differently. But the most recent major achievement was certainly being accepted into the European Innovation Council 2022 Accelerator. We were one of a total of 74 startups selected and received funding of €2.5 million. In addition, we are still in talks with the European Investment Bank about equity investments. This is great recognition of our innovation against the backdrop of a fashion industry that does not yet have a viable solution. At the same time, it shows that promoting a circular economy is a high priority in the European Union.
Where would you like to be with Resortecs in five years?
When I joined Resortecs a year and a half ago, I was the third full-time employee. We are now starting 2023 with a team of 15 full-time employees. That’s exponential growth that has been driven by high demand from the industry. We are in currently in negotiations with some of the largest companies not only in the fashion industry but also in the furniture and automotive industries. We are just moving from a nice-to-have to a must-have position. Companies are starting to realize that they need to start now so that in two years they can meet the minimum legal recycling rate and continue to produce at the same pace.
What makes your innovation better or different than existing things?
Currently, there is only manual and mechanical disassembly of clothing to be recycled. There is no automatic disassembly of high quality at an industrial scale yet. That means we don’t have a competitor with comparable performance – and when I say performance, I mean environmental performance.
For example, Coats, one of the largest sewing thread producers, has developed a sewing thread that is water-soluble. But the company only offers sewing thread – and the technology loses its eco-friendly character when applied on an industrial scale because you have to wash the garments to be recycled in industrial laundries and a chemical compound is involved that leads to water pollution.
Cédric has thought the problem through to the end and can offer the whole process. We also work with a sustainability officer with a PhD who specializes in life cycle analysis. Therefore, we know the impact of our products and know that we can significantly improve the environmental footprint using Smart Stitch with Smart Disassembly as well as the right recycling process. Specifically, we can save 50 percent of CO2 emissions, 80 percent of waste and 98 percent of water consumption. Just for a pair of jeans that weighs about 400 grams, we can reduce CO2 emissions by seven kilograms. That’s quite a lot – and something that no one but us can currently accomplish. We set ourselves apart by combining industrial optimization with environmental performance. On our team, no one can make a decision without factoring in the environmental impact.
Last but not least, we also provide communication support to the companies that integrate our solution. We do this to avoid greenwashing. Companies should publicize nothing more and nothing less than the benefits of our technology.
Title photo: French sporting goods giant Decathlon partnered with Resortecs to develop a jacket sewn with Smart Stitch sewing thread (c) Decathlon – Resortecs
Want to read more posts about start-ups? You can find more episodes of this series here.