A Letter from Our Founder: Reflecting Upon 2019
What a year. Thank you to all who have believed in this project. We are ever grateful for your support, advice, excitement, and encouragement. As 2019 comes to an end, we’d like to reflect on what we achieved in the last year. Let’s take a look. Photos are included below.
Summer 2019 Prototyping
I spent this last summer building our third prototype in my garage at home. For three months, I modified the machine, trying to process plastic water bottles made of PET. Although the machine functioned, I was unable to produce filament. Burnt black ink would ooze out and fumes would fill the air. It was a three-month battle, and I went back to school in September still not having produced consistent filament. It was only until this November in speaking to a polymer specialist that we confirmed just how hard it is to process PET without additives and fillers.
A Successful Pivot
In coming back to school, a new idea came to mind. College campuses are the biggest users of Red Solo Cups. The US uses 7.4 billion Solo Cups annually. We reassembled the machine back at school, replaced some parts, and processed red solo cups. It worked on the very first run.
We believe we have found our niche in something special. Solo Cups are truly the epitome of “single-use plastic.” Since October 4th, 2019, about a year after I first had the idea to start The New Norm, we started consistently producing filament that can be woven into fabric. We put together our pilot program, The Red Solo Cup Project, that will launch in the spring on the Johns Hopkins University campus.
We will collect, decontaminate, process, make filament, and weave fabric out of Red Solo cups. This small project will build the foundation and teach us what is necessary to scale up. We want to expand to other colleges in the surrounding area next year. Our goal is to eventually manage Baltimore recyclables in the next three years.
And the most exciting news yet: we wove our first samples! The fabric is 50% our solo cup filament (weft) and 50% bamboo/recycled cotton yarn (warp). In the spring, we aim to make a filament suitable for a warp and make a sample that is from 100% recycled plastic.
An Opportunity Ahead of Us
We believe we are about to see a revolution in fashion. In the last year, articles have come pouring out talking about how the fashion industry is now the 2nd largest polluting industry after oil and gas. All of a sudden, fast fashion brands from H&M to luxury brands like Gucci have launched huge initiatives to transition to sustainably made fabrics. Industry specialists that we’ve spoken to believe that one day, all synthetic fibers will be made from recycled materials. The rate of that transition is the variable we hold in our hands.
65% of apparel globally is made from synthetic fabrics. To give a sense of scale, the polyester industry has grown consistently at a rate of 7% per year globally since 1990 and now represents half of the total global fiber market (of both man-made and natural fibers). If the predictions prove to be true, one day we will see all 80 million tons of polyester produced from new chemicals annually transition to being made from recyclables. We believe we are still at the forefront of an untouched opportunity.
Plans for Next Year
I will be working on this venture full time after I graduate in May 2020. The company will work alongside the undergraduates on our team that will continue our project within the university sphere. In September 2019, we became an official design team in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Johns Hopkins University. The business will operate alongside continued research and development performed at Johns Hopkins.
Over the last year, we’ve interviewed consumers and apparel companies. The responses even surprised us. People truly want easily accessible, well-priced clothing made from recycled materials. It is our job to make this type of fabric available. We want to see the day when all synthetic fibers are no longer made from new chemicals but are made from the waste we produce. We want to be The New Norm.