Recyclable Alternatives to Waterproof Breathable Textiles

A drop of water sitting on top of a piece of grey woven fabric in close-up
Waterproof breathable textiles repel water and allow sweat to pass through. Image: Amphibio

Waterproof breathable textiles (WBTs) are ubiquitous in the outdoor apparel sector. They offer high levels of performance so consumers can spend hours facing the elements, but they are also very difficult to recycle and use chemicals with negative environmental impacts. Working with Future Fashion Factory researchers, Amphibio is developing a fully recyclable, sustainable alternative to existing WBTs.

Customers look for WBTs to keep them dry and comfortable whatever the weather. To do this the materials usually consist of at least a woven layer bonded together with a membrane, so that the fabric repels the water whilst the membrane lets sweat pass through.

The challenge is that the layers are usually made from different materials. To recycle a garment using one of these WBTs means having to separate each layer – a time-consuming, resource-intensive process which often makes it very costly to turn used outerwear into new products.

When recycling is prohibitively expensive or technically impossible, used WBTs contribute to the huge quantities of waste textiles sent to landfill or incineration every year. Given that existing products are usually made with chemicals such as PFCs which release harmful chemicals into the air when incinerated, this leads to significant impacts on the environment.

Amphibio was founded by RCA graduate Jun Kamei to solve this challenge by developing a WBT where both layers were made of the same novel material, offering a fully recyclable alternative to existing options.

To take the startup’s original fibre and turn it into a viable product, Amphibio collaborated with Professor Stephen Russell, Dr Mark Taylor and Dr Ioana Taylor at the University of Leeds.

“My background is in materials and in water-repellency, but we really needed that input on the fibre and woven side,” says Jun. “This project gave us access to the knowledge, technical capabilities and support from the experts to fill that gap.”

A length of loose white fibres coming out of a white woven sleeve
The project turned the original fibres into a viable product. Image: Amphibio

The researchers worked with Amphibio to refine the fibre and explore process to improve its performance, ensuring the new product could match the same high quality standards as existing materials. This in turn laid the groundwork for a new prototype of the company’s three-layer WBT, Amphitex.

Brands can now use the prototype to test and trial Amphitex for their own collections, but Amphibio has also started to demonstrate how the material can be used in a range of outerwear pieces. Leeds manufacturer Reshore Apparel consulted with the team on the construction of prototype garments.

“Seeing how the Amphitex thread moves through the material showed us where we can refine the product,” Jun explains. “We can measure individual components to make sure we’re a market leader in performance as well as sustainability.”

With Amphibio on the verge of bringing a new recyclable WBT to market, the project partners are still collaborating. For now, the priorities are on upscaling production to meet demand from large brands, as well as trialling end-of-life technologies to identify how recycled Amphitex can be used in new products.

“We’re now ready to be interesting to brands and get some initial trials going,” Jun adds. “It’s amazing that in a year we’ve gone from that fibre to something that actually looks like sportswear!”