From birch to fabric – new steps in the collaborative Ioncell™ project

Marimekko is engaged in a research project led by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki with the aim of developing a birch-cellulose fiber made with the Ioncell™ solvent method. Fabric made from the Ioncell™ fiber is biodegradable, and no harmful chemicals are used in the manufacture of the fiber. The solvent used in the process is reusable, which reduces the environmental impacts of the fiber’s production.

Marimekko first tested the printability of a fabric made of Ioncell™ fibers in 2016, and in a recent project in fall 2019, the tests were extended with a further developed solvent that is fully recyclable. An Ioncell™ fabric woven with a lyocell warp was printed with the ever-popular Unikko (poppy) pattern with good results and, after the printing, the fabric was tested for a variety of properties, including resistance to washing and abrasion, in the textile laboratory operating in conjunction with Marimekko’s printing factory. In addition, a dress was sewn out of the printed fabric and tested in use to obtain valuable data on the material’s suitability for clothing. The dress proved pleasant to wear, and the fabric washed well. The first prototype dress in the Ioncell™ fabric was made in 2014 and presented by Marimekko in its fashion show in Helsinki Central Railway Station.

Next, Aalto University intends to set up a small pilot factory where the innovation can be tested on the scale required for commercial production.

Demand for new ecological materials is growing constantly, as consumers want to make ever more sustainable choices. The Ioncell™ fiber with a beautiful luster is promising thanks not only to its ecological qualities but also its strength – it is stronger than earlier cellulose-based fibers, such as viscose, or cotton.

Marimekko believes in the power of cooperation between different actors, research institutes and companies, in developing and commercializing new more ecological materials. Marimekko’s in-house printing factory is a great asset to its collaboration projects, as it provides facilities for experimenting with innovations and testing new materials in an industrial environment. Marimekko’s solid design know-how and fashion and textile industry expertise are also helpful in developing new materials that meet consumers’ quality and sustainability requirements. On the other hand, participation in research projects provides Marimekko an opportunity to be among the first to utilize the latest innovations in the industry.

Timelessness, sustainability and recyclability are qualities required of successful textile industry products in the future. At Marimekko, timeless product design has always been the core of its business and the mainstay of its sustainability thinking.