Having grown up in the landlocked state of Vermont, I never really had any connection with the ocean. All this changed when I joined the Parley for the Oceans project in April 2015 – just before adidas presented a prototype shoe made from ocean plastic at the United Nations in New York. There, we as a sportswear company committed to turning that concept into a consumer-ready product within a year, while I took on one of the most exciting and challenging projects of my career.
My role in the Parley for the Oceans project is pretty fundamental when it comes to this shoe: I was responsible for turning gillnets retrieved from the water by Parley partner Sea Shepherd into a workable material which would essentially become part of the shoe’s upper.
One of the textile suppliers involved in the Parley project was very interested to see if they could help us, since they were also interested in the concept of recycling fishing nets. At first, they weren’t sure if they’d be able to assist due to the type of nylon, but they were more than happy to see what they could do. Since this was something we’d never done ourselves, we took all the help we could get!
It was now fall 2015 and we only had a few months to secure workable yarn and the pressure was on – if the yarn failed we had almost no time to recover!
Cleaning the gunk from the junk
For our supplier to be able to work on the raw material, test and produce it, it needed to be clean… and they needed 150kg of it. Manually unpacking the cords, shaking out the ocean gunk, and hand washing and drying the material took forever, believe me, so one of my colleagues suggested using a washing machine. Pretty simple idea, but we weren’t sure how it would work out, so off I went to the local laundromat with one small box of netting and it worked! Now all we needed to do was expand the scale of this operation to 150kg of the stuff.
One thing’s for sure: I’m pretty certain none of this was in my job description!
The feeling of success
Fast forward again to January of this year and I finally got the email I was waiting for: the yarn trial was successful!
I received a sample of the most beautiful teal green yarn. I made everyone look at it, I told my children about it (who frankly didn’t get what was so exciting about it!), I oohed and ahhed over it. It is quite beautiful, though I may be a little bit biased!
Now that we have the understanding and the knowhow which could potentially provide the solutions for future manufacturing processes, we’re in a pretty good place to further enhance our operations in the future.
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What I’ve taken from this project
This project has been really exciting for a couple of reasons. First off, I am really a “hands-on” sort of person – I am happiest in the lab trying to solve a problem. I’ve also loved getting back to my textile education and feeling the grassroots-ness of this all.
Also, I read recently that an organization tested fish from every ocean and it turned out that every single one of them had plastic in its system. This really brought things home to me, as we eat a lot of fish at home – this has gotten personal.
To get a better idea of how waste is affecting our planet, watch this Parley Talk on YouTube.
The harder we work on getting waste out of the waters through initiatives such as Parley for the Oceans and making the process of creating products out of it more affordable, the better chance we have of growing this program and the greater the impact will be on our environment.
We have succeeded in creating something quite spectacular out of trash, but in an ideal world we shouldn’t need to.
Want to know more about the Parley movement? Click here.