How to change the world through clothing choices
What was the idea and vision behind the creation of this project? We spoke with Mr. Hida, who is in charge of planning and designing for L∞PLUS in the Kurabo Textile Division, and Mr. Yamauchi, who is in charge of technology development, about the development of this project.


―Tell us about the original motive for starting L∞PLUS.


Hida: Kurabo's Textile Division has been promoting the "Human Friendly Concept" since 1993, which is the basic stance of manufacturing from the perspective of "people," "society," and "the earth," and has been practicing ethical approaches earlier than the current social trends. The specific impetus for this was when we began to think of ways to reuse the "cutting waste" that are produced during the cutting fabric process of making clothes. I wanted to somehow change the contradiction that, in an age where people are talking about sustainability and the SDGs, creating clothes still creates a lot of waste. It was around then that I met a customer who was willing to commercialize recycled clothing, and I was able to take the first step.


Yamauchi: Originally, there was a system in Japan to recycle unusable scraps into military gloves, floorcloths, duster, etc., and even overseas, there are companies that take in clothing that cannot be sold and reused. The point is that we focused on cutting wastes. In the past, cutting wastes were only used for invisible purposes, such as making felt for car interiors, and many of them were discarded in large quantities. L∞PLUS is an approach to upcycling cutting wastes by categorizing them into different colors and products. I believe that Kurabo's delicate product management and more than 100 years of history have made it possible to realize this project.


Can you tell us about the process used for recycling the cutting wastes?


Hida: To explain briefly, first, we separate the cutting wastes by color and use a special facility to turn them back into soft cotton, which is the raw material for the fabric used in clothing (reopened fiber). These are then collected and turned into yarn through the spinning process, which is then recycled into fabric. After that, the knitting process for knitted fabrics, which are used to make T-shirts and sweatshirts, and the weaving process for woven fabrics, which consist of warp and weft yarns and are used for pants and jackets, are carried out both in Japan and overseas.


Yamauchi: The yarn used in commonly available clothing is made from fibers of a certain length, and when the cutting wastes from these fibers are made into cotton and then into yarn, the fibers become shorter and shorter. If there are too many short fibers, the yarn will not be strong enough to be used in products, and the fabric will become bumpy and uncomfortable to wear. Therefore, the technical challenge was how to remove the short fibers in the process. We probably conducted more than 100 tests to remove the short fibers. Also, as L∞PLUS comes in a variety of colors, we had to set up an independent L∞PLUS test line and production line in the factory to keep it separate from other products. We also devised an air conditioning system in the factory to prevent the colored fibers from being blown around by the wind and going to other lines.


Can you tell us about the features and advantages of L∞PLUS?


Hida: One is the soft and gentle texture that is created by reopening the cutting wastes. It’s difficult to control the color of the cutting wastes because they come in a variety of colors at different times. Therefore, at L∞PLUS, we dared not completely control the colors, but leave the result to chance. Dark blue is dark blue, but it is slightly different every time. We believe that this one-time coloration is a characteristic of recycled materials, which consumers enjoy, and we work with customers who are open to a certain degree of color variation. We believe that the unique texture and color of L∞PLUS will become one of the key components of new ethical fashion.


Yamauchi: When it comes to color, we try to create new colors from a limited number of base colors, and we are constantly developing new ones. For example, we mix yellow and blue to create a new color, improve and develop the spinning method of colored reopened cotton to create a new and unique mixed texture, and twist two yarns together.


Hida: Through this kind of development approach, I would like to eventually update the tarnished motto of "ethical fashion" itself. Wearing L∞PLUS naturally leads to participation in solving social problems. I think that is the best added value.


Tell us about the vision you have for L∞PLUS and what you see for the future.

肥田:L∞PLUSが、社会そのものをアップサイクルさせる一つの入り口になってほしいなと思っています。今まで捨てられてきた素材が服になり、また商品になるというアップサイクルの仕組みが完成したら、それはまさしく「着ることで世界を変えられる」ということなんじゃないか、と。 もちろん、これはクラボウ単体で取り組んでも達成できません。ブランドや流通業者、小売業者やユーザーなど、服に関わる全ての人たちが環境配慮への意識をもって参加してもらうことで、初めて達成できることだと思っています。そういう意味では、L∞PLUSは単なる素材ではなく、クラボウがみなさんと一緒に作り出す、壮大な参加型プロジェクトだとも言えるかもしれません。L∞PLUSを通じて、持続可能な世界に貢献していくことが、これからの“カッコよさ”なんだと伝えていきたいですね。

Hida: I hope that L∞PLUS becomes a gateway to upcycling society itself. If we can create an upcycling system where materials that used to be thrown away can be turned into clothes and then into products again, it would mean that we can change the world by wearing clothes. Of course, this cannot be achieved by Kurabo alone. I believe that this can only be achieved if everyone involved in the clothing industry, including brands, distributors, retailers, and consumers, participate with an awareness of environmental issues. In that sense, L∞PLUS is not just a material, but a grand participatory project that Kurabo has created together with you. L∞PLUS is a way to show that contributing to a sustainable world is the future of "coolness.”