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New Blue. Novel material of recycled denim – first steps in the collaboration with Re-Fream.

Material and product designer Tim van der Loo and techno-anthropologist Sandra Nicoline Nielsen entered the ReFREAM collaboration based on a very simple idea. The co-research idea is to build on an existing fabric created as part of the circular garment project New Blue, further developing the material with treatments and finishes.

Tim and Sandra proposed to co-create sustainable finishings for a new garment range. The starting point for this is the aesthetics of an embroidered jeans fiber fleece while also exploring a variety of finishes such as different colours, coatings, lasers, and, if possible, different embroidery patterns.

New Blue is a circular denim fiber system in which old jeans are recycled and transformed into a new type of cotton material. New Blue offers a sustainable and truly circular alternative to the vast denim production and consumption of today. 

Specifically in terms of minimizing water consumption New Blue offers an unconventional approach (See, for example, Ravasio, P. (7 March 2012) How Can We Stop Water Becoming a Fashion Victim?, The Guardian (online).  https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/water-scarcity-fashion-industry). The life-cycle impacts of a pair of jeans are measured to have a total water impact of over 3,700 litres. This is per pair! (See Weetman, C. (2017) A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains – Repair, remake, redesign, rethink. Kogan Page: London). 54 percent of the total water footprint of a pair of jeans is related to the manufacturing process (farming, fabric, cutting, sewing, finishing). The independence from virgin materials for the basic material (only the thread is based on virgin organic cotton) allows New Blue to abruptly change the status quo of jeans production. The small amount of water used in manufacturing New Blue textiles can be used over and over. 

The process of making New Blue Textiles:

To begin the process, discarded jeans – serving as a raw material – are cut into small fibers and then bonded to form a fleece. Two different manufacturing routes have been explored, each with their own unique qualities, leading to two distinct products. The first is an industrially-produced non-woven fabric which has a homogenous, uniform surface, offering more consistency. The second is a self-produced, “crafted” non-woven fabric which appears irregular, rough and textured, giving room for individual expression.


The video shows the process of creating the handcrafted textile in Berlin. The two artists have been occupied with getting the textiles ready for the planned tryouts in Alcoy, Spain. After the sheets of New Blue Craft have dried, they will be embroidered and sent off to Spain.

Zero waste:

New Blue offers moreover a novel way to form defined areas on a fabric roll. Digitally-aided industrial embroidery is applied to the fleece which both creates a stable fabric and also generates the cut-patterns needed for the final piece of clothing, thus rationalising the production process from fibers to garment.  

The embroidered areas of the fleece remain intact when exposed to water, whereas the non-embroidered parts disintegrate. These loose denim fibers can be reused as raw material, while the embroidered parts remain stable and can be sewn together without further cutting, establishing a circular production method with zero waste. 

Background story:

New Blue began as a Master graduation project at Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin in 2018. The following year the project was selected for the DesignFarmBerlin, a 9-month entrepreneurial program for promising graduates. Additionally, New Blue has been awarded with the Young Talent Prize in The German Federal Ecodesign Award 2020.

The project is a collaboration with Textilhafen, part of the charitable organisation Berliner Stadtmission, who sort and distribute clothing donations to those in need or to be sold to raise funds. The large volume of unwearable and unusable denim, which would otherwise be wasted, allows for a continuous input of material for New Blue. 

Kicking off in collaboration with ReFREAM: 

The 12th and 13th of January the collaboration with ReFREAM began with a kick off meeting. Tim and Sandra met with their future collaboration partners to start co-defining and co-researching. Aitex, the Textile Research Institute, and Care Application, both in Alcoy, will be offering the expertise and state-of-the-art technologies needed to further develop sustainable finishings of the material. 

At the meeting different technologies were presented and hereafter the artists had the chance to engage directly with the experts. Tim and Sandra established with Aitex and Care Applications the minimum requirements for textile amounts. Moreover, which tests to start with, and on which material. 

First step is to start with the Ozone treatment at Aitex, which lightens the colour of the material, and hereafter to use the Nebulization technology at Care Applications to try out different colourings and coatings. There will be set time aside in between for the artists to do research on which finishings would be the most sustainable to use. How the material reacts to laser treatment will also be tried out.

At the moment the materials are being produced, and hopefully they will soon be ready to send to Alcoy in Spain, where the artists, Tim and Sandra, will be working together with the experts in the spring. First step is to see how the material reacts to the treatments, hereafter to settle on a few of the best options, and proceed to develop a few garments. 

Overall the Kick Off Meeting with the ReFREAM partners secured a feasible strategy through dialogue and a proper introduction to the technologies available in the Hub.


CRE - Wolfgang
Author: CRE - Wolfgang

Wolfgang is communication manager for Re-FREAM and project manager at CREATIVE REGION Linz & Upper Austria.