By guest author Kirsi Niinimäki, Associate Professor in design at Aalto University
Last year, Finland’s most watched event got a dose of nature. Jenni Haukio, the spouse of Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, wore a gown made of 100 per cent birch-based fabric to the annual Independence Day reception.
When Haukio’s choice of evening gown was announced, it raised considerable interest: what exactly is this material that was used to make the most important dress in Finland? The textile in question was Ioncell-F, an innovation that holds considerable promise also at a societal level. This new innovation has the potential to bring the textile manufacturing industry back to these shores, having long succumbed to lower cost countries on the other side of the globe.
Newspaper headlines suggested that the gown set the stage for Finland’s next 100 years. With such high expectations resting on its shoulders, can this material innovation be the new Nokia – something that has a significant impact on societal wellbeing in Finland?
Whilst there certainly is promise in the air for this, it is good to remember that several material innovations are under development also in other countries. It is a matter of waiting and seeing who will have a commercial breakthrough. The race which country will land a big investment to scale up their material innovation is tight, and hopefully several of these innovations will also find success at a commercial level. Yet, in Finland, having a technology, which can use local material sources – wood, of course – is extremely important.
Helping push these innovations further is the fact that the world needs alternative material sources to boost the textile industry. There is simply not enough material to sustain growth. Therefore, closing the material loop and using textile waste streams as a valuable source for new fibres needs to be investigated. Ioncell-F technology, which is an environmentally friendly way to produce textile material, can be used while processing cotton or paper waste materials to high-quality regenerated fibres.
This aspect promises that the technology could be one of the game-changing innovations for a better industrial future. It also propels Finnish knowhow and multidisciplinary collaboration to the status of global forerunner. It sets the scene for those in our wake, who want to change their innovative approach in a collaborative setting while aiming for breakthroughs, which have not only commercial success but also societal importance.