Innovation grant supports sustainable textile making

The Walmart Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors announced Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C., that Cornell is a 2016 U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund grant recipient for breakthroughs in textile manufacturing processes, specifically for no-waste apparel design and finding inventive ways to use post-consumer textile waste.

Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design faculty members Tasha Lewis and Anil Netravali have developed a strategy to significantly reduce energy and water needs associated with textile production and create an additional revenue stream from reclaimed apparel.

“Our project aims to reduce the consumption of natural resources to create virgin textiles. And we’re also trying to divert used and unwanted clothing away from landfills – all the while putting textiles to better use as a raw material,” said Lewis.

“A lot of water is consumed during the textile dyeing and finishing processes, so if we find new ways to use discarded textiles, that’s water and landfill use we save,” explained Lewis. “The fabric-shredding machine called Fiberizer – developed as a proof-of-concept with Anil Netravali, through funding from Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Futuretransforms textile waste to make it usable for other products. So, we’ll apply this U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund grant to develop an industrial-grade Fiberizer for small and medium-sized businesses.”

Netravali added: “The Fiberizer opens up the possibility of a ‘zero-waste’ solution.”

Cornell is among five universities that received grants to create new manufacturing technologies and reduce the cost of producing goods in the U.S. – with the goal of creating jobs and expanding America’s manufacturing base.

Tasha Lewis
Anil Netravali

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 attended the national conference and supported Cornell’s bid for the grant, explaining how Lewis and Netravali established strong links with Ithaca entities involved with recycling textiles, such as SewGreen, All County Used Clothes and Catholic Charities. “While the project has local implications, it also relates to … the larger apparel manufacturing sector ... in New York,” said Myrick. “This engagement aligns with the core land-grant mission of Cornell University and is a perfect representation of how the research activity on campus can serve the immediate needs of the community.”

The fund was formed to provide a total of $10 million in grants over the course of five years, with a focus on advancing the production or assembly of consumer U.S. products. This is the second round of Walmart grants.

“Through these grants we hope to help remove the barriers to revitalizing and growing U.S. apparel manufacturing while creating more sustainable production processes,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and chief sustainability officer for Walmart. “The U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund is part of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation’s broader commitment to foster new economic growth and opportunity and create stronger communities.”

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Melissa Osgood