Renewable Matter # 17 / July-August

What Have a Wheel and a Jacket Got in Common?

by Federico Pedrocchi

I interviewed Filippo Servalli, from Radici Group, a company boasting frontier innovations in the textile field. He told me about a new product, a sports jacket made of just one material.

This means that, when no longer used, the jacket is completely recyclable thanks to some simple operations which restore the initial raw material. And it does not look bad either. This is a fundamental step because circularity must not produce suffering.

This product can even think of epistemologically, that is, considering how ideas are produced in the scientific-technological field. It may seem an incredibly tough way to think about it, but it can be translated more simply this way. Developing innovation involves a mental journey – not always, but typically, in the most important cases – which can be defined as changing outlook. Take the wheel. Someone must have understood, perhaps observing a mass which was rolling down a hill, that if an object, or rather, a weight, lays on the ground only in part, then there is minimum friction and the weight becomes an engine. Cubic masses do not roll off embankments. The wheel works because its roundness touches the ground minimally. 

So, just like the times when pumps extracted water from the British coal mines (at the beginning of the 19th century, in order to build the immense fleet’s ships – the tallest trees remaining in Great Britain were daisies and people were dying from the cold) they realised that a steam piston creating a vacuum in a cylinder could become a contraption for moving wheels.

Servalli told me that, on average, there are 25 different materials in today’s jackets. Thinking about wearing one means looking at all existing technologies as tools for producing variations with the same composition, like a Bach fugue, and the composition is one single material. This approach opens up a land of enormous proportions for Research and Development.

And it is here that something particular, very cultural, and very psychological occurs. I do not believe there will be problems accepting mono-material jackets. Let us consider a high-end car, on the other hand. It contains leather, fine textiles, root wood, various metals, and so on. That is the interiors. But what about if we could process a polymer to transform it so it appears to be root? What about yachts, not necessarily those owned by Russian magnates, but the ones where we find stiffened camel ears used as door handles? How would that work?

This is not a new matter. A few decades ago it appeared in the art production field. Obviously, the artistic message behind a Donatello sculpture is perfectly conserved in a great copy. Even more so in many modern art productions, where a high-definition photograph provides perfect visions, why should the creative message evaporate just because we can tell its a copy? 

As we have been saying for some time, we do not have a copy of the planet, and so we should find all the innovative ways for preserving the original. So I think that we should develop basic research directed, without immediately evaluating its applications, at identifying the variations of the composition of a single material, as I said before. Very free and across-the-board, exploring all the hues from soft to stiff – this is the essence of the jacket – from rough to smooth, from temperatures -X to +X, for all possible alchemies.

Material science should be committed to moving in this direction. Without, however, neglecting all the others where significant results are being produced. 



Radici Group,