In 1993, Susan Lyons, then Creative Director of Designtex, a New York-based textile company, decided to develop a collection of ecological fabrics. But, at that time, no one knew exactly what a “green” fabric should be. Should it be made of recycled materials, recyclable materials, natural fibers? What was the best direction?
Late that year, Lyons contacted William McDonough, an architect and leader in the field of sustainable design, to get his input.
McDonough proposed the concept of “Waste=Food” as a guiding principle for her design solution. Lyons and McDonough set a goal of making a “consumable” product that, when used or discarded, would turn into soil without any harmful side effects. A partnership then emerged between Designtex, McDonough and his colleague, the chemist Michael Braungart, and the Swiss mill Rohner, to develop a biological-nutrient upholstery that would later be called Climatex®.
Following the “waste=food” principle, the upholstery was designed to break down and return safely to the earth after its useful life. In order to achieve this, every input had to be analyzed, from the raw materials (wool and ramie, a natural plant fiber) to the dyestuffs and other process chemicals used in weaving.
Braungart invited sixty different chemical companies to collaborate on the project. All but one—Ciba-Geigy—declined, reluctant to disclose their formulations to such scrutiny. With Ciba-Geigy’s help Braungart analyzed over 8,000 chemical formulations commonly used in textile production, and then selected a mere 38 that he deemed safe for human and environmental health. These were the dyes and process chemicals allowed to be used in the production of Climatex® upholstery.