Walmart, unspun partner on 3D fabric weaving technology

Walmart is kicking off a pilot project with unspun, a fashion tech company using the world’s first 3D weaving technology. If successful, the collaboration could help reduce the environmental impact of garment production, offer a more sustainable process to meet apparel demand and support the companies’ shared commitment to shift more textile manufacturing back to the United States. Out of its micro factory in Oakland, Calif., unspun claims its technology is designed to more quickly and efficiently transform yarn into garments.

The pilot project directly addresses concerns about waste in the apparel industrya significant global challengedriven primarily by fabric loss from traditional flat weaving, cutting and garment assembly, and from discarded extra inventory built to meet growing consumer demand and fashion trends. These issues, combined with the emissions generated from transporting garments and fabrics supplied offshore, have created demand for more sustainable apparel manufacturing supply chain solutions.

“At Walmart, we are laser-focused on bringing innovation to our supply chain to better serve our customers and solve industry challenges, and unspun has the potential to do just that,” said Andrea Albright, executive vice president of sourcing at Walmart. “The technology we are piloting with unspun has the potential to unlock more skilled job creation in the US, meet consumer demand for locally made garments and deliver on our commitment for greater transparency and sustainability in our apparel supply chain.”

[Read more: Pharmacy Innovator of the Year 2021: Walmart connects with communities]

In the pilot project, the two companies will explore how unspun’s 3D weaving machines can be used to make workwear style pants under a Walmart house brand. With 3D weaving, yarn is spun directly into completed garments. Traditionally, yarn is woven into one-dimensional fabrics, which are then cut and assembled into garmentscreating waste and taking significant time and multiple manufacturing steps. The 3D weaving process is different from commonly known 3D printing, which creates a physical object from a digital design by laying down thin layers of liquid or powdered plastic, metal or cement.

The two companies aspire to deepen the collaboration into later phases should the pilot prove successful. Unspun, in collaboration with a manufacturing partner, hopes to eventually deploy additional microsites around the US for on- and near-shored manufacturing, with locations to be determined. Unspun has an ambition to have 350 machines in the US by 2030.

“The pressing need to address ongoing climate change, reduce carbonization and drive to more transparent and localized apparel manufacturing practices is at the heart of our mission,” said Beth Esponnette, co-founder of unspun.

Esponnette added, “We have been running low-volume production of commercial products at our first micro factory with proven third-party life cycle assessments to back the impact of this new type of production. Now, together with Walmart, we see an enormous opportunity to take our innovations to scale, with the potential to disrupt the garment manufacturing industry, bring jobs to the USA and drastically reduce waste in apparel.”

[Read more: Walmart debuts Karün sustainable eyewear collection]

“Unspun’s technology aims to be the fastest, highest quality and most economical way to make woven garments period. Innovative industry leaders like Walmart are beginning to see the future potential impact, and we expect there to be continued interest as the unspun team builds the future of manufacturing,” said Shuo Yang of Lowercarbon Capital.