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Drydye machine

When technology fuses with creativity

Any technology is the attempt to advance the way we deal with circumstances. Getting there requires imaginative minds that reassess assumptions and conventions – not only to innovate but also to identify creative ways of applying technology to other sectors.

The first SMS was sent 20 years ago; the rest is history. It is estimated that, globally, around 8.6 trillion text messages are sent each year.

Short and sweet, the basic idea behind the SMS is simple but ingenious. Its implementation is reliable and inexpensive and it adds real value to people’s lives. But the SMS also came out on top because it has another characteristic that makes successful technologies: it’s usable. With creativity, the opportunities are infinite.

Using COMMON technologies for innovative ends

The adidas Group decided, for example, to use this powerful communication tool in its supply chain, to be closer to factory workers and to really hear from them directly.

At the adidas Group, we have always considered it critical to establish direct and meaningful connections with factory workers in our supply chain.

Frank Henke, adidas Group’s Global Director for Social and Environmental Affairs

"For years, we have been using hotlines as an additional tool for factory workers to reach out to us if they are concerned that their rights are being compromised. Hotlines are well trusted – sometimes we even had cases where workers asked for advice in love matters! Nevertheless, although useful, the problem was that in general the number of grievances we receive through our hotline numbers is relatively small." Frank Henke continues.

The SMS worker hotline project

With this in mind, in 2012, the adidas Group launched a  pilot project  to look into the potential of mobile phones as an additional communication tool in some of our suppliers’ factories. As part of the project, workers’ mobile numbers are anonymously gathered so factory management can send out group texts reminding workers of safety issues or letting them know about changes in policy. But, even more importantly: in return, workers can send text messages to ask questions, make suggestions, or even express their concerns. In total, five factories in Indonesia have been selected for this project. These five facilities employ a total of 32,000 workers. In a country where the vast majority of factory workers have mobile phones and are active users, this project clearly has huge potential. “The results so far have been extremely encouraging; workers are strongly embracing this opportunity,” says Adelina Simanjuntak, Area Manager in South East Asia. Based on the positive results, the adidas Group now plans to gradually roll out this system to more and more supplier factories.

The adidas Group shows how a familiar technology can be adopted and adapted for innovative purposes. But the “adopt, adapt” approach is not always the solution, as another initiative led by the adidas Group illustrates.

Questioning the fundamentaLs - how innovation develops

The technology for dyeing fabrics evolved over time but, in general, still requires heavy usage of water. In fact, it takes 25 litres to dye a single t-shirt.

It is indeed well-known that the textile dying industry is one of the largest consumers of water, and we were on the lookout for possibilities to change it.”

Philipp Meister, adidas Manager for Sustainable Materials.

adidas DryDye

A few years ago, the adidas Group started working with a long-term strategic supplier partner Yeh Group on this challenge. “We decided to support the development efforts of the Yeh Group and helped to evolve their findings in order to enable commercialisation,” says Philipp. The result is a revolutionary technology that eliminates the need for water in the dyeing process by using pressurised CO2 instead of water.

adidas DryDye

adidas by StellaMcCartney DryDye collection

In 2012, adidas was the first brand to bring to market a DryDye collection, and since then it has gradually but constantly increased the usage of DryDye materials across ranges and product categories – with major water savings in the dyeing process. This continuous application has allowed the adidas Group to reach a volume of 1 million yards of DryDye fabric produced in 2013.

DryDye is a great example of how innovation should happen – by questioning fundamental assumptions. Philipp and his team asked themselves “Do we really need water to dye?” and by doing so they discovered a process that not only eliminates water, but also has multiple positive side effects, such as a reduction in energy and chemicals use. A game-changer for the industry.

Innovation is not about products only

Both Adelina and Philipp’s examples show how much technology is about creativity and the freedom of mind – and that, for the adidas Group, innovation is not only about product concepts such as the lightest football boot ever. It is just as much about other areas of our business, such as sustainability.