May 08, 2024

Circularity Is a Team Sport: The Relevance of Partnering In Innovation and Research

A three-part series on our approach to circularity. Learn how being a frontrunner towards circularity means teaming up and collaborating also in the field of innovation and research.
by Franziska SeehausenManager Innovation

Circularity isn't just a buzzword; it's a departure from the old take-make-dispose linear model and a move toward a closed-loop system. The goal? Minimize waste and maximize resource utilization by extending the lifespan of our beloved shoes and sports products.

Representations of a linear vs. circular economy.

In the first part of our circularity series, we explored how circularity is crucial to a thriving future business for adidas. For our second installment, we’ll explore the importance of being a frontrunner in innovation and getting ourselves involved in publicly funded research initiatives. Such initiatives are industry-wide team collaborations that speak to our efforts, allowing us to learn from the best and share our learnings with partners, which ultimately propels the industry to become more circular.

This collaborative approach resonates deeply with me and is why I joined the adidas innovation team. Working on public funded research projects allows me to work and contribute to our shared goal of pioneering circular solutions. It also gives me the opportunity to foster positive change in the textile industry within a collaborative, cross-industry team environment.

What are Public Funded Research Projects?

Public Funded Research projects (PFRPs) are multi-year research projects carried out by a consortium of partners that range from academic to other research institutions. These include Small to Medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as start-ups and even larger companies like us and our internal teams. Meanwhile, funding for PFRPs can come from international bodies, such as the European Union, or national and local governments.

adidas has been engaging in cross-industry and public funded research projects for over a decade. Let’s now take a closer look at our involvement in these projects.

Public research as a facilitator for needle-moving collaborations

Joining forces and building long-term partnerships with the public sector comes with many benefits. Together, we can leverage knowledge and early-stage research to create innovative concepts and ideas for products and apply them in the market; this materializes into working prototypes, demonstrators, and blueprints.

One perk of working inside the research arena is that it provides a pre-commercial space where we can engage in a continuous loop of testing, exploring, and piloting ground-breaking innovation with limited risk. By combining our strengths, we also gain unique access to the wealth of knowledge that our partnerships bring.

Our mission with early-stage research toward a circular textile industry

Two of our active PFRPs focus on engaging in cross-industry projects to advance circularity:

  • Textile Recycling Excellence (also referred to as T-REX):
    T-REX is by no means an extinct dinosaur. But in our textile case, it gives us a new superpower we can use in the industry. Textile Recycling Excellence (T-REX) brings together thirteen major actors across the entire value chain. Under the coordination and leadership of adidas, we set out to create a harmonized blueprint and seek out business opportunities for the closed-loop sorting and recycling of household textile waste in the European Union. The key objective is to transform end-of-use textiles from waste into a desired feedstock and a commodity for new business models. By succeeding with our objective, we can prove the economic viability of a scalable circular economy for textiles in Europe transnationally.

    T-REX will provide valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities in transforming our supply chain into a circular model. Through this PFRP, we leverage our learnings and then integrate them into the business. One outcome we foresee is to create a design guideline for our products to reduce waste and design products with better durability.

Showcase of T-REX and New Cotton as examples of Innovations in Sustainable Sport / Attending Ecosystex Conference

  • New Cotton Project:
    The New Cotton project is an industry and multi-stakeholder effort to advance circularity. It’s also funded by the European Union. The aim is to scale the chemical recycling technology of Infinited Fiber Company to expand the circularity of cotton textile waste. This exemplifies how adidas has joined forces with leading names and innovators to demonstrate the potential of a circular fashion ecosystem. The New Cotton project was completed in 2024 and has shown a tangible impact in scaling closed-loop textiles with respect to sorting and recycling.

    When working on this project, a personal highlight of mine was feeling the New Cotton hoody material between my fingertips for the first time. Understanding the complexities behind the project, I was surprised by how amazing the textile felt; it’s a testament to the possibilities that lie in circular materials. You can read more about how this project came to life with our adidas by Stella McCartney garment here.

Oversized sportswear garment developed as part of the New Cotton project 

Teaming up is a rewarding experience for everyone involved

My journey with adidas innovation and being part of the Public Funded Research Project team has been an eye-opening experience. I’ve learned that it's all about teamwork, and that's the secret to success.

My visit at Fashion For Good in Amsterdam, meeting the team and seeing the New Cotton hoody on display

Working together on these collaborations demonstrates the impact we can all make. It's been great to see the exchange of ideas between brilliant minds and forward-thinkers within the company, and partnering with external institutes, companies, and organizations. Our external collaborators bring fresh perspectives and challenge our current ideas and approaches, which is essential for growth and progress. These kinds of collaborations are especially important for circularity, which requires diverse expertise to tackle the complexities of circularity challenges.

One key takeaway I’ve learned is that although my expertise may lie in a particular area, my colleagues’ complementary skillset completes the picture. And in the same way, no single brand can champion circularity alone—it’s a team sport.

Our commitment to circularity is unwavering, and its journey is far from over. With our circularity strategy, adidas continually explores new technologies, collaborates with partners, and innovates to make circularity a defining principle of its operations. It’s a team effort, and remember, you got this.