DutchSpirit story

Dutch Spirit

Erik Toenhake, DutchSpirit’s founder, makes and markets sustainable custom suits and workwear made from fully recyclable fabric Inspire.
DutchSpirit makes and markets custom suits and workwear, with the suits acting as the showcase product but workwear being the big innovation for the future, as Erik sees it. DutchSpirit is looking to produce as responsibly and sustainably as possible.

What are your circular products?

Inspire, our workwear fabric, is the outcome of a long search for really good recyclable fabric. It wasn’t an easy journey, as nearly all fabrics are a mixture of different elements such as polyester and cotton – a real pain, I feel. We resolved to develop a fabric that’s one hundred per cent polyester, but with the breathability and absorbency of cotton. In 2013, we started collaborating with Swiss manufacturer Schoeller, and it’s by adding their unique coating that we’ve managed to create our Inspire workwear fabric.

Schoeller was new to producing with an eye to recycling, but soon discovered a market for these products. Our talks prompted them to develop new techniques and materials, and to come up with real innovations in the company. We’re only small fry, so it’s really cool to see that we’ve encouraged such a big player to embark on circular production.

So what kinds of clothes can you make with the Inspire fabric?

Inspire has many shapes and forms, and we can fully clothe a company with our range of fabric types: polo shirts, work trousers, coveralls, soft-shell jackets, fleece and soon also fabrics for waterproof coats. And all made from the same basic fabric, enabling joint recycling – and it’s volumes we need for our recycling exercise.

What are your biggest challenges?

Cost. Everyone compares our prices to those in the market, but let’s get real: are those fair prices? More often than not, fabrics will come from China, where damage to the environment and social abuses are rife. It doesn’t make for a fair comparison with Inspire, which has no such impact and which lasts longer too. What’s more, recycling is part and parcel of quality and if you add up all these positives, our total cost of ownership is way lower. And yet, the product’s purchase price continues to be the main focus.

Our Inspire fabric is of course very recyclable. But, more importantly, the logistics of recycling are handled very smoothly through the open circular workwear programme we’re running with our partners. The platform is a closed loop of suppliers, producers and recycling companies and, although some partners may be competitors at the same time, we share an interest in recycling. DutchSpirit heads up this part of the process and imposes conditions on platform members, such as labour conditions, methods of washing and laundering, and so on.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

We’re hoping for a ripple effect. Once we get our first truly big fish customers on board, others are bound to follow. And we’re not just targeting the Netherlands – we see plenty of opportunities in the rest of Europe. A global player, Schoeller leads the market for innovative fabrics and we can make a big splash when backed by their strength. The Netherlands is really at the forefront of the circular economy and we should be able to go from experimental to actual rollout once our success stories start to happen – which is when business could start booming. I’m hoping we’ll be able to produce our first 50,000 metres of fabric next year, and my goal is to multiply our output by five annually. I know that sounds terribly ambitious, but I really believe it’s feasible; there are no reasons why it shouldn’t take off. After all, who doesn’t see the pointlessness of wasting and burning valuable commodities?