Clarisse Merlet founded FabBRICK which transforms textile waste into a new material for interior design

Clarisse Merlet, creator of FabBRICK, is a young Parisian who is attending her third year of architecture when she comes across something that is already there for everyone to see. Post-production, post-consumption and end-of-life textile waste has no intended use and ends up in landfill in tons. In Europe alone 5.8 million tonnes. Eleven kilos each, constantly increasing over the last twenty years.

Yet natural fibers have been used as natural insulators for centuries, both in vernacular and modern architecture. Clarisse Merlet has the makings of a young low-tech genius and does an exercise that many design and architecture students are tempted to do during their university years: she tries to invent a new building material .

Read also: Sustainable textiles are a question of partnership

It's not difficult: in what are called kitchen-labs, or laboratories where very common materials are used, many people try to mix, aggregate, solidify any kind of waste. Unfortunately, these are often experiments that are not followed up due to lack of scalability or simple naivety. What solidifies does not necessarily mean that it is resistant, stable and compliant with complex European legislation.

From idea to product: sometimes it works

Clarisse Merlet, however, manages the impossible. She says: “I took two t-shirts, I shredded them and mixed them with a natural glue and gave them the shape of a brick. It worked".

Voilà: this is how FabBRICK was born, a material that transforms textile fibers at the end of their life into a solid construction element. In 2018 Clarisse Merlet participated in the Faire call, one of the most solid accelerators for innovation in design and architecture in France. And her project convinces the jury.

From here on it seems that everything becomes easy and possible, thanks to the many institutional supporters. “Today we are in Paris in the 19th arrondissement. Our headquarters, our offices, our showroom and our production laboratory are in one place, to be as transparent as possible with our customers,” explains Clarisse Merlet.

The business model solves multiple requests, from tailoring projects for specific companies (Levi's, Galerie Lafayette, Google, Accor, AXA, IKEA, among others). To date FabBRICK is the French reference agency for the revaluation of post-production and post-consumption textiles, with a series of projects that demonstrate how today it is truly possible to re-transform waste into a new, efficient and efficient raw material. sustainable.

The future? It is in the industrialization of valorization processes

Plans for the future: "We want to evolve our process, which is currently artisanal, towards industrialization while remaining local. Today, we purchase all our materials and tools within a maximum radius of 100 km. Tomorrow we want to create a FabBRICK factory in every region and country that produces textile waste.”

In the field of textile revalorisation, the critical issues are common to all companies which in different places in the world have started projects for the transformation of waste into new architectural materials. The first of all is supply: in many places there are no obligations for the separate collection of textiles, which is left to the choices of the administrations.

Normally they are specialized service companies that deal with the entire service chain, in a very dynamic paradigm that goes from charity to recycling. Many companies based on the transformation of end-of-life textiles therefore propose ad hoc projects suited to the demands of specific situations.

They range from consultancy to internal workshops, with the dual aim of creating awareness and at the same time recycling and then using the new material in the interior design of retail outlets. Up to the production and sale to final consumers, with online catalogs of 'bricks' and small ready-made accessories. The most interesting part of these business models is probably the double value of consultants and producers, which calls for virtuous partnerships that aim to create ever more critical mass.

The critical issues of a process without infrastructure

Another fragile point is the treatment of waste: "Today, when you want to recycle textiles, the main difficulty is that it is not possible to mix different materials. Often, companies recycling only takes cotton or polyester. And you have to remove all the hard parts of the clothes, like buttons and zippers, because not everything goes through the recycling machines," explains Merlet.

A problem that the young architect has solved by managing to develop a system that eliminates this step, creating bricks or panels that include all the parts of the textile, even the plastic or metal ones. Ditto regarding the different yarns: FabBRICK manages to systematize production specifically for different compounds, without having to divide natural and synthetic raw materials.

Not only virtuous but useful and rational

The results: "In the end we were able to invent a process that uses all types of fabric. So we mix cotton, polyester, viscose and all the others. We can put the whole garment in the mill. It's not It's necessary to intervene first. Let's not remove the buttons; we use everything and we don't create waste. For me it was obvious to resolve this step in a rational way too."

The figures: 12 tons of recycled material per year, with a production of around 40,000 bricks. FabBRICK products are thermal and acoustic insulators, they are colored walls, cladding panels or small furniture. Now it's just a matter of moving to an industrial scale that gives more and more meaning to the genius of young entrepreneurs/inventors committed to finding new production models based on recycling and reuse.