Israeli startup Twine wants to be the print-on-demand service for thread.
Print-on-demand technology revolutionized the book industry, allowing publishers to eliminate costly inventory and warehousing by printing books only in response to customer orders.
As with books, Twine’s new Digital Thread Dyeing System allows clothing manufacturers to color plain white thread by feeding the raw materials into a textile-specific digital printer only as needed. The resulting digitally dyed threads can be used in sewing, knitting and embroidery.
It’s a radical change from the way the industry has always operated, Yariv Bustan, Twine’s vice president of product and marketing tells ISRAEL21c.
The traditional process is both time-consuming and polluting; it starts when a manufacturer sends an order to a thread dyeing factory, usually in India or China.
A sample is dyed and shipped overseas to the manufacturer. If it doesn’t match the manufacturer’s requirements, the thread must be re-dyed and sent again. All this can take weeks.
Once the color is right, the factory dyes a large amount of thread. If for any reason – from overly optimistic ordering to fast-changing fashion – the manufacturer doesn’t need all the thread ordered, it goes to waste. Indeed, 40 percent of dyed thread winds up in landfills, Bustan says.
Dyeing thread the traditional way also uses a huge amount of water – first to steam in the color, then to rinse the thread to color-fasten the dye. It can take up to 70 liters of water per kilogram of thread, Bustan notes.
The run-off from the dyeing process is filled with toxic chemicals. “The textile industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, responsible for up to 20 percent of water pollution globally,” Bustan says.
As awareness of dyeing’s environmental impact grows, and with regulators starting to step in to curb the waste, manufacturers are becoming increasingly concerned with making their businesses more sustainable.
Twine uses no water whatsoever. Once a color has been chosen, thread on a spool is sucked into the Twine digital printing system, coming out the other end in the proper shade, whether that’s a single color or a one that changes color mid- thread. Manufacturers can even create their own unique gradients.
Moreover, when the dyeing process is moved from a supplier in far-away India or China to the manufacturing plant, there’s no need to ship anything; that saves on transportation costs and reduces the industry’s overall carbon footprint.
“With Twine, each thread consumer will be able to have their own virtual inventory,” Bustan says. “They can have all the threads and colors they can think about, without needing even one pre-dyed spool.”
Twine also enables greater personalization — a feature big brands are now deploying in the fight for consumer loyalty. For example, Nike allows shoe shoppers to customize the color of the “swoosh” or the entire upper part of their Nikes. Lacoste allows buyers to customize the color of the company’s iconic alligator. Gucci enables consumers to personalize the embroidery on a new bag.
“Luxury brands understand that to keep market share, they have to be innovative,” Bustan says. Especially for millennial buyers, “it’s not enough to simply own a luxury shirt or bag. You want your own unique shirt or bag.”
Dyeing-on-demand makes this possible, Bustan explains. “Instead of producing a product first and then selling it, as in the past, today you first sell the product and then you need to produce it very quickly. The customer can’t wait three to six months to get their order!”
Twine’s digital dyeing system is currently limited to polyester, but that’s fine, Bustan says, because “polyester is 50 percent of the market.” Nylon will come next. Working with cotton would require a different type of ink and some technological tweaks.
A twin venture
The company’s name is a play on words – twine is a kind of thread, but it also contains within it the word “twin.” Twine’s founders are identical twin brothers Alon and Erez Moshe.
Most of Twine’s team comes out of the digital-printing business – a segment writ large by pioneering Israeli companies such as Indigo and Scitex.
Both Alon, who is Twine’s CEO, and Erez were involved in digital printing. One day, after Erez had washed his hands, he happened to look down at his towel and noticed that the embroidery matched the color of the towel. “How did they do that?” he thought. Thus began the innovation of merging textiles and digital printing.
Erez Moshe had his epiphany four years ago. Today, Twine has 70 people on staff with headquarters in Petah Tikva. The company has raised $30 million from digital-printing and textile-related investors.
One of Twine’s strategic investors is Coats, a 200-year-old industrial thread manufacturer and a major player in the crafts market. “They’re a leader on the conventional analog side,” Bustan says, but “they understand that the industry is moving to digital.”
Other investors include HP Tech Ventures, New Era Capital Partners, Maverick Ventures Israel, Gefen Capital and Landa Ventures. The latter is the investment arm of Benny Landa’s Landa Labs. Landa founded Indigo in 1977; he sold the company to HP in 2001 for $882 million.
Twine, named one of the hottest Israeli startups of 2019 by TheMarker, is clearly in a lucrative and growing space. The global textile market size is projected to reach at $1.2 trillion by 2025.
Bustan says Twine has no real competition for digitally dyeing threads. A Swedish company called Coloreel dyes thread only for embroidery.
“It’s a different concept,” Bustan says. “You need to put their unit on top of the embroidery head and run both machines together. With us, you can let the system run overnight or for 24 hours and you’ll have all the thread you’ll need. We are application and thread agnostic.” (As long as it’s polyester, of course.)
Twine debuted its digital printer for thread last June at the International Textile Machinery Association conference, the world’s largest textile and garment technology exhibition. Bustan is now following up on dozens of leads from companies interested in Twine’s technology to replace their current polluting reality.
Meanwhile, Twine has installed its printers at Israel-based global apparel manufacturer Delta Galil, which is beta testing the system.
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