Interview with Rifò

Circular economy principles are very clear : Recycle, Reuse, Reduce waste. And actually recycling, or better upcycling, is what Rifò does. This young brand is based in Prato, Tuscany and was co-founded by Niccolò Cipriani in 2017.

Niccolò, can you tell me more about Rifò? What does it do, since when?

Rifò was founded in 2017. We produce garments made of recycled cotton, wool and cashmere. We source the old garments, sort them by color and material, shred them and make the fibers and the yarns, with which we craft our products. Our whole value chain is based in Prato. We work with craftsmen and small-medium size enterprises (most of them are family-owned ones).

Ph : Rifò cashmere sweater, cotton T-shirt, cotton beach towel.
Source : Rifò website https://www.rifo-lab.com.

Rifò is based on a long tradition, the one of recycling in Prato. Why does Prato have this extraordinary tradition?

This tradition was born during the Renaissance: at that time there was a law, that allowed only the craftsmen in Florence to produce and work with valuable fibers, while outside this city it was only possible to work with “poor” fibers. Actually, some natural factors allowed the production of wool : the availability of water, due to the presence of the Bisenzio river and the availability of fields suited for sheep grazing. Moreover, during recession, troops’ clothes started to be produced out of recycled old troops’ ones here in Prato. In the beginning, the recycling activity was really manual. It evolved with time, the first machines were created and it became more industrial.

Did you see a consistent change of interest towards your products, now that sustainability is a growing need? If yes, when did you start seeing this change?

Yes, we saw an increasing interest last year, and this trend keeps growing. Actually, recycling is something that Prato has always been doing, but without telling that the products were recycled. So, when we started the company back to 2017, most of the people we knew told us we were fools in specifying that our products were recycled. Only one year after, circularity became a big trend and all people changed their mind!

How does a recycled product look like? Do you actually notice it is recycled?

The products look like non-recycled ones. When we started our production, we did a “blind test”, and found out that almost nobody could say the products were recycled, not even at the touch. Only with jeans you can see small differences in the color within the same garment.

How do you find the “raw material”? Which features must this material have?

There are some organizations collecting old garments. At the same time we collect them also directly from our customers, though our website, and from companies, that would otherwise waste them. We mostly use garments 100% made of a single material. If they are blended, we accept up to 5% of a second fiber, but not more. We do not dye our products, therefore we need to sort the old garments by color.

How much is the saving in natural resources, when recycling?

Since we do not over-dye our products, we save chemicals and water. According to a LCA we made, when we recycle, we save on average 90% of resources, in terms of water, energy, CO2 emissions and chemicals utilization.

Your prices are aligned with the ones of virgin products. Why? Usually sustainable products have a higher price than non sustainable ones.

We work directly with craftsmen, so we do not have intermediates. All the companies we work with are based within 30km from Prato, so we were able to create a short and local supply chain. In this way we do not only save in fuel consumption during production, but we also have a positive social impact on our local economy.

What is your mission?

Our mission is to make sustainable products available to everyone.

Which is the hardest material to recycle?

We can recycle all the “raw” material that we accept. Actually, denim is a harder material compared to the others we recycle, so the machine takes a bit more time to shred the tissue.

Ph : Rifò jeans jacket.
Source : Rifò website https://www.rifo-lab.com.

I saw on your website that you just launched a new cotton-PET polo. Why did you use this blend?

Cotton has a shorter fiber than wool. After shredding, it becomes even shorter and it is not possible to create a resistant tissue. Therefore we blend it with recycled PET, that comes from plastic bottles, to create a resistant tissue that can last.

Is it possible to recycle the cotton-PET polo?

It is possible to down-cycle it. We are working to create a 100% cotton blend, mixing recycled and organic cotton.

Ph : Rifò cotton polo.
Source : Rifò website https://www.rifo-lab.com.

How do you choose the design of your products?

We start from the material, thinking about what we can do with this material. We then design our products in a way that allows us to upcycle again.

Do you think that people and brands should shift to a more traditional and timeless design, in order not to get tired of garments just after few usages?

Yes, but at the same time they need to add something particular, to make them modern and different. There has to be a mixture of tradition and innovation.

Here you can find the link to Rifò website : https://www.rifo-lab.com.

You can see the full video-interview on the YouTube channel : https://youtu.be/4fKWr-ZUqhk .

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