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In the Loop

5 seriously cool climate innovators in fashion

From carbon-negative polyester to dissolvable thread, here's a handful of surprising startups making waves in the apparel industry.

I tend towards startup scrutiny. My impulse to question — or ignore — most pitches for purported silver bullets has slowly developed over the years, due in part to growing up within shouting distance of Silicon Valley, the epicenter of startup sensationalism.

Don’t get me wrong: Innovators are an irreplaceable element of systems change and particularly essential in the disruptive shift towards a more circular economy. As we’re seeing during this time of crisis, the ingenuity of innovators is literally saving lives and playing a vital role in ensuring the resilience of our species. 

From carbon-negative polyester to dissolvable thread, a lot of seriously cool and surprising startups are making waves in the apparel industry. Here are five companies you should know about: 

  1. Werewool: Tackling the toxicity and environmental impact of textiles production, this biotech fiber company produces lab-grown, biodegradable materials with colors, stretch and water repellency in their DNA. Werewool uses protein it collects from a culture of organisms, including from coral, oysters, jellyfish and even human cheeks (without harming the organisms themselves) to create fabrics without petrochemicals. Although still in the early stages of development, Werewool aims to decrease the textile industry’s footprint and reliance on fossil fuels, potable water and arable land. 

  2. Lizee: Clothing rental is on the rise. As more clothing brands and retailers recognize the merits of new business models, Lizee can help them establish efficient, reliable and verified rental options. Lizee partners with brands, including Decathlon and Kipling, to set up connected systems for rental, from software to logistics. 

  3. Fairbrics: This French startup has created the first carbon-negative synthetic fiber. Its product, Airwear, is produced by sequestering and converting carbon dioxide into polyester pellets for use in textiles. Fairbrics aims to replace petroleum-derived polyester with a more sustainable alternative that maintains the look and feel achieved in virgin polyester production. 

  4. Resortecs: To enable the efficient disassembly of garments, Resortecs manufactures a stitching thread that dissolves at high heat. That eliminates the need for tedious and costly manual labor to detach zippers, buttons and other fixtures, encouraging simplified repair, materials reuse or recycling instead of landfilling and incineration. 

  5. Thrilling: For those of us without the patience or persistence to sift through racks of used clothing, Thrilling offers an online alternative with a spotlight on unique vintage finds. The online clothing marketplace engages a network of vintage store owners and "sorters" to design out the friction of resale and keep high-quality apparel in circulation. Thrilling also has launched a campaign to help more than 100 vintage stores remain operational while their doors must be physically shut during the pandemic. 

I’m not the only one who thinks these companies are worth watching.

Werewool and Airwear recently were recognized as winners of H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award, and Werewool is also a finalist for the 2020 Ray of Hope Prize given by the Biomimicry Institute and Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Lizee and Resortecs are new members of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s cohort global innovators in the CE100 Network, and Thrilling is one of Closed Loop Partners Venture Fund portfolio companies. 

What startups are inspiring you? Please share the coolest startups you’re seeing in the circular economy space. Send me an email at [email protected].

This article is adapted from GreenBiz's weekly newsletter, Circular Weekly, running Fridays. Subscribe here.

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