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Synthetic Biology Technology

Spotlight on bio-based textiles: Finding inspiration from nature

An array of Werewool fibres. @Werewool

By Valentina Gomez, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Werewool

There has been unprecedented change in the world. Impacts across the fashion industry supply chain are highlighting the human rights and environmental issues that the industry needs to confront – continuing on at business per usual is no longer an option for much of the community. With the halt in much of the industry’s production, we have a unique opportunity to step back, and take a moment to see how we can rebuild a new foundation for our industry instead of just repairing the cracks.

The fashion industry is accountable for 20% of global wastewater, and 10% of global carbon emissions and if nothing changes this industry will be accountable for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.[1] According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 35% of ocean’s microplastics come from Synthetic textiles —  spread worldwide, this is not an isolated problem, but a growing global threat to the environment and human health. [2]

Many are seeing these challenges as an opportunity for innovation and companies such as H&M, Nike, and Stella McCartney are looking into all aspects of their supply chain evaluating how they can transition into a circular economy. This shift is driving unprecedented collaboration in the field of biomaterials between the intersections of science, design, and technology- focused on the development of novel raw material sources. Industry stakeholders, such as Stella McCartney, and North Face collaborated with biomaterials companies to create the Stella McCartney X Bolt Threads Microsilk dress, and North Face X Spiber Moon Parka.

Werewool is a women-owned and operated biotechnology company that is in the early stages of developing novel textile fibres with inherent colour and performance. Inspired by nature, the team is using the tools of biotechnology to translate functional properties that nature’s organisms have evolved into textile fibres with properties like colour, moisture management and stretch!

The inherent performance of their fibres will enable the textile industry to cut out some of the most harmful stages in textile processing – dyeing and finishing. Werewool is developing fibres that can support a circular fashion industry by providing textile manufacturers with a fibre source that will be designed to return to the earth as nutrients at the end of their useful life. Their mission and goal is to build a future where clothing is made from low impact materials with a circular lifecycle, where aesthetic and performance is not synonymous with environmental degradation.

The Werewool team is a finalist for the Ray of Hope prize and was recently awarded a grant of €250,000 from the Global Change Award – an innovation challenge run annually by the H&M Foundation in collaboration with consulting firm Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. The annual competition aims to find game-changing innovations that can contribute to making the fashion industry circular and launches companies into a one year innovation accelerator program.

Werewool is just one of the innovations that has come forth the last couple of years, there has been tremendous growth in raw material production, traceability and transparency, and garment recycling. With a rapidly developing market need for sustainably and ethically sourced materials and key industry players having publicly committed and set forth goals that must be met by 2030. Now more than ever, it is of utmost importance for these game-changing innovations to be supported and funded to accelerate their technology and reach market-place adoption.

[1] https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/putting-brakes-fast-fashion

[2] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/12/microplastics-ocean-plastic-pollution-research-salps/

This expert view is part of BMI’s spotlight week on bio-based textiles. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bio Market Insights’ editorial team and management.


If you were interested in this story, you may also be interested in the ones below.

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Read: Expert view: Will ‘greenwashing’ work out to be good for textiles?

Read: Spotlight on bio-based textiles: How to make sure modern slavery is not embedded in your sustainable cotton products

Read: Deputy editor’s view: Cleaning out one’s closet 

Read: Spotlight on bio-based textiles: Regenerative materials sourced from plants, not petroleum-based synthetic plastics

Read:  Introducing bio-based and sustainable components to long-standing supply chains.

Download:  Standardisation and certification developments in the bioeconomy

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