Orange Fiber and Keel Labs are exploration and innovation platforms that can impact the fashion industry and demonstrate that sustainable raw materials and production processes can create financial and planetary prosperity.
The current iteration of the $1.7 billions The fashion industry is responsible for about 10 percent of humanity’s carbon emissions and is the world’s second largest consumer of water. It is also largely composed of polyester, the primary material in about 65 percent of all our clothing, which requires about 70 million barrels of oil a year to produce. Recent research from Race to zero also suggests that if the sector continues as it is, it will miss the 1.5° target set in the Paris Agreement by 50 percent.
There’s no denying that the fashion industry needs to readjust how it creates and delivers its products. As brands big and small work to reduce their impacts and build supply chains around more sustainable textiles, a handful of biomaterials startups are proving that some of our best solutions can be found in nature.
Image credit: Orange Fiber
In 2012, Italian design students Adriana Santanocito e Enrica Arena they began to explore the potential to create fabric made from industrial by-products; in their case, they resorted to what was naturally abundant and much wasted in Santanocito’s hometown. Catania, Sicily: oranges. After a phase of experimentation in collaboration with Polytechnic University of Milan, Orange Fiber came to life in 2014.
That same year, Orange Fiber presented its first textile prototype – silk-like fabrics made from citrus cellulose extracted from juice industry waste – in
Vogue‘s Fashionable night event in Milan. A year later, the company secured funding from Smart&Start by Invitalia — allow the construction of a pilot plant in Sicily, where the company has extracted enough citrus pulp for full-scale production.
The first pieces of Orange Fiber debuted in 2017 Ferragamo Orange Collectionwhich was selected for the Sustainable thinking
exhibit no Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence. The startup soon began starring in exhibitions in museums around the world, including the Fashion for Good Museum
in Amsterdamthe Dutch Museum of Hygieneand the
in London. In 2019, fabrics were included H&M‘s Conscious Exclusive Collection and were integrated into luxury ties designed by a prominent Neapolitan brand E. Marinella.
The popularity of its product allowed Orange Fiber to launch a successful capital crowdfunding campaign in July 2019, which raised 650,000 euros from 365 investors, well above its original goal of 250,000 euros, with which the company built a new plant in Sicily in 2020. ; this allowed the startup to scale production and offer a vision of a future in which the textile industry helps preserve natural resources and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
In July 2021, the company joined the Lenzing Group
to manufacture the first Tencel Lyocell fibers made of orange. This material is processed in the same award-winning closed loop process as standard Tencel Lyocell fibers; but the Orange Fiber textile requires less wood cellulose thanks to cellulose extracted from citrus pulp, improving sustainability by easing pressure on forests.
Image credit: Quilla Laboratories
Another biomaterials company is looking to improve fashion by exploring the power of marine ecosystems in textile production.
Founded in 2017 as
by Technological Institute of Fashion graduates Tessa Callaghan e Aleksandra Gosiewskithe company recently rebranded as Quilla Laboratories — and says it seeks to establish itself as a “platform and parent” for innovation that places community and nature at its center.
Keel Labs produces its own Kelsun yarns from an abundant biopolymer found in alginate called alginate, creating a versatile solution to existing yarn and textile production methods. Kelp, a large, brown, fast-growing algae, is also a carbon-sequestering powerhouse that can absorb more CO2 per acre than terrestrial forests, making it a valuable tool in the climate fight while cleaning up the fashion industry.
With an infusion of $2.4 million in bridge funding in 2021, Keel Labs has expanded to North Carolina and opened an innovation center designed to improve technology development while scaling production of its aquaculture-based yarn. Then, earlier this year, the company secured another $13 million in Series A funding, led by Collaborative Fund with additional support from
Starlight Ventures, Third Nature Ventures,
H&M CO:LAB, SOS e Horizon Ventures – which Keel Labs says will lead to reducing the carbon footprint of the textile industry.
The fashion industry will grow up to 63 percent in the next 10 years. This means shifting to practices that reduce dependence on oil, as well as deforestation practices caused by the extraction of cellulose from wood. Experimenting with alternatives to conventional and resource-intensive fabrics is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.