Kelp biopolymers mixed with a proprietary blend of naturally-derived materials
Team listed on the AlgiKnit website: Tessa Callaghan, Aaron Nesser, Aleks Gosiewski, Matt Gande, Minji Kim, Katelyn Dungo, Mark Kuller, Alexandra Jannetty, Patrick Marshall, Zach Kaye, Christian Joseph, Garrett Hattman, Max Cheng, and Annie Wang
Problems in the Textile Industry
The textile industry marks one of the primary locations where humans are designing the climate crisis. Experts maintain that the apparel industry on its own is one of the biggest polluters in the world. A list of figures from the World Bank explains why.
Every year the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water — enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people.
Around 20% of wastewater worldwide comes from fabric dyeing and treatment.
Of the total fiber input used for clothing, 87% is incinerated or disposed of in landfills.
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. At its current pace, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50% by 2030.
If demographic and lifestyle patterns continue as they are now, global consumption of apparel will rise from 62 million metric tons in 2019 to 102 million metric tons in 2029.
Half a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean—equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles—every single year. Microfibers cannot be extracted from the water, and they can spread throughout the food chain.
We’re consuming and discarding clothes more than ever before. And, according to figures from the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP), it takes 3,781 liters of water to make a single pair of jeans — that’s equal to 33.4 kilograms of carbon. If nothing changes, the industry’s growth puts it at one-quarter of the earth’s climate budget by 2050.
But some consumers are looking for a solution. Lyst’s 2019 Year in Fashion reported that searches including sustainability keywords increased by 75% year over the year. One study from the Global Fashion Agenda found that more than 30% of people surveyed actively switched from their preferred brand to another because of ecological and social values.
Some companies have begun designing products for such customers. AlgiKnit is one of them.
AlgiKnit’s Solution: Kelp
AlgiKnit is a New York-based company developing yarn from kelp for luxury and mass-produced textile products.
AlgiKnit takes the climate crisis seriously. Interweave reported that Tessa Callaghan, a co-founder and CEO of AlgiKnit, says, “We really need to act fast if we’re going to curb, at minimum, and negate, in an ideal world, the drastic negative ramifications caused by the production and consumption of the textiles we so heavily rely on.”
Kelp comprises the company’s secret ingredient for success. The plant regenerates quickly without the need for fertilizers or pesticides. It doesn’t need land or freshwater for irrigation and takes carbon out of the air while filtering its surrounding area. Farming kelp can also be part of a rebuilding strategy for communities that overfishing and pollution have economically and ecologically impacted.
The team at AlgiKnit has thought about how to make the most significant impact on the environment. Concept reports Aleksandra Gosiewski (co-founder and COO) says, “We wanted to make a yarn because you can do so much more with it.” As one of the foundational materials for the industry, Yarn would offer new foundational options for other companies to integrate and build on. The company also pays attention to making customers happy as an aspect of impact. Forbes reports that Gosiewski says, “We’re being upheld to the performance metrics of existing products.” Bio-based products need to meet or exceed the quality and aesthetics of those manufactured with current materials to gain consumer trust, which is necessary for making a long-term impact.
Closing the Loop
The company focuses on “closing the loop” in design and manufacturing. Not only is it trying to create a base product that improves the state of the earth through its growth, but it concerns itself with what happens at the end of the product’s life. This attention to durability and biodegradability motivated the company to develop ‘Just in time’ biodegradation. Aaron Nesser, another co-founder and the CTO of AlgiKnit, defined just in time degradability for Innovation in Textiles as the ability of durable products to biodegrade right at the point of being worn out. Nesser says the AlgiKnit product is fully biodegradable at end-of-life.
Others in the company have voiced a similar focus on a product’s entire lifecycle. Bloomberg quotes Aleksandra Gosiewski, a co-founder and AlgiKnit’s chief operating officer, saying, “If you think about recycling clothes, it’s a very surface-level approach that doesn’t get to the core of the problem of fashion, which is a toxic industry.” i-D Vice reports that one of the company’s scientific advisors, Dr. Schiros, states the point this way: “To think about climate positivity at scale, we need to think about the end and the beginning.”
Planning for Growth
While the AlgiKnit yarn is under development, the company is focused on expanding. In an interview with Parley, Gosiewski says, “We are working very hard to prepare ourselves and plan for this next step. When it comes to scale-up, we are looking to work with manufacturers and suppliers that align with our company values.” Funding from grants and venture capital has helped the company grow as quickly as possible. Its proof of concept helped it secure $2.2 million in a seed round, led by the Hong Kong venture capital firm Horizons Ventures. Synbiobeta reports that Bart Swanson, Advisor to Horizons Ventures, shared a bit about its motivation: “Climate change affects everyone. We are excited that AlgiKnit’s biomaterials will give a sustainable option to the textile and fiber industry.”
Most recently, AlgiKnit opened a new innovation hub in North Carolina, United States. According to the company, it will begin pilot projects with global brands from the new space in early 2022. We spoke with CEO Tessa Callaghan, who says, "Our expansion in North Carolina marks an important next step for AlgiKnit's growth and will help foster a carbon-neutral, toxin-free future that delivers value for our partners and the planet, all the while creating a safe, diverse, and dynamic environment for our team."
M21D’s Ongoing Interest
The development of AlgiKnit as an ecologically and socially sound product has caught the attention of M21D. The product’s ingredients, potential scalability, and the company’s integration with existing economic structures might be an answer to democratizing access to sustainable textiles. Many questions remain open, especially as the product is in the early stages of development. We look forward to continuing to pursue answers to questions about the product itself, as well as labor practices and third-party analysis.