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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Apparel Giants Bringing Future-Friendly Fabrics to the Mainstream

The apparel industry is awash in launches of circular, plant-based and carbon-sequestering fabrics set to help future-proof fashion.

lululemon, Geno introduce first renewably sourced, plant-based nylon products

Image credit: lululemon

lululemon has launched its first products made from renewably sourced, plant-based nylon. As part of a long-term partnership with sustainable materials leader Geno, the new material behind the high-performance shirts delivers the same feel as conventional nylon — the lightweight, quick-drying material that makes up the majority of lululemon apparel. The innovation is an example of the brand's Be Planet goals — which center on making 100 percent of its products with sustainable materials by 2030.

“We’ve been working on plant-based nylon with our partner Geno for almost two years, testing ways to integrate this groundbreaking material with our product philosophy of creating products to help our guests feel their best,” says Esther Speck, SVP of Global Sustainable Business and Impact. “The launch of our first plant-based nylon products is an example of lululemon’s environmental commitments in action and what’s to come on our journey toward net zero.”

In 2021, lululemon made its first-ever equity investment in Geno — a materials innovator that has pioneered plant-based and renewable alternatives to conventional fabrics and chemicals. Now, lululemon’s plant-based nylon re-envisions the decades-old method of petroleum-based nylon production, creating a lower-impact alternative to an important material in the performance apparel industry.

"Today marks a major achievement: biotechnology has successfully fermented plant sugars into the chemical building blocks used to make nylon — bringing to life a renewable, plant-based nylon,” says Geno CEO and founder Christophe Schilling. “Together with lululemon, Geno is opening a new chapter for plant-based nylon and accelerating the sustainable materials transition. We’re proud that this partnership is disrupting the $22 billion dollar nylon market; and with lululemon, we will be accelerating the sustainable materials transition at scale — and this is only the beginning.”

Bestseller, Inditex, Reformation prototype Kintra Fibers’ biobased polyester

Image credit: Kintra Fibers

Speaking of plant-based alternatives to traditionally fossil-based fabrics (in this case, polyester), BESTSELLER, Inditex and Reformation have come together as a consortium to prototype Kintra Fibers' materials in their product lines, driven by a shared goal to explore more sustainable materials and processes.

With a successful $8 million Series A funding round in December, Kintra Fibers — a material science company that makes high-performance, 100 percent bio-based and compostable, synthetic yarns for the fashion and apparel industry — is positioned to scale its resin and yarn production capacities in line with the volume demands of their brand partners, which also include Pangaia. Kintra's fibers are a biodegradable and compostable form of polyester called polybutylene succinate (PBS), which is currently derived from corn instead of fossil fuels. The funding was led by H&M Group with participation from BESTSELLER Invest FWD, Fashion for Good, New York Ventures, TRE Ventures, Tech Council Ventures, FAB Ventures and a group of fashion industry angel investors.

Kintra's material shows impressive strength and durability comparable to traditional polyester, while also being much softer. Additionally, the material possesses an inherent stretch quality, with yarn test results indicating a stretch recovery of 10-15 percent, resulting in a comfortable stretch. The team has tested these properties in various fabric constructions — including silk-like satin wovens, technical outerwear wovens, and knits produced using air-jet texturing and draw-texturing processes.

“Kintra's solution aligns with both nature and existing industrial processes,” says COO and co-founder Alissa Baier-Lentz. “By utilizing bio-based inputs and designing a biodegradable material from the outset, Kintra addresses the environmental impact caused by traditional polyester at every stage, from production to usage and end-of-life, providing a comprehensive solution for a truly circular fashion industry.”

This unique combination of strength, softness, and comfort stretch recovery produces a material with an ultra-soft hand feel and elegant drape without compromising the garment's durability and longevity. This blend of characteristics has additional environmental benefits since textile engineers generally require blending traditional polyester with cotton and spandex to achieve a soft, strong, and comfortable stretch material. Kintra's mono-material construction provides all of these performance benefits, while also making recycling easier.

"Given the significant environmental impact of traditional polyester and the expected growth of the synthetic fiber market, there is a clear need for the industry to change,” says Camilla Skjønning Jørgensen, Innovation Manager at BESTSELLER. “Kintra Fibers fits our Invest FWD strategy where we continuously investigate alternative fibers for long-term viability, and we are excited to be among the brands taking action to help Kintra Fibers scale its promising solution."

Kintra Fibers estimates its environmental impact by comparing its raw materials and resin-production processes to traditional polyester — the company estimates its resin production could result in a 95 percent reduction in GHG emissions, a 30 percent reduction in water usage, and a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption. The team anticipates even greater energy savings when it completes a full lifecycle assessment, as its preliminary analysis did not include yarn spinning, dyeing or finishing — for which Kintra uses a lower temperature than traditional polyester, which could result fewer Scope 3 emissions in the manufacturing supply chain.

“We’re proud to collaborate with Kintra Fibers and Fashion for Good as part of the first consortium of brands to prototype Kintra’s materials,” says Kathleen Talbot, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP of Operations at Reformation. “Innovations like this that help reduce our reliance on fossil fuel-based synthetics are essential to our sustainability efforts at Reformation, particularly our goal to be Climate Positive by 2025. It’s on us as an industry to take an active role in scaling next generation solutions, like Kintra, that have the potential to power the future of fashion.”

H&M MOVE capsule collection features LanzaTech’s CarbonSmart™ polyester

Image credit: H&M Move

Meanwhile, H&M Move joins lululemon and On in partnering with carbon-capture and -transformation leader LanzaTech to integrate materials made from captured carbon emissions into its offerings.

H&M Move has launched three garments made from LanzaTech’s CarbonSmart™ polyester and infused them with its own DryMove™ technology — a trademarked material that pulls away moisture from the skin and keeps Movers comfortable and dry while moving.

“In collaboration with LanzaTech, we are thrilled to offer our customers a capsule collection made of CarbonSmart™ polyester, a ground-breaking material using repurposed carbon emissions. This partnership enables H&M Move to explore innovative materials and playing our part in helping to create more sustainable sportswear in the future,” says Simon Brown, General Manager at H&M Move.

Using three simple steps, LanzaTech captures carbon emissions from steel mills, traps them in bioreactors and converts them into the same building blocks as conventional polyester — simultaneously sequestering climate-changing gases and avoiding the need for virgin fossil resources to make new products.

“The innovations in the textile industry today focus on sustainability for a better world,” says LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren. “We are proud to partner with H&M Move on this drop, which reflects ways to rethink how we make and how we experience our clothing.”