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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Stella McCartney to Pilot Mixed-Textile Recycling Venture

Protein Evolution’s technology can turn unused polyester and nylon fabrics from Stella McCartney’s previous collections into good-as-new, infinitely recyclable fibers — and could present a new circular solution for the fashion industry.

This week, Protein Evolution, Inc. (PEI) — a biological recycling startup with the mission to build a world without plastic waste — launched an R&D collaboration with fashion icon Stella McCartney to trailblaze the future of sustainable fashion.

Joining the ranks of mixed-textile recycling innovators including Worn Again and Circle Economy, Protein Evolution’s recent company launch introduced new technology that transforms textile and plastic waste into the valuable chemical building blocks of new textile and plastic products. Now PEI’s proprietary process will focus on mixed textile waste, including polyesters and nylons — addressing one of the greatest problems facing the global textile industry today.

Beginning in 2023, PEI will process leftover polyester and nylon fabric from Stella McCartney’s collections and transform them into good-as-new, infinitely recyclable fibers. From there, the brand will work with PEI to see how these new fibers could be used to produce new clothing, footwear or other infinitely recyclable products.

“Our proprietary biological recycling process has the power to enable circularity efforts across the textile industry,” said PEI co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Scott Stankey. “By partnering with Stella McCartney, we are able to test our platform in a real-world setting and collectively learn how to seamlessly integrate PEI’s technology into existing manufacturing processes. This collaboration will demonstrate for the first time how complex fabric types — such as nylon and polyester blends — can be fully reused to make new plastic material in a low-energy, cost-effective way.”

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Protein Evolution aims to help the chemicals industry transition to a lower-carbon, circular economy. The company was founded in 2021 by Stankey and fellow Yale University grad Connor Lynn; in partnership with scientist, entrepreneur and National Medal of Technology and Innovation recipient Dr. Jonathan Rothberg. The company’s first product is an enzymatic process that enables textile and plastic waste to become an infinitely reusable resource.

“We’re honored to partner with Stella McCartney on this ambitious and hopefully groundbreaking effort,” said PEI co-founder and Chief Business Officer Connor Lynn. “Stella’s brand is synonymous with sustainability, circularity and innovation. Together, we’re setting out to accomplish something that’s never been done at an industrial scale before — and we’re just getting started.”

As a pioneer in sustainable materials — including mycelium leather, biobased faux fur, Bolt Threads’ fermented Microsilk and forest-friendly viscose — designer Stella McCartney was an early investor in Protein Evolution and an advocate for the company’s technology. PEI’s initial fundraising round was led by Collaborative Fund’s climate-focused Collab SOS, which is in partnership with McCartney. Her brand is among the first to embrace cutting-edge material sustainability efforts, which continue to be core tenants of every initiative to date.

“The horrific amount of fast fashion produced that then goes to landfill is truly shocking — both from the natural resources used to the sheer quantity wasted. We must act today to protect our planet for tomorrow; and circular and regenerative solutions offer an optimistic look at the future of fashion,” McCartney said. “Through our partnership with Protein Evolution, we hope to pioneer a new type of polyester from old materials. Establishing climate goals is one thing, taking meaningful steps toward a more sustainable future is what truly matters.”