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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
lululemon, Pangaia Push Plant-Based Fabrics Further

lululemon’s latest partnership aims to replace conventional nylon in its products with bio-based; while two new blends from Pangaia are the brand’s latest step to delivering sustainable alternatives to overproduced materials such as cotton.

lululemon, Genomatica partner to scale bio-based nylon

Image credit: lululemon/Facebook

This week, lululemon athletica inc. announced a multi-year collaboration with Genomatica — the San Diego-based bioengineering firm that develops bio-based and renewable alternatives to a host of widely used materials and chemicals — to bring more renewably sourced, bio-based materials into lululemon’s products. This represents lululemon’s first-ever equity investment in a sustainable materials company and Genomatica’s largest partnership within the retail industry. Together, the two companies will create a lower-impact, plant-based nylon to replace conventional nylon — which is the largest volume of synthetic material currently used to make lululemon products.

Nylon is the first completely synthetic fiber to be made into consumer products; the strong and versatile material has become nearly ubiquitous in its applications, especially in textiles — where it can found in everything from apparel to rope and carpet. Unfortunately, traditional production methods of the fiber, which is made from crude oil, emit an estimated 60 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Genomatica — which has made a name for itself bringing more renewable chemicals to market through collaborations with giants such as BASF, Cargill and DSM — has worked for the past several years on developing renewable nylon intermediates; and last year, the company partnered with Aquafil, to develop a commercially advantageous process for producing plant-based caprolactam — a key ingredient used in producing Aquafil’s signature ECONYL nylon.

Genomatica uses biotechnology and fermentation to convert plant-based ingredients into widely used chemical building blocks, like those used to make nylon, into pellets and yarns. Through this new partnership, it will work closely with lululemon’s fabric supply chain to incorporate bio-based nylon into future products. The companies say they seek to revolutionize the $22 billion global nylon market by building more sustainable supply chains.

“Our partnership with and investment in Genomatica demonstrates our commitment to be a leader in creating products that help build a healthier future for ourselves, for our communities and for our planet,” says lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald. “Genomatica's bio-based innovations, along with their distinctive track record of successful commercial applications, will help us deliver on our Impact Agenda goals to make 100% of our products with sustainable materials and end-of-use solutions by 2030, as we move toward a circular ecosystem.”

“We are proud to partner with lululemon, a company that is taking meaningful action to help address our climate crisis,” said Christophe Schilling, CEO of Genomatica. “The combination of biotechnology, fermentation and renewable feedstocks can provide a powerful means to disrupt the apparel industry through sustainable sourcing. This unique collaboration will help meet increasing consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products and set an example for consumer brand owners worldwide.”

The collaboration with Genomatica — along with partnerships with companies such as Mylo, to use a mycelium-based leather; and LanzaTech, for polyester made using recycled carbon emissions — is one of the many ways lululemon is exploring sustainable materials innovation.

Patty Stapp, lululemon’s VP of Raw Materials, said: “Replacing the petrochemicals that make up many popular materials with more sustainable alternatives is a major step forward in reaching our Impact Agenda goals. By transitioning our nylon to renewable content, we will impact over half of the synthetic materials we use in our supply chain. We have seen Genomatica repeatedly and successfully deliver industry-changing bio-based materials at commercial scale and are confident this partnership can truly change the way we source products.”

Pangaia’s PLNT FIBER, FRUT FIBER latest additions to alternative materials portfolio

Items made from Pangaia's PLNT FIBER | Images credit: Pangaia

Meanwhile, materials science company Pangaia has introduced two new, proprietary fabric blends made entirely from plant fibers. The PLNT FIBER™ and FRUT FIBER™ blends — derived from plant and agricultural waste — have the look and feel of cotton, without the cotton; they are the direct-to-consumer brand’s latest step to delivering alternatives to overproduced materials and to becoming “Earth positive” by 2023.

The fashion industry's reliance on conventionally sourced non-organic cotton and fossil fuel-based synthetics such as conventional nylon continues to be problematic due to the nature of these raw materials: On average, about 10,000 liters of water are required to grow just 1kg of conventional cotton; and synthetics are usually made from non-renewable, polluting petrochemicals. While both these materials feature undeniable qualities important to the textile industry, our global over-reliance on these materials and the lack of diversity in textiles commonly used are increasing their negative impact.

Pangaia says the extra-soft PLNT FIBER and FRUT FIBER blends will be available in a range of products — which, following the initial release, will be made readily available for use by brand partners.

PLNT FIBER and FRUT FIBER are the latest in a growing arsenal of agricultural waste-based textiles that have the potential to future-proof the industry. PLNT FIBER is made from renewable, fast-growing plant sources such as bamboo, Himalayan nettle, eucalyptus and seaweed. Each sources was specifically chosen as they do not require any pesticides, fertilizers, or irrigation (additional water) to grow; and bamboo and nettle grow faster when harvested regularly. By using renewable and fast-growing plants, the brand helps to reduce the fashion industry’s reliance on cotton and synthetics by diversifying textile blends.

FRUT FIBER is a blend of sustainably sourced bamboo lyocell and fibers from by-products of fruit production including pineapple leaf and banana leaf fibers. As by-products of the food supply chain, these fibers would generally be either thrown in landfill or burnt, causing methane or black carbon emissions, respectively.

In keeping with the brand’s move towards circularity, each PLNT FIBER and FRUT FIBER product will contain digital passports — developed in conjunction with connected products innovator EON — that will bring to life each garment’s unique journey and offer customers access to product-level impact reporting in a more interactive way, through a QR code. First launched in May with the brand’s Horizon collection, the digital passports aim to accelerate greater transparency, traceability and circularity in the fashion industry, while inspiring responsible consumer choices.