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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
New Spins on Wood, Hemp, Coconut Recognized as Winning Natural Fibers

A process that turns wood pulp into yarn and a vegan wool alternative made from hemp and coconut fibers have respectively earned a spot in Fashion for Good’s Scaling Programme and a prize in the 2018 Biodesign Challenge.

A process that turns wood pulp into yarn and a vegan wool alternative made from hemp and coconut fibers have respectively earned a spot in Fashion for Good’s Scaling Programme and a prize in the 2018 Biodesign Challenge.

Spinnova is the latest addition to Fashion for Good’s Scaling Programme, through which the company will be supported through milestones on a roadmap to scale for 18 months. Spinnova is the Finnish developer of a cellulose fibre with a “breakthrough production process” that turns wood pulp directly into yarn with a uniquely small footprint. It does not use any harmful chemicals or water and does not involve energy-consuming steps, dissolving or other complex chemical processes. As such, the process presents opportunities to create a circular fiber production system. Spinnova claims its method uses up to 99 percent less water than producing cotton.

The company aims to reach industrial scale by year-end through their new pilot factory. Future business models include partnering with brands by licensing the technology or setting up joint ventures for fibre production.

“We have a fantastic relationship with Fashion for Good and are very much looking forward to the programme,” said Spinnova CEO Janne Poranen. “Working with brands and developing the fibre to suit specific applications is the way we have strategically chosen to commercialize our innovation.”

As a Scaling Programme participant, Spinnova gains access to Fashion for Good’s network of corporate partners, business advisors and industry experts, enabling it to accelerate the development and adoption of its fibre. Spinnova is the ninth participant in the Programme, joining ColorZen, The Infinited Fiber Company, Softwear Automation Inc, Tamicare, Worn Again, Ambercycle, bext360 and Tyton Biosciences.

Through a partnership among PETA, investment firm Stray Dog Capital and Stella McCartney Ltd., the 2018 Biodesign Challenge sought a biofabricated vegan wool for the first time. College students from participating schools – such as the University of British Columbia, University of California, Davis, University of Toledo, the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design, to name a few – were given one semester to envision how cells, microbes, and other living things can remake the products and processes of our made world.

Teams striving for the Animal-Free Wool Prize were tasked with creating a viable alternative to natural wool. PETA launched the Prize as a way to develop sustainable materials that spare animals’ suffering and more specifically, to take aim at the wool industry, which the organization has found abuses sheep on top of the environmental impacts of methane, soil erosion and waterway contamination.

Student teams were advised to take into consideration the material’s lifecycle, production processes, disposal, and potential for recycling, as well as explore how the biomaterial manufacturing process might scale up to be compatible with or even propel today’s garment industry. Of the seven teams that participated, three were selected as finalists: Woocoa, Kerasynth and Werewool.

Kerasynth, a team from the Maryland Institute College of Art, designed a surface with an array of living follicles that may be able to produce hair on their own. Forbes reported that their development might be usable to create fur and feathers as well as wool. The Werewool team from the Fashion Institute of Technology created a “grass roots synthetic biology kit” for people to create different wool-like fibers to explore and experiment on their own.

Woocoa’s material uses coconut fibers left-over from the food industry and hemp fibers from the northern Cauca region, where the local economy has been struggling with the collapse of the illegal marijuana industry. The coconut fibers provide hygroscopic, thermal and antimicrobial properties while the hemp adds durability with its elongated fibers and makes it easier to dye. Their process then adds naturally-occurring lactase enzymes found in oyster mushrooms to break down the fibers’ lignin — a biopolymer common to all plant cells, which gives plants their roughness. The result is a completely new bio-fabricated wool, which is flexible, elastic, easy-to-dye and wicks away humidity.

The team will now receive 1-2 weeks mentorship with the Stella McCartney company as well as guidance from Stray Dog Capital, which specializes in supporting start-ups that are working on products for animal-free based economies.