Israeli vegan ‘style’ start-up making clothes using seaweed

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Written by Rebecca Cairns, CNN

The global fashion industry employs millions of people and is worth billions of dollars.
It also accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and creates pollution and waste: in the United States, only 15% of textiles are recycled, while the rest is incinerated or sent to landfill.
This is why an Israeli startup creates a biodegradable, non-toxic and low-energy textile, using algae. Its algae-based formula can be used to create natural fibers and dyes using less water than conventional products and producing zero waste and pollution, said Renana Krebs, CEO and co-founder of Algaeing.

The company hopes “to harness the power of renewable algae to create a real and genuine impact against climate change,” she said.

A green solution

Algae, which includes algae, is already used in other industries; The food, pharmaceutical and even biofuels industries all view this group of aquatic organisms as a sustainable material.

Krebs also saw an opportunity to apply algae to textiles. Working in the fashion industry for 15 years, she saw firsthand the pollution and waste of the industry. After quitting her job in 2014, she launched Algaeing in 2016.

The seaweed is supplied by another Israeli company, Algatech, grown in seawater on indoor solar-powered “vertical farms”. This means that unlike cotton, it does not occupy agricultural land and does not have the carbon emissions associated with the use of fertilizers.

Algaeing has developed a patented algae-based formula in its laboratory in Israel. Credit: Courtesy of Tammy Bar Shay / Algaeing

Algaeing converts the algae into a liquid formula which can then be used as a dye or made into a textile when combined with cellulose, a plant fiber, which clothing manufacturers can make themselves using the proprietary recipe of Algaeing.

Other companies are also seeing the potential of algae in textiles. Menswear brand Vollebak offers a biodegradable t-shirt made from eucalyptus, beech pulp and seaweed, which can be buried in the garden and breaks down into “worm food” in 12 weeks; and the startup AlgiKnit is developing a wool-like yarn from algae.

Krebs said Algaeing’s goal is to change the supply chain and the company is preparing for the commercial launch of its patented technology in 2022.

Rethinking the fashion industry

According to a WWF estimate, up to 2,700 gallons of fresh water are needed to produce the cotton of a regular t-shirt, which is equivalent to a person’s drinking water for two years, Krebs said. But she said Algaeing fibers cut water consumption by 80%.
There is also a human impact: those working in textile manufacturing are often exposed to dangerous chemicals and heavy metals. But the algae dye is non-toxic and allergen-free, which is also a plus for consumers.

“Algaeing and Renana [Krebs] tackle three key issues in the fashion industry: reliance on fresh water to grow fiber; the use of chemicals, both in pesticides for growing fibers and also in dyeing textiles; and third, energy consumption. “

Erik Bang, Head of Innovation, H&M Foundation

Currently, algae-based fibers are more expensive than conventional fibers like cotton, but Krebs said that as a sustainable and ethical product, it adds value to the brand.

The fashion industry is steeped in tradition, but it’s also ripe for disruption, according to Erik Bang, chief innovation officer for the H&M Foundation, a non-profit organization funded by the group’s founders and principal owners. H&M, and which supports young fashion. startups.

Bang said that over the past five years, awareness of sustainability in fashion has steadily increased, attracting “new types of investors” with diverse backgrounds in technology, science and technology. materials and biochemistry.

Its dyes and textiles are biodegradable, non-toxic and vegan.

Its dyes and textiles are biodegradable, non-toxic and vegan. Credit: Courtesy of Tammy Bar Shay / Algaeing

Algaeing received the H&M Foundation Global Change Award in 2018, and the company’s work with algae highlights a “bright potential source” for future textile fibers, Bang said.

“Algaeing and Renana [Krebs] tackle three key issues in the fashion industry: reliance on fresh water to grow fiber; the use of chemicals, both in pesticides for growing fibers and also in dyeing textiles; and third, energy consumption, ”said Bang.

He adds that even as consumer behavior changes, it is still costly for the industry to invest in and develop sustainable technologies. “We need lawmakers to change the rules of the game, and tilt them much more in favor of circular and sustainable practices, and punish old habits,” Bangs said.

Beyond fashion

While Algaeing initially focused on reinventing fashion fabrics, the pandemic presented another opportunity. In 2020, Algaeing started working with Avgol, a nonwoven fabric manufacturer specializing in hygiene, medical and PPE products.

Krebs said the pandemic has shown businesses and brands that adapting to new challenges is vital for survival. While the recent challenge has been Covid-19, the biggest long-term challenge is climate change – and that’s where Krebs hopes Algaeing can make a difference.

“We are creating a new generation, a new category of products,” Krebs said.


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