Sustainable textile innovations: bio yarn made from kelp fibres

In view of resources dwindling fast and natural fibres like cotton being resource-intensive to process and petroleum-based fibres like acrylic, polyester, nylon and spandex not being the most environmentally friendly, it is about time to look for sustainable alternatives when producing fibres and fabrics. In this series, FashionUnited explores the sustainable alternatives and textile innovations that are currently being pursued all over the world.

New York-based AlgiKnit is a biomaterials research company that has developed a compostable yarn from readily abundant biopolymers that can be formed into wearable textiles. In other words, AlgiKnit makes a bio yarn from kelp, seaweed or algae via the readily abundant biopolymer ‘alginate’.

Sustainable textile innovations: bio yarn made from kelp fibres

“We aim to operate in a closed loop product lifecycle, utilising materials with a significantly lower environmental footprint than conventional textiles, to bring sustainable bio-based textile alternatives to the footwear and apparel industries”, says the company on its website.

Bio yarn is renewable, closed-loop and good for the environment

AlgiKnit develops biomaterials from the most renewable and fasted growing organisms on earth - kelp, laminaria digitata to be precise, a large brown alga also known as oarweed. It grows up to 10 times faster than bamboo and is grown in aquatic farms around the world in coastal communities, often by fishermen and women, thus providing income for them during off-season.

Sustainable textile innovations: bio yarn made from kelp fibres

Kelp in coastal waters also absorbs nutrients from agricultural and sewer run-off that can alter coastal environments. This recaptures nutrients for the next generation of biomaterials and thus improves the environment. Kelp is thus an ideal material for the future of sustainable manufacturing.

From kelp, AlgiKnit extracts alginate and combines it with other renewable biopolymers to produce yarn, which is strong enough and stretchable enough to be knitted by hand or by machine to be used in textile manufacturing. The final product can be dyed with natural pigments.

“We use an extrusion process to turn our biopolymer mixture into a filament. We extrude the mixture into a salt bath that cures the bio yarn”, explains AlgiKnit. But that is not all, to minimise waste, all products are knit to shape. This technique allows AlgiKnit to produce products with little to no waste.

Sustainable textile innovations: bio yarn made from kelp fibres

And when the textile's life cycle comes to an end? No problem - it can be reused. “When it’s worn out or you don’t want it, it can be broken down by microorganism and the nutrients reclaimed to feed the next generation of product,” says AlgiKnit co-founder Aleksandra Gosiewski when speaking to Creative Bloq. “I envision a future where the materials we use can be transformed to feed the next generation of products.”

2018 has already been an exciting year for AlgiKnit: The early stage biomaterials startup is participating in the 2018 RebelBio Accelerator program in London. Their participation is part of a 100,000 US dollar investment deal through RebelBio and their parent company SOSV. The company has also been chosen as one of the 15 start-ups that will take part in Fashion for Good's Plug and Play accelerator initiative.

Sustainable textile innovations: bio yarn made from kelp fibres

AlgiKnit was founded by Tessa Callaghan, Aaron Nesser, Aleksandra Gosiewski, Theanne Schiros and Asta Skocir and grew out of BioEsters, the winning team from the 2016 BioDesign Challenge. AlgiKnit is continuing to pursue a material-driven design approach to biopolymer-based materials with generous support from the Fashion Institute of Technology. It is also supported by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC), National Geographic and start-up accelerator RebelBio.

Photos: AlgiKnit website and Facebook; laminaria digitata via Stemonitis / Wikipedia