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Lululemon’s iconic leggings might soon be made using plant-based bio-nylon instead of the synthetic version that it’s currently made from. Partnering with Genomatica, the biotech making renewable materials, Luluemon is going to create a new lower-impact nylon from plant-based materials in order to reduce the percentage of polluting synthetic fibres it uses right now.
Lululemon and Genomatica are now teaming up to replace the share of synthetics used in the athleisure brand’s collection. Right now, the majority of the fabrics used in Lululemon’s range, including its cult-favorite stretchy leggings and tops, are made from nylon, which is a plastic-based material produced using petrochemicals.
Through a multi-year partnership, Lululemon wants to replace conventional nylon with bio-nylon, an alternative developed by Genomatica derived from plant-based materials.
Lulu turns to bio-nylon
Genomatica’s bio-nylon taps fermentation technology to convert plant ingredients into chemical building blocks that are similar to the traditional petrochemicals used to make plastic-based nylon. The firm then converts its plant-based building blocks into pellets and yarns, which can be used to weave the fabrics that Lululemon will use in the future.
Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald says that the collaboration is part of the brand’s overall goal to make “100% of our products with sustainable materials and end-of-use solutions by 2030, as we move toward a circular ecosystem.”
“Genomatica’s bio-based innovations, along with their distinctive track record of successful commercial applications, will help us deliver on [that],” he added.
Turning plant waste into renewable nylon
According to Genomatica, its plant-based nylon is 100% bio-based. The company claims that its use of plant waste feedstocks to create sustainable materials can lower the environmental impact by 93% compared to conventional polluting fabrics.
“All of the carbon in Genomatica’s nylon comes from plants – a renewable resource – rather than from fossil fuels, and will have reduced greenhouse gas emissions related to its production,” a spokesperson for Genomatica told Green Queen.
“The technology Genomatica uses to make bio-nylon uses the natural sugars found in plants like corn, sugar beets and cassava, and fermentation, a process found in nature that works at mild temperatures and conditions, and that’s been used for thousands of years for making things like beer or bread.”
Genomatica’s CEO Christophe Schilling believes that taking aim at the $22 billion global nylon market is critical to address the enormous amount of non-renewable fibres being used by the textiles and fashion industry, and the resulting waste and emissions it causes.
The CEO described the partnership with Lululemon, which is the company’s largest retail collaboration so far, as a step in the right direction to “help meet increasing consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products and set an example for consumer brand owners worldwide.”
According to an analysis from MII, this demand for sustainable fashion products will drive the growth of the “next-gen” material industry into a $2.2 billion global market by 2026.
Tackling other synthetics
Genomatica, which recently said it is tripling production capacity on the heels of its $118 million Series C, also produces alternatives for other synthetic petrochemical-based materials like spandex, the other main fabric that Lululemon uses in its stretchy yoga wear that provides much-needed ‘stretchiness’.
It has managed to develop a bio-based version of the chemical BDO, also known as 1,4-butanediol, which makes up around 70% of regular spandex. When asked about how much its bio-based BDO is able to replace non-renewable BDO to make a more sustainable alternative, the company told Green Queen it is “not commenting at this time on other materials we may work on together” with Lululemon.
In a statement, Lululemon’s vice president of raw materials Patty Stapp said that just replacing nylon alone would “impact over half of the synthetic materials we use in our supply chain”.
Stapp continued on to say that the brand is “confident this partnership can truly change the way we source products” and that it will continue to ramp up the share of sustainable replacement materials. So far, some of the other new alternative materials it has tapped include Mylo, the partly mycelium-based vegan leather made by Bolt Threads, which according to the company website is 50-85% bio-based (the remaining material is not disclosed).
Lead image courtesy of Lululemon.