The Challenge was funded by the Flotilla Foundation and The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. The winners stood out among submissions spanning 19 countries for their solutions to transform our clothing and textiles. The solutions are aiming to prevent or reduce the shedding of microscopic fibers that pollute our air and waterways when fibers break off clothing during everyday wear, the laundry, and disposal.
“These five winners each share a revolutionary potential to protect planetary health and stop the harm from microplastic pollution on ecosystems and human health,” said Dr. Alex Dehgan, CEO & Cofounder of Conservation X Labs (CXL). “These tiny plastics and fibers are found in our drinking water, the food we eat and even the air we breathe. These innovations will play a crucial role in creating sustainable textiles for the future.”
A panel of seven judges made up of representatives from the clothing industry, materials scientists, conservationists, and investors, selected the winners based on criteria that included feasibility, potential for growth, environmental impact, and novelty of their approach.
The winners are
- Mango Materials, based in San Francisco, USA, uses an innovative manufacturing technology to turn methane from waste carbon emissions into biodegradable, biopolyester fibers. “We are thrilled to be part of the Microfiber Challenge,” said Molly Morse, Founder and CEO. “Innovating with new materials and manufacturing methods takes significant dedication and effort from the full supply chain. We are proud to be part of this challenge that highlights that microfiber pollution is a global travesty in urgent need of novel solutions.”
- Natural Fiber Welding, based in Peoria, Illinois, USA, manipulates hydrogen bonds in natural fibers (such as cotton), to determine their form and shape at the molecular level. The patented technology platform delivers exceptional fabric-level performance without the use of synthetic plastics. “NFW exists to unlock nature’s potential and make synthetic plastics an artifact of yesterday’s unsustainable material economy,” said Greg Stillman, General Manager. “Being selected as a winner of this challenge means NFW is not only fighting the right fight but that we are making meaningful progress on creating a shockingly sustainable future with our all-natural materials.”
- PANGAIA x MTIX Microfiber Mitigation, based in London and West Yorkshire, UK, are two materials science companies that are working together on a novel application of MTIX’s Multiplexed Laser Surface Enhancement (MLSE®) technology to strengthen the surfaces of fibers within a fabric to prevent microfiber shedding. “The Microfiber Innovation Challenge inspired PANGAIA to partner with MTIX to harness the power of MLSE® to use problem-solving science to combat microfiber pollution. Winning the Challenge enables our teams to bring the Microfiber Mitigation MLSE® treatment to life and continue our vision to build an Earth Positive future.”
- Tandem Repeat Technologies, based in Pennsylvania, USA,uses genetic sequencing and synthetic biology to produce a new fiber, Squitex, that is based on a unique protein structure originally found in the tentacles of squid. “The Tandem Repeat team is honored and privileged to be among those recognized for our innovations in the fight against microfiber pollution,” said Gözde Şenel-Ayaz, Co-founder & President. “We are thrilled to leverage this opportunity to advance our technology, provide sustainable replacements for previous-generation textiles, and inspire continued development of the circular economy,” said Melik Demirel, Co-founder & Huck Endowed Chair Professor at Penn State University.
- Werewool, based in New York, USA, designs Fibers at the DNA level with tailored characteristics such as color, elasticity, or moisture management. “Werewool envisions biodegradable yoga pants and rain jackets, color without dyes, and performance without plastics,” said Chui-Lian Lee, Co-Founder, and CEO. “Support from the Microfiber Innovation Challenge is a game-changing boost that accelerates our realization of following nature’s blueprints for a new class of performance textiles.”
The judges selected the innovations they felt had a big vision for tackling microfiber pollution, and where the team was well-equipped to make a big difference on a large scale.
“From a venture perspective, we selected winners who are working to mend existing systems,” said Victor Friedberg, one of the judges and Founder and Managing Partner at New Epoch Capital. “In order to transform the sector into one in which sustainable materials in apparel is scaled, and to meet the urgency of now, we are going to need this balance of disrupters and menders to revolutionize the field.”
The winners were awarded prizes from a pool of $525,000. They are eligible for additional funding from Conservation X Labs of $25,000 each as they work towards commercialization goals in 2022. They will also be invited to showcase their innovations at a Solutions Fair at the global sportswear brand Under Armour’s headquarters in Baltimore later this year.
“Under Armour is excited to be a partner on Conservation X Labs’ Microfiber Innovation Challenge,” said Kyle Blakely, VP Materials and Manufacturing Innovation at Under Armour. “The winning innovations are at the forefront of the field using technology to create next-generation fibers for sportswear and apparel that will allow brands like Under Armour to meet our sustainability goals.”
Scientists are only just beginning to fully understand the massive scale of the impact of microfiber pollution. Around two million tons of microfibers are released into the ocean every year. Microfibers have been detected at the top of Mount Everest as well as in wildlife living in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. Microfiber and microplastic pollution in the ocean may disrupt the fertility of marine wildlife.
The health impacts are not yet fully understood; however, scientific studies have shown an association between microfiber inhalation and lung damage in humans. Due to the ubiquity of microplastic pollution, it is estimated we each consume a credit card’s worth of plastic every week.
About the Microfiber Innovation Challenge
The Microfiber Innovation Challenge is a global competition calling for upstream innovations that address microfiber pollution by 1) replacing textiles that are sources of plastic microfibers with replacements or 2) developing improved textile manufacturing processes to decrease microfiber shedding.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation supported and funded the development of the Saving Water for Nature Grand Challenges Program. The Challenge is run by Conservation X Labs and funded by the Flotilla Foundation and The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. It is supported by a broad coalition of partnersincluding Under Armour, Another Tomorrow, The Biomimicry Institute, Canopy, Fashion For Good, Finisterre, Materevolve, Material Innovation Initiative, The Microfibre Consortium, The North Face, The Ocean Foundation, Oceanic Global, Ocean Wise, Queen of Raw, Think Beyond Plastic Foundation, and many more.
About Conservation X Labs
Conservation X Labs is a tech company with a conservation mission. CXL creates and fosters innovations that are protecting the future of the planet and its biodiversity. We create solutions to prevent the extinction crisis through developing new technology in our labs, harnessing planetary genius through innovation competitions, and empowering talented innovators across disciplines to create transformative products that serve people and our planet.
Conservation X Labs (CXL)
MTIX Microfiber Mitigation
Natural Fiber Welding Inc.
Penn State University
Tandem Repeat Technologies
The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations