The Biodegradable Plant & Algae T-Shirt

16 Sep

The Biodegradable Plant & Algae T-Shirt (article repeated from ASI)

A London, U.K.-based apparel company has pulled off a fashion first that takes the concept of eco-friendly clothing to the next level.

Photo from Vollebak.

Vollebak has created a T-shirt that’s made from pulped eucalyptus and beech that’s sourced from sustainably-managed forests, as well as algae that’s grown in bioreactors. The end product is a soft, durable earthily hip tee that’s biodegradable. Bury it in the earth, and it’s gone in approximately three months. But don’t worry, Vollebak says, the shirt won’t biodegrade while you’re wearing it; the tee needs the fungus, bacteria and heat from the Earth to do that.

The ingenious tee is the work of Vollebak founders Nick and Steve Tidball – twin brothers who’ve been at the forefront of wild apparel innovations since launching their company four years ago. The innovations include a solar charged jacket that won a list of awards, including Time’s Best Invention of 2018, Fast Company’s Innovation by Design award and Wired’s Gear of the Year. The T-shirt made with ceramic technology for high-level abrasion resistance, a jacket that mimics the adaptive camouflage of squid, and fire-and-water battling pants designed to last 100 years are other notables.

The Black Squid Jacket mimics the adaptive camouflage of the squid. Photo from Vollebak.

Still, it’s the recently released Plant and Algae Shirt that’s been gaining the most attention of late because it addresses one of the biggest negatives of the textile industry – and that’s the heavy toll clothing waste and industrial apparel manufacturing take on the planet. Consider: People sent about 11.2 million tons of textiles to landfills in 2015, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, it takes anywhere from 25 to 40 gallons of water to dye two pounds of fabric, and the textile industry gulps down almost 25 trillion gallons of water annually, research shows.

But through an innovative process and use of organic materials left in their natural state, Vollebak is presenting an innovative solution to the waste and resource depletion with its Plant and Algae Shirt. The ingenuity includes using a closed loop production process to turn the wood from sustainably-managed forests into fabric. “In practice this means that over 99% of the water and solvent used to turn pulp into fibre is recycled and reused,” Vollebak says on its website. “And on the Higg MSI scoring system, which measures the impact of producing a kilogram of fibre – taking into account fossil resource depletion, water scarcity, eutrophication and global warming – this fabric scores 10 against cotton’s score of 60. Our eventual aim is to score 0.”

Photo from Vollebak.

The green engineering extends to the T-shirt print, which is made from algae. “To turn algae into a printable ink, we use the same technique used in Kenya to create algae cake,” Vollebak says. “Instead of passing lake water through a cotton net, we pass water from the bioreactor through a filter. This process separates the algae, leaving a soupy algae paste. This paste is then dried in the sun to create a fine powder, and this powder is mixed with a water-based binder to make algae ink.”

Over time, the algae print organically changes color. No chemicals or dyes are used in the making of the shirt. So, when wearers do bury it to biodegrade, only organic material enters the soil. “Our idea with all our clothing is to cut down on the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills and [..] make people think differently about how long they could or should own a piece of clothing for,” Vollebak CEO Steve Tidball told Forbes.

Currently, the shirt retails for $110, and we don’t expect the tees to start popping up in the promo products industry tomorrow – but one day they, and future models like them, just might. After all, the shirts are representative of a growing movement centered on creating apparel that’s truly sustainable in material, production process and post-life. As younger Millennials and Gen Zers begin to dominate the consumer and corporate buying marketplaces, promotional products professionals should look for demand for verifiably green wearables to take deeper root and sprout.

If you are interested in sustainable tees shirts and apparel to promote your own business, or if you wish to see some samples, email info@proformagreen.com for information and pricing.

And as always, if you really want to do something sustainable, do not buy promotional products. All products are consumption at one level or another. So if you must buy, 1) Buy local (i.e. made in USA), 2) Buy useful, long lasting items, 3) Buy sustainable/recycled/recyclable products if possible.

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