Samsara Eco, an Australian startup that uses enzyme-based technology to recycle plastics, textiles and other materials countless times, has entered into a major partnership with Lululemon. The deal means that Samsara Eco and Lululemon will create what they describe as the world’s first infinitely recycled nylon 6,6 and polyester from clothing waste.
The partnership also marks Lululemon’s first minority investment in a recycling company, though the amount has not been disclosed, and Samsara Eco’s first partnership in the apparel industry. The startup has raised a total of $56 million from investors such as Breakthrough Victoria and Temasek, and its commercial partners include Woolworths Group.
Nylon and polyester are currently part about 60% of the clothes produced today, but at the end of their life cycle, 87% ends up in landfill or is incinerated.
Samsara Eco’s enzyme-based technology breaks down mixed garments derived from plastics into their molecular building blocks to produce new garments, which can in turn be broken down, creating what the company calls infinite recycling.
Paul Riley, the CEO and founder of Samsara Eco, explained that nylon 6,6 is one of the most widely used materials in the textile and fashion industry as its complex chemical structure makes it very versatile and resilient. But it is also difficult to break down and recycle.
Both nylon and polyester are derived from fossil fuels and usually end up in landfills. However, by partnering with Lululemon, Samsara Eco has expanded its library of plastic-eating enzymes to include polyester and nylon 6,6 enzymes. “This means we can now break down clothes made from mixed materials into the core molecules, which can then be used to create brand new clothes over and over again.”
The partnership between Samsara Eco and Lululemon will span several years, with plans to scale circularity through fabric-to-textile recycling for the performance apparel industry, but Riley said it’s open to textiles from other sources.
“While this collaboration is an important milestone on our roadmap to recycle 1.5 million tons of plastics annually by 2030, as our society moves away from virgin plastics made from fossil fuels, we expect more industries that rely on plastic, Samsara Eco as a viable recycling option,” he said.
Yogendra Dandapure, Lululemon’s Vice President of Raw Materials Innovation, told TechCrunch that Samsara Eco’s enzymatic recycling process will allow the company to recycle discarded products to create new apparel over and over again. The company’s Be Planet goal is to make 100% of its products with sustainable products and end-of-use solutions by 2030, moving towards a circular ecosystem.
Other Lululemon initiatives include products made from sustainably sourced plant-based nylon, which launched in April in partnership with Geno, and Lululemon’s Like New program, which sells old-fashioned clothing.
Dandapure said that Lululemon is currently focused on creating and testing a successful nylon and polyester fabric this year, with an eye to future scaling and product plans. “We are working to preview our first prototypes later this year and will begin unveiling small collections in the next one to two years,” he said.