lululemon + Genomatica = Bio-Nylon

August 22, 2021 |

In a merry mix of Canadians and Californians, lululemon athletica inc. entered a multi-year collaboration with sustainable materials leader Genomatica to bring renewably-sourced, bio-based materials into lululemon’s products. This represents lululemon’s first-ever equity investment in a sustainable materials company and Genomatica’s largest partnership within the retail industry.

In today’s Digest, how together the two companies will create a lower-impact, plant-based nylon to replace conventional nylon, which is the largest volume of synthetic material currently used to make lululemon products, how lululemon is making real change in the bioeconomy, and more.

The lululemon, Genomatica partnership

Genomatica uses biotechnology and fermentation to convert plant-based ingredients into widely used chemical building blocks, like those used to make nylon. These building blocks are converted to pellets and yarns, and the companies will be working closely with lululemon’s fabric supply chain to incorporate this material into future products. In other words, they are making biobased nylon a reality and in consumers hands (or in their closets).

In October 2020, lululemon released its first-ever Impact Agenda, outlining ambitious social and environmental goals and multi-year strategies toward a more equitable, sustainable, and healthy future. The collaboration with Genomatica is one of the many ways lululemon is bringing new, sustainable innovation to its raw materials. Additional examples include the company’s partnership with Mylo, to use a mycelium-based leather, and LanzaTech, for polyester made using recycled carbon emissions – more on that in a minute.

Reactions from the stakeholders

Calvin McDonald, CEO, lululemon said, “Our partnership with and investment in Genomatica demonstrates our commitment to be a leader in creating products that help build a healthier future for ourselves, for our communities and for our planet. Genomatica’s bio-based innovations, along with their distinctive track record of successful commercial applications, will help us deliver on our Impact Agenda goals to make 100% of our products with sustainable materials and end-of-use solutions by 2030, as we move toward a circular ecosystem.”

“We are proud to partner with lululemon, a company that is taking meaningful action to help address our climate crisis,” said Christophe Schilling, CEO, Genomatica. “The combination of biotechnology, fermentation and renewable feedstocks can provide a powerful means to disrupt the apparel industry through sustainable sourcing. This unique collaboration will help meet increasing consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products and set an example for consumer brand owners worldwide.”

Patty Stapp, VP, Raw Materials, lululemon, said, “Replacing the petrochemicals that make up many popular materials with more sustainable alternatives is a major step forward in reaching our Impact Agenda goals. By transitioning our nylon to renewable content, we will impact over half of the synthetic materials we use in our supply chain. We have seen Genomatica repeatedly and successfully deliver industry-changing bio-based materials at commercial scale and are confident this partnership can truly change the way we source products, while continuing to provide the exceptional quality we are known for.”

Lululemon + LanzaTech = Cool CO2 Catchers

You may recall last month the news that LanzaTech is partnering with lululemon athletica inc. to create the world’s first yarn and fabric using recycled carbon emissions that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere as pollution – yep, you got it – waste CO2 emissions-based polyester. LanzaTech uses nature-based solutions to produce ethanol from waste carbon sources and is working with partners India Glycols Limited (IGL) and Far Eastern New Century to convert ethanol to polyester.

In October, lululemon released its first Impact Agenda, outlining its multi-year strategies to address critical social and environmental issues with 12 goals to drive progress. The partnership with LanzaTech is one of the many ways lululemon is focused on bringing new technologies to the business.

Polyester fiber is one of the most popular synthetic fibers which commonly uses petroleum-based feedstock. Using FENC TOPGREEN Bio3-PET fiber made from LanzaTech’s ethanol shows FENC’s and lululemon’s commitments to sustainable innovation. This waste-gas-based polyester possesses not only the same appearance but also the same properties and functionality of virgin polyester.

Lululemon’s Mushroom Magic (not magic mushroom)

In October 2020, The Digest reported that major brands Adidas, Stella McCartney, Lululemon and Kering, which owns Gucci, invested “seven figures” the for the mycelium-based Mylo material and they formed a consortium with Bolt Threads to commercialize mycelium-based leather in 2021. It’s all about economies of scale in this case with several brands teaming up to make it happen. Mycelium comes from mushrooms.

“What we are trying to do with Mylo is scaling it beyond where biomaterials have been—relegated to one-offs or museum pieces—and instead making it a material that millions and tens of millions of people can wear every day,” Jamie Bainbridge, Bolt Threads vice president of product development, told Dezeen.

The investment secures exclusive rights to the material. “In our current stage, we are dependent on large brands to help subsidize the massive costs it takes to figure out how to make Mylo at a commercial scale,” adds Bainbridge. “These companies are enabling us to develop a process that will eventually produce a high-quality leather alternative at a comparable price to leather hide but that’s going to take a few years.”

That consortium with Bolt Threads grew with Lululemon now partnering with Bolt to produce mushroom-based yoga mats, yoga bags, and duffel bags, as reported in The Digest just last month. Made from Mylo, Bolt Threads’ alternative mycelium-based leather, the products will be available early next year.

Lululemon specifically aims to use 75% sustainable materials by 2025. “Sustainable innovation will continue to play a key role in the future of retail and product; and for us, leveraging a material like Mylo demonstrates our commitment to creating a healthier environment through lower-impact products, while also giving us the ability to reimagine iconic pieces in our line through a sustainability lens,” Sun Choe, chief product officer at Lululemon, told vegconomist.

Bottom Line

Through this collaboration, the companies seek to create positive change within the $22 billion – yes, BILLION – global nylon market by building more sustainable supply chains. That is no small potatoes. In a world so full of division, let’s raise a glass to companies coming together to make a positive difference in the bioeconomy for people and planet.


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