AlgiKnit’s seaweed-sourced materials could mend the textile industry’s toxic habits

AlgiKnit is on a mission to offer more environmentally conscious materials for the heavily polluting fashion and textile industries. The startup is developing materials from seaweeds such as Macrocystis pyrifera, one of the planet’s most renewable and regenerative organisms, creating yarns and fibers that don’t rely on petroleum or toxic chemicals.

Aleks Gosiewski, Aaron Nesser and Tessa Callaghan found the materials being used in the textile industry were incredibly harmful to the environment and ultimately found it difficult to reconcile after working in fashion in different capacities. This prompted the question: Is there a way to design better products and more sustainable materials themselves? And thus, the trio founded AlgiKnit in 2017.

“Giant kelp doesn’t rely on harmful fertilizers and pesticides to grow, does not necessitate the use of arable land or fresh water and efficiently sequesters CO2 from the ocean,” AlgiKnit CEO and co-founder Tessa Callaghan told TechCrunch.

Today, AlgiKnit said it has raised a $13 million Series A led by Collaborative Fund, with participation from H&M CO: LAB (the investment arm of H&M Group), Starlight Ventures, Third Nature Ventures, as well as previous backers Horizons Ventures and SOSV.

The startup says its goal is to provide designers and brands with the tools and materials necessary to create a sustainable future for people and the planet.

The company is primarily focused on B2B sales and relationships. Generally, fibers and yarns including AlgiKnit’s can be used throughout multiple applications and form factors like knit and woven goods, according to Callaghan. Uses for its materials could include apparel, interiors, furnishings and automotive, Callaghan added.

“Sustainability is no longer a luxury; it has become a requirement,” Callaghan said. “We hear this sentiment expressed by brands across a wide range of industries, and it speaks to the scale of impact we need to achieve.”

With the latest funding, AlgiKnit will accelerate to scale its production capabilities and bring its material to the world. In addition, the startup plans to increase its team, currently 20 people, and is actively hiring for 10 new roles at its headquarters in North Carolina. The funding also will help AlgiKnit invest in its manufacturing and R&D divisions.

“The textile industry is responsible for as much as 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions — in addition to being massively polluting and water-intensive,” partner at Collaborative Fund Sophie Bakalar said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be leading AlgiKnit’s Series A round and to be investing in a technology that is pushing the world towards a more sustainable future.”

In June, the company opened its new manufacturing facility in the Research Triangle area in North Carolina. AlgiKnit says it sought to minimize its construction footprint by outfitting its 15,000-square-foot expansion with upcycled materials and second-hand furniture.

“The building process was predicated on creating a vibrant, innovative working environment without compromising our commitment to the planet,” said co-founder and COO of AlgiKnit Aleksandra Gosiewski, who led the company’s expansion to North Carolina. “From utilizing an existing space that met our specifications to reusing and repurposing as much as we possibly could, sustainability was always top of mind.”

“With the opening of our new facility in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, we are focused on expanding our production capabilities, partnerships and team to address global demand more quickly,” Callaghan said. “This is a huge next step in bringing this technology to scale and creating positive, tangible change for the planet.”

AlgiKnit has raised a total of $17.9 million to date.

Europe proposes ban on flavored vapes

European Union lawmakers are proposing to ban flavored heated tobacco products — a category that covers vaping — in a move they say is intended to protect the health of young people after a “significant” rise in sales of novel heated tobacco products.

The EU has set itself a goal of creating a ‘tobacco free generation’, and having less than 5% of the population using tobacco by 2040, as part of a major anti-cancer drive.

But the rise of vaping — with its array of youth-friendly flavored cartridges/pods, touting tastes like bubblegum, crème brûlée, mint or strawberry watermelon — presents an obvious challenge to steering young people away from smoking.

Announcing the proposal to amend existing EU rules, to remove an exemption on the sale of flavored tobacco products that currently applies to e-cigarettes and other heated tobacco products, the Commission said sales volumes of these products had risen at least 10% in at least five Member States, adding that the sales volume of heated tobacco products at retail level now exceeds 2.5% of the total sales of tobacco products at Union level.

Commenting on the proposed ban on flavored heated tobacco products in a statement, Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for health and food safety, said:

By removing flavoured heated tobacco from the market we are taking yet another step towards realising our vision under Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan to create a ‘Tobacco Free Generation’ with less than 5% of the population using tobacco by 2040. With nine out of ten lung cancers caused by tobacco, we want to make smoking as unattractive as possible to protect the health of our citizens and save lives. Stronger actions to reduce tobacco consumption, stricter enforcement and keeping pace with new developments to address the endless flow of new products entering the market — particularly important to protect younger people — is key for this. Prevention will always be better than cure.

The European Parliament and Council will need to weigh in on the Commission proposal before it can become pan-EU law — although the health-focused ban on flavors seems unlikely to generate much opposition.

After the proposal obtains the backing of the EU’s co-legislators, the ban will enter into force 20 days after the delegated act is published in the Official Journal. The Commission says EU Member States will then have eight months to transpose the Directive into their national law — with an additional three months of transition allowed before the provisions would start to apply.

So the ban itself looks unlikely to be in place before the second half of 2023. 

The looming end to sales of fruit flavored tobacco pods across the EU’s single market of ~450 million consumers is yet another regulatory blow for the e-cigarette market.

Earlier this month, the FDA brought down the axe on vape darling, Juul — ordering a company whose valued once hit the heady highs of $38 billion to stop selling and distributing its e-cigarette devices and tobacco pods in the U.S. entirely, after it failed to provide consistent evidence about the safety of its products.

A few years earlier, Juul agreed to stop selling its sweetly flavored e-liquid pods — including its fruit, creme, mango and cucumber flavors — as regulatory scrutiny stepped up over concerns about underage use.

At the time, the e-cigarette maker said it would continue selling its full range of flavors outside the U.S. — but international markets are becoming less welcoming to flavored tobacco products.