samsara echo, an Australian startup that uses enzyme-based technology to recycle plastics, textiles, and other materials countless times, has partnered with Lululemon. The deal means 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 is also Lululemon’s first minority investment in a recycling company, although the amount was not 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 business partners include Woolworths Group.
Nylon and polyester currently make up about 60% of the clothes produced today, but at the end of its life cycle, 87% end up in a landfill or incinerated.
Samsara Eco’s enzyme-based technology breaks down mixed plastic-derived garments into their molecular building blocks to produce new garments, which in turn can be broken down again, creating what the company calls infinite recycling.
Paul Riley, CEO and founder of Samsara Eco, explained that nylon 6,6 is one of the most used materials in the textile and fashion industry, because its complex chemical structure makes it very versatile and resistant. But it’s also hard to break down and recycle.
Both nylon and polyester are derived from fossil fuels and often end up in landfills. However, by working with Lululemon, Samsara Eco has expanded its library of plastic-eating enzymes to include ones for polyester and nylon 6,6. “What this means is that we can now break down clothing made from mixed materials down to their main molecules, which can then be used to recreate new clothing over and over again.”
Samsara Eco and Lululemon’s partnership will last for several years, with plans to scale circularity through textile-to-textile recycling for the performance apparel industry, but Riley said she is open to textiles from other sources.
“While this partnership is a key milestone for our roadmap to recycle 1.5 million tons of plastic annually by 2030, as our society moves away from creating new plastics made from fossil fuels, we hope more industries who depend on plastic see Samsara Eco as a viable recycling option,” he said.
Lululemon Raw Materials Innovation Vice President Yogendra Dandapure told TechDigiPro that Samsara Eco’s enzymatic recycling process will allow the company to move toward recycling end-of-life products to create new garments, time and time again. The company’s Be Planet goal is to manufacture 100% of its products with sustainable products and end-of-use solutions, towards a circular ecosystem, by 2030.
Other Lululemon initiatives include products made from plant-based nylon from renewable sources, which launched in April in partnership with Geno, and Lululemon’s Like New program, which sells previously used clothing.
Dandapure said Lululemon is currently focused on creating and testing a successful fabric for nylon and polyester this year, with an eye toward future product and scale plans. “We are working to preview our first prototypes later this year and will start introducing small collections over the next year or two,” he said.