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ESG Outlook: Furoid’s Maria Zakurnaeva on Creating Materials of the Future

Maria Zakurnaeva Furoid
Maria Zakurnaeva, president and co-founder, Furoid Marco Miraglia

ESG Outlook is Sourcing Journal’s discussion series with industry executives to get their take on their company’s latest environmental, social and governance initiatives and their own personal efforts toward sustainability. In this Q&A, Maria Zakurnaeva of Furoid discusses how biotech can lead the way to a cleaner tomorrow.

Name: Maria Zakurnaeva

Title: President and Co-founder

Company: FuroidTM, part of Geneus Biotech B.V.

What do you consider to be your company’s best ESG-related achievement over the last 5 years?

The fact that we have taken stem cell-based materials to the next level, making it possible to cultivate real fur and luxury wool in a lab environment. The EU grant award in April of this year is clear recognition of our innovative solutions that provide an alternative approach to animal use in fashion.  Once we scale this up, we will provide the fashion sector with a real alternative that addresses many of the challenges that exist with conventional production methods.

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What is your company’s latest sustainability-related initiative?

Aside from our innovative stem cell-based materials, we are also launching a new keratin derived LiquidWool™ product, which is a way to turn wool waste into fresh new hybrid yarn.

What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes? How do you try to minimize the environmental impact of the clothes you buy? Either on the purchasing side and/or end-of-use angle?

I choose higher-end items as they last longer, can be resold or given away and have a second life. I don’t make any compulsive purchases, I haven’t had any accidental items in my wardrobe for a long time, everything is considered before buying.

How much do you look into a brand’s social or environmental practices before shopping?

There is too much “greenwashing” out there, so it’s important to know what you are buying. I’ve purchased items from the Net-a-Porter Net sustain line, as they spend a lot of effort on sourcing the sustainable brands. But I generally wouldn’t buy an item only for one use even if it’s labelled ESG friendly.

Anything new you are doing to boost sustainability beyond the fashion industry?

I love make-up, but I don’t use a lot of it because of the reported polluting effects of the shimmers and glitters. Also, I use public transport whenever I can instead of calling an Uber. Generally, less is always more for me when it comes to any purchases. For example, I have been using reusable cups since I got my first one in Tokyo in 2008.

What would you say is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion? And since you work in this industry, do you find yourself trying to help clarify such misconceptions?

The starting point is that fashion in general has a huge carbon footprint, and as a consumer it is difficult to understand what is sustainable. Many words such as “organic” and “recycled” are being used far too loosely, and it is easy to have misconceptions about the products.

I think it is a good start to use common sense and ask questions about the companies and the products. At Furoid™, sustainability and ethics are the core of our products, so I focus on this issue every day, helping the fashion industry to work with fur and wool in a better way.

If you buy something that’s been labelled sustainable, consumers can be drawn into buying more, and I think this is the big misconception. I believe in leading by example and its incumbent on the fashion sector to be as clear and transparent as possible in communicating with the consumer.

What was your company’s biggest takeaway from the Covid crisis?

Like many other companies, we discovered the virtual way of working and the fact that it is a very enjoyable and productive method of having a team come together. Our senior team is based in Paris, London, Copenhagen, Maastricht and Texas, yet we are constantly connected and engaged on the tasks at hand.

By working in a smart way, we have reduced the need for travel, thus reducing the carbon footprint of our operation and saving a lot of resources that can go into the core project instead.

What do you consider to be the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change?

We should have started thinking about the environment and animal welfare a long time ago! So, we have missed many opportunities in the past to make things better. However, it is not my belief that it is too late. By utilizing the emerging science, delivering better products and giving consumers clear information to make informed decisions, we can make meaningful change.

What are you most optimistic about?

Fashion reflects the ever-changing world, but the negative consequences are also very clear, from overproduction to overconsumption. It is time for change and biotech pioneers are developing the new technologies that fashion has started to adopt. Although, it takes time to be truly disruptive, we are creating materials of the future, and this future is now. Even though I am a firm believer in our children as a driving force of the positive change, It is not on the next generation to make things right, it is on us to leave this planet for the next generations better than we found it.