For the first time, Lululemon is investing in textile-to-textile recycling.
Announced Thursday, the athleticwear brand made a minority investment in Australian start-up Samsara Eco, a company that has a patented enzymatic process which breaks down high-performance nylon and polyester polymer blends for use as new fibers. Details were not disclosed but Lululemon is the first equity apparel partner in Samsara Eco. Last year, Samsara, which boasts the tagline of “infinite plastic recycling,” raised series A funding worth $56 million Australian dollars (roughly $37 million), with investors including Woolworths Group.
The move falls in line with Lululemon’s “Be Planet” roadmap to create a circular ecosystem by 2030. Essentially, the brand pledged to make 100 percent of its products with “sustainable materials” or “end-of-life solutions” by 2030. In demonstration of that, the leggings maker launched its first products, T-shirts made from plant-based nylon, in collaboration with materials maker Geno in April. Last year, Lululemon, along with H&M Group and The Schmidt Family Foundation, was among the first funding partners for Apparel Impact Institute’s $250 million climate fund.
“We’re focusing on creating and testing a successful fabric for both nylon and polyester beginning this year to inform future scaling and product plans,” Yogendra Dandapure, vice president of raw materials innovation at Lululemon, told WWD. “We are working towards previewing our first prototypes later this year and will start to unveil small collections in the next one to two years. We’re excited to pilot and scale textile-to-textile recycling technology and broader recycling infrastructure solutions as we move toward a circular economy.”
Today, nylon makes up 37 percent of Lululemon’s materials mix, followed by polyester (25 percent) and cotton (15 percent). Investments as in Samsara Eco are attempts to weather new unknowns. In Lululemon’s 2022 annual report, the brand noted the rising costs of raw materials including petroleum-based products, cotton and silver while also acknowledging the reality that climate change can exacerbate existing sourcing strains.
“Samsara” aptly means rebirth or flowing around in Sanskrit, representing the infinite aims for circular fashion, per Samsara Eco’s chief executive officer and founder Paul Riley. Paying homage to that principle, Samsara Eco’s patented enzyme technology breaks down plastic to its core molecules in a matter of minutes, over and over, according to the company.
Woolworths Group has already committed to turning the first batch of recycled Samsara plastic into branded packaging. In its path to scaling up, Samsara Eco’s Australian recycling facility looks to recycle 20,000 metric tons of plastic each year starting in 2024, once uptake and capacity allow.
Riley said partnering with Lululemon has been a “significant milestone that will accelerate the journey to closing the loop on textile recycling.”