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Ref, H&M, Ganni Piloting Fashion Made From Carbon Emissions

Neeka and Leila Mashouf, who launched Rubi Labs in 2021 to create textiles from carbon emissions, on Wednesday announced $8.7 million in seed funding, led by Talis Capital and joined by Patagonia’s venture capital wing Tin Shed Ventures, the H&M Group, Collaborative Fund and Necessary Ventures.

The startup has also secured initial strategic pilot partnerships with fashion power players Reformation, Ganni, Nuuly, H&M, and Patagonia.

“We know we’re part of something bigger. The world desperately needs affordable and scalable solutions rooted in cutting-edge science and technology to reinvent the ways industries operate,” Neeka Mashouf said in a press release. “Rubi has done that by creating a new way of manufacturing that mimics nature called symbiotic manufacturing. While we’re applying our solution to the fashion industry first, it’s our goal to make every supply chain exist in harmony with the planet.”

With the patent still pending on their “cell-free biocatalysis process,” which deploys enzymes to capture and “eat” CO2 and turn it into cellulose that becomes lyocell yarn, the Rubi team is focusing on raising capital and perfecting the process of 100 percent CO2 usage with zero waste.

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Neeka Mashouf said the Eureka moment for her and Leila came over the summer of 2021 when Neeka was working full-time and Leila was still in medical school.

“We were testing out the technology in a public bio-hacking lab in the Bay Area and there was this moment at the end of the summer where in some of our test tubes, we realized we had gone from CO2 through our system and we were able to see the white cellulose at the end,” Neeka told Sourcing Journal. “And so it was this incredible, ‘oh my gosh, we actually did it,’ moment. It’s been a concept, so far and we really believed it could happen.”

In between making what could prove to be one of the great scientific discoveries of our time, the Mashouf sisters have managed to keep an eye on the patent and fundraising sides of being a startup, too. Neeka said she expects the patent process to be completed within the next year with other patents connected to the core technology that are also being patented or will be.

“It’s always been my personal dream to be able to start companies that can take innovations and inventions and commercialize it to help solve global problems,” Neeka told Sourcing Journal. “So I would definitely say I’m living my dream, but it’s very difficult. It’s a lot of moving parts and we’re building the plane as we’re flying it.”

Kathleen Talbot, chief sustainability officer and VP of pperations at Reformation, said the supply chain, as a whole, has taken notice of the Mashoufs’ innovation.

Leila Mashouf. Courtesy

“Rubi is turning fashion’s supply chain on its head, transforming a wasteful and resource intensive process into a net positive for the planet,” Talbot said. “Up to two-thirds of fashion’s environmental impact happens at the raw materials stage, before clothing is even produced, which means investing in next generation materials is absolutely critical. Innovations like Rubi are not only key to helping Reformation achieve climate positivity, but also play an important role in building a future for fashion that is actually hopeful and inspiring.”

Nicolaj Reffstrup, the founder of Ganni, said the next-level thinking of Rubi’s breakthrough changes the game by using existing materials that are carbon-neutral.

“Fabric innovations will play a crucial role in getting fashion to that point, but for this to happen brands need to place bets and take risks,” Reffstrup said. “This is why we’re committed to supporting and investing in breakthrough fabric innovations like Rubi Laboratories through our innovation initiative ‘Fabrics of the Future’.”

Neeka Mashouf explained why Rubi Labs’ creation can make a difference.

“I think the way that we’ve done it in science for a long time has been through, either a purely chemical or metal electrochemistry basis tech, basically just kind of throwing electrons at the carbon and trying to do something with it or using biology,” she said. “So using microbes or yeast, bacteria, things like that to eat the CO2, I think those have different levels, they have pros and cons. They’ve been successful creating different kinds of materials, but they do each have some really important limitations that I think make it hard to scale up and then also make the important materials that we need as a society.

“And that’s why what we’re doing is so revolutionary,” she continued,. “It’s because it takes the benefits of each of those technologies. We’re still doing a biomimicry system where we take all the benefits of natural systems that have evolved to take pollutants or CO2 and make it into useful things. But in a purely industrial biochemical system, where we don’t need to keep cells alive, we’re not like growing cells or trees or anything like that, we’re just running a reaction. It’s this really revolutionary combination of those tactics that our team has spent a lot of time and effort and R&D brainpower in figuring out how we can do it, enabling it, making sure that it’s scalable, cost effective, and actually carbon negative.”

Along the way, the Mashouf sisters, who grew up immersed in science and fashion, inspired by their uncle Manny Mashouf of the Bebe clothing chain, who opened the first shop in San Francisco in 1976 and selling it in 2015 before the last of the stores closed in 2017.

Neeka said that because of that background, she never doubted she and her sister would one day wind up working in fashion in some capacity.

“I think we thought maybe one day we’d have a boutique or something like that just more on the fun artistic side together eventually, but it actually just worked out so well that in our separate careers and in finding an initial application we feel that it really made sense to focus in on fashion,” she said. “And so for us, growing up in the industry, we got to work really closely with all of the stakeholders and have a depth of understanding of how the industry works, but I think it’s pretty unique. That, plus the science background, I think, really made it clear that this industry is so ripe for disruption in the materials it uses from a sustainability perspective and a manufacturing perspective. There’s so much willingness in the industry to try and find and adopt solutions that can actually achieve their goals. But there just hasn’t been a lot of solutions in the industry. Not a lot of attention, I think from the scientific community either. And I think that was like a secret niche that we had that is so clear, I think, and just not really well known in the industry, in the science industry enough to to know that it’s such a great opportunity. So I think it was sort of like this unique perspective that we had, where we could apply this carbon negative symbiotic manufacturing process to an industry that really is demanding it heavily right now.”

Neeka Mashouf. Courtesy

In addition to $4.25 million raised in pre-seed funding in 2022, Rubi put feathers in its cap by winning the H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award. It also won a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and the Mashouf sisters caught the eye of Forbes which included them among its 30 Under 30 for manufacturing and industry.

Since last year, Rubi has more than doubled its workforce, the company said.