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How Chanel’s Investment in ‘Green Chemistry’ Elevates Eco-Fashion

Evolved by Nature, the green chemistry company previously known as Silk Inc., just got a huge vote of confidence in the potential of its liquid silk technology following Chanel’s investment of an undisclosed sum that will further develop innovative applications for activated silk molecules.

The Boston-based startup has been in talks with Chanel for close to a year, Evolved by Nature co-founder and CEO Greg Altman told Sourcing Journal. “We were really trying to understand the mindset of a luxury fashion house dedicated to creation, and what that means,” he explained.

In liquid format, pure natural silk dissolves into water and can replace petrochemicals in providing textile performance benefits, such as quick drying, to fabrics like nylon, though the company is exploring similar applications for cotton in activewear, Altman said.

The two companies soon realized their values aligned in a way that made sense for Chanel to move forward with its minority stake. As a luxury house committed to performance and quality, Chanel produces apparel, footwear and accessories “not just for us to enjoy but to be handed down to the next generation,” Altman added. Faced with the flood of fast fashion, heritage brands are doubling down on their commitment to “the way of the craftsman,” he continued, and seeking innovation that “honors the past, nature, and natural materials but can bring us into age of sustainability.”

Even though Evolved by Nature remains a growing startup, Altman noted Chanel’s foresight into what activated silk could one day achieve. “When we really started to articulate what we were as a green chemistry company, the thing that was so impressive about Chanel is that they saw what we had in the moment and they had a vision for what it could become,” he added.

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Altman cited consumers’ growing awareness of sustainability and responsible production as key drivers in inbound demand for alternatives to industry-standard petrochemicals that pollute apparel manufacturing’s footprint and reputation. Just as consumers finally came around to understanding that their fruits and vegetables are coated with pesticides they can’t see, they’re also beginning to understand that much of their clothing is treated with chemicals that support neither their health and wellness nor the environment, even “natural” fibers such as wool.

“I think we’re at the beginning of this enlightening around finishing chemistry in apparel and textiles,” Altman observed.

For example, the rise of vegan leather made from mushrooms and other eco-alternatives might be a win for those championing animal rights, but Altman described the branding around animal-free leather as “misleading” as it continues to rely on environmentally irresponsible petrochemical coatings like polyurethane to seal the material “much as how you lacquer a floor.”

While it’s important to celebrate any advancements that reduces the impact on planet Earth, Altman called for greater awareness surrounding how bioengineered alternative materials come to market.

Evolved by Nature produces activated silk exclusively at its Boston facility but is considering the benefits of a localized production model that could further shrink the product’s carbon footprint. As for Chanel, Altman revealed little on what the storied luxury brand’s plans are for someday incorporating liquid silk into suits, scarves and other swanky goods.

For now, Evolved by Nature is focused on finding innovative new forms of the activated silk molecule that can offer even more performance qualities as well developing a commercial production model that can support the needs of world-class brands, Altman concluded.