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Luxury House Chanel Takes a Minority Stake in ‘Green’ Silk Maker

Chanel Inc. has become the latest retail giant to make a public nod toward environmentally conscious products, investing in a “green” chemistry company as part of an effort to make luxury items less damaging to the planet.

Both the apparel and cosmetics industries are major sources of waste, and chemicals often used to make fabrics and skincare products—such as microplastics, ingredient stabilizers and textile finishers—can be harmful. Startups like Evolved by Nature, to which Chanel will pay an undisclosed sum for a minority stake, seek to replace harsh synthetic additives with a new kind of silk. Someday, it might even find its way into one of Chanel’s $475 scarves.

While people can debate whether planet-friendly proclamations by corporations are a substantive shift or window dressing, the fashion, health and beauty sectors have been making their interest clear. Progressive brands have sought to market themselves as friends of the Earth, and the bigger players are beginning to move that way, too.

As for Chanel, this isn’t the first time the French luxury house has sought to establish its green bona fides.

It made another sustainability investment late last year when it put money into Finnish biodegradable plastic packaging alternative Sulapac. The company made earlier moves within the existing silk industry, too: In 2016, the label acquired four high-end French silk companies to shore up its supply chain. And last year, Chanel published a report on how it addresses sustainability issues, a first for the 100-year-old, privately held retailer.

Evolved by Nature, based in Boston, was started by biomedical engineer Rebecca Lacouture and chemist Gregory Altman in 2013. Their product is pure silk in liquid form, a regenerative technology made from discarded silkworm cocoons. The company has patented dozens of molecular combinations of the natural silk protein since filing its first application in 2014.

Existing backers include Kraft Group, Jeff Vinik and Roy P. Disney. The company declined to say how much total funding it has raised.

Evolved by Nature said it will use the fresh funding to “explore innovative material, mechanical and optical enhancements of different fabrics.” It’s unclear how the technology will be specifically integrated into Chanel’s products, which range from handbags to haute couture. Altman said the Chanel link-up is still in the research and development stage.

“For them to believe in us enough to make a financial investment says we’re certainly doing the right thing,” said Altman.