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ESG Outlook: Aleks Gosiewski of AlgiKnit on Eliminating Toxic Yarns with Kelp

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, Aleks Gosiewski, co-founder and COO of AlgiKnit discusses how a seaweed called kelp is emerging as an unlikely savior in the battle against toxic yarn.  

Name: Aleks Gosiewski

Title: Co-Founder & COO

Aleks Gosiewski AlgiKnit
Aleks Gosiewski, co-founder and COO, AlgiKnit Courtesy

What do you consider to be your company’s best ESG-related achievement?

At its core, AlgiKnit is dedicated to creating better materials for an expansive range of applications. Our yarns are derived from a seaweed called kelp, which is one of the fastest-growing organisms on the planet. It also sequesters CO2 as it grows and helps fight ocean acidification. When it comes to production, we’re proud to have developed a process that, from our inputs to our outputs, has eliminated the usage of toxic chemicals usually associated with fiber production.

What is your personal philosophy on shopping for clothes/consumer products it pertains to sustainability?

First and foremost, buying less is really the most ‘sustainable’ thing that can be done and something I live by. If you do choose to buy a product, buying second hand is a great alternative. If the item is new, be mindful of where it comes from, what it’s made of, and its end of life.

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

It’s essential to do the necessary research before buying not only clothing, but also any product, to ensure that you’re putting your money in the right place. I won’t buy from specific brands or companies that don’t align with my values around the environment, human rights, ethics, etc.

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How do you try to minimize the environmental impact of the products you buy?

With a background in design and having been raised in an environmentally conscious household, there are a few habits I’ve formed. Some examples of this are mending, repurposing, or giving away clothes, which helps extend the life of a garment and allows for up- or downcycling as necessary. In addition to this, I grew up composting and recycling, always making sure to dispose of things in the right way. And finally, I’ve always tried to focus on buying just what I actually need, as opposed to what I want.

What would you say is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion?  

Achieving true ‘sustainability’ in the fashion industry is really hard. When it comes to materials, certain ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘plant-based’ textile options on the market represent steps in the right direction, but there are still numerous issues associated with their creation—including toxicity, water usage and chemical runoff. In addition, many consumers believe that natural materials are a more sustainable alternative, when in fact, certain natural materials like cotton are rough on our environment. Another big misconception people often have about clothing is its ability to be recycled. Given the wide variety of clothing blends, it’s hard to ensure that garments can be recycled on an impactful scale. There’s a statistic from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that says that less than 1 percent of clothing is recycled into new clothing.

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

As a company, we care as much about sustainability in the workplace as we do in our products. In other words, we care deeply about the well-being of our team. As a response to the pandemic, we adapted new schedules and policies during this unusual period to account for both the needs of our team and company. This flexibility is something we hope to continue to have as we grow.

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

Tracking our footprint overall, beyond our product, has been an area of interest. We are in the process of finding ways to better collect data on the waste we produce and ways to improve that.

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

Not being the leaders in the climate movement and instead leaning on government, venture capital and new companies to lead the change. We have seen a very successful shift in the food industry where investing in alternative materials and alternative recycling methods has become widely accepted. I believe the same opportunity exists here.