Pangaia is adding more plant-based fiber to its diet.
The London-based startup debuted last week the “next step of its material innovation strategy” with two new proprietary fabric alternatives designed to give conventional cotton a run for its money.
“There’s nothing inherently wrong with cotton itself—it’s a wonderful fiber that’s been perfected over hundreds of years, but it’s also been overproduced and over-industrialized, to the point where it’s damaging the earth,” Amanda Parkes, Pangaia’s chief innovation officer, told Sourcing Journal. “There are literally thousands of other plants out there that can give us the same characteristics in terms of cellulose.”
Pangaia scoured the globe for types of agricultural waste that were not only readily available but would also perform well together.
“We’ve been testing many permutations of lots of things,” she said.
After several rounds of trial and error—or “science,” as Parkes calls it—the company settled on a couple of combinations it liked: A blend of bamboo lyocell and the byproducts of the banana and pineapple supply chains, which it dubbed FrtFiber, and a mix of bamboo lyocell, eucalyptus, organic seaweed and wild Himalayan nettle that it gave the moniker PlntFiber.
While bamboo lyocell gets a bad rap because it requires aggressive chemistry, Parkes says Pangaia uses a closed-loop process that reclaims any additives, “so it’s not toxic or anything.” Even so, the firm is considering replacing bamboo at some point.
“Although bamboo is a fast-growing plant and naturally regenerative, we have a couple of new fruits that we’re also working on, so this is an evolving process of these entire families of new textiles,” she added. Parkes noted that Pangaia’s use of agricultural waste employs direct fibers, meaning the company doesn’t have to run it through the same kind of wet processing.
Treating FrtFiber and PlntFiber as platforms rather than static formulations allows Pangaia to vary functionality and cost based on the ingredients it opts for. Certain inputs could result in a more rugged hand or a silkier weave. Such a tack also promotes resilience in the supply chain because the company isn’t beholden to a specific raw material.
“Cotton doesn’t mean one single thing, right? So we can start to really experiment with these combined fibers in the same sorts of ways,” Parkes said. “We’re really just at the beginning of this—it’s pretty exciting.”
She’s especially excited about Himalayan nettle, which Pangaia is using for the first time.
“It’s so sustainable,” Parkes said. “It’s super-fast growing, it returns nutrients to the soil, and it has a great social story where it’s picked by local communities that get an income. And it prevents soil erosion. We’re going to be using it in a lot of things going forward.”
While Parkes doesn’t see Pangaia moving away from cotton entirely—it uses the organic version that doesn’t require synthetic pesticides or fertilizers—the brand wants to take a more holistic approach to its sourcing.
“It’s sort of to say, how do we expand our biodiversity? How do we promote regenerative systems? How do we look deeply at ecosystems and how they work with each plant we’re sourcing, so that each system has its own story that is sustainable?” she said. “How do we optimize the inherent functionality of each fiber?”
The raw materials are all processed where they’re grown or produced, while the blending magic happens at Pangaia’s mills in Portugal. Garment construction takes place in factories across Europe known for their ethical standards and labor-law compliance.
The initial rollout of T-shirts, sweatshirts, track shorts and joggers, available exclusively on Pangaia’s website, mimics cotton’s softer, fleecier form. Each item is equipped with a “digital passport,” which Pangaia developed in collaboration with Eon, the New York firm that wants to power the Internet of Fashion with its CircularID protocol. Powered by a QR code and cloud-hosted “digital twin,” the passport provides product visibility at every step of the value chain, including end-of-life management.
Like all its innovations, Pangaia isn’t keeping the new materials to itself. Both FrtFiber and PlntFiber will be joining the company’s B2B portfolio, which will make an appearance “relatively soon.” Doing so will allow Pangaia to scale up its technologies, drive down costs and gauge their commercial viability.
“It gives us the opportunity to see what the market wants and what it will support,” Parkes said.