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Sustainable Shellfish Textile Coating Plant Opens in South Carolina

Chitosan, a sugary substance gleaned from the exoskeletons of shellfish like lobster, crab and shrimp, could be the sustainable, bio-based answer to chemical-heavy treatments used to coat a variety of commonly used fabrics.

That’s according to Bellingham, Wash.-based producer Tidal Vision, which is betting on the compound’s potential with a newly announced partnership with textile processor Leigh Fibers, which serves industries including apparel, bedding, automotive, uniforms and sporting equipment. The two North American companies have opened a production facility for chitosan-based solutions in Leigh Fibers’ hometown of Wellford, S.C., Tidal Vision said in a statement last week.

The endeavor’s objective is to give textile producers greater access to the non-toxic alternative to run-of-the mill fabric treatments, from flame retardants to antimicrobials. Tidal Vision’s Tidal-Tex line of water-based textile treatments are formulated with the biodegradable shellfish-derived biopolymer, which is harvested from food waste. According to the company, Tidal-Tex can be applied using a dip, spray or coating application, fitting into most textile producers’ established production processes.

The solution can be formulated to solve for a variety of needs, from fire resistance to odor fighting, it said. The high-performance treatments are designed to hold up to wash and wear, and can be applied to fibers, yarn, and woven and non-woven textiles for apparel, furniture, mattresses and other products. Commonly used market alternatives, by contrast, are made with heavy metals like silver and copper, which wear off with regular washing and pollute waterways.

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The new 24,000-square-foot facility at Leigh Fibers’ headquarters will allow Tidal Vision to scale its solutions and compete effectively with traditional textile treatments, the company added.  “Our mission is to create positive and systemic environmental impact,” CEO Craig Kasberg said in a statement. “In the textile industry, to have the biggest impact it made sense to start with fibers treated at the top of the supply chain.”

The new Tidal Vision facility at Leigh Fibers' South Carolina headquarters.
The new Tidal Vision facility at Leigh Fibers’ South Carolina headquarters. Tidal Vision

Leigh Fibers represented an ideal collaborator, Kasberg said, because both companies work to produce sustainable solutions by upcycling byproducts that would “otherwise end up in landfills.”

“Through vertical integration we provide high performance products out of what was previously considered waste,” he said.

The company’s director of textile business development, Kari Ingalls, noted that the proprietary technology now faces lower freight costs from its new facility at the Leigh Fibers’ plant, significantly adding to Tidal Vision’s ability to deliver to textile manufacturers at “a price point less than half of many heavy metal antimicrobials.”

“This is the first time that fiber, yarn, and textile manufacturers have had an environmentally friendly option at a lower cost with equivalent or better performance,” Ingalls said, adding that having a facility “in the heart of the textile industry, and a reputable partner in Leigh Fibers” stands to expand the product’s reach.

Leigh Fibers’ senior vice president called the partnership a “win-win” for the company, its customers and the environment. Tidal-Tex’s Made-in-the-USA profile, along with its sustainable makeup, are likely to prove attractive to the producer’s existing clientele, he said. “We’re committed to advancing sustainable innovation and repurposing textiles for a cleaner, healthier planet,” he added.

While chitosan is becoming more widely used in the home textile space, its adoption for use on apparel products has been limited. Last fall, however, Bay Area footwear upstart and material innovator Allbirds dropped a collection of eco-conscious apparel including a T-shirt, dubbed the TrinoXO, made using the substance. According to Allbirds, developers bypassed more commonly used odor fighters like silver and zinc, coating the shirt’s wool and Tencel fibers in the crustacean-shell-based chemistry instead.