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Zara is Making Party Dresses Out of Pollution

Zara is making clothes out of captured carbon emissions.

The innovation comes courtesy of LanzaTech, an Illinois biotech startup that employs “nature-based solutions,” such as fermentation, to turn waste carbon sources into ethanol. That ethanol is processed into monethylene glycol, mixed with purified terephthalic acid from traditional sources and then converted into polyester yarn.

While not entirely fossil-fuel-free, the result is a capsule collection of little black minidresses that the retail Goliath says captures and repurposes carbon from industrial, agriculture and household waste while reducing the use of virgin petrochemicals. Measured against their conventional counterparts, the fibers are comparable in quality, performance and clothing-care maintenance with their conventional counterparts, it added.

The collaboration, Zara said, is part of parent company Inditex’s broader Sustainability Innovation Hub initiative to transform carbon emissions or different sources of carbon feedstock into a resource for the production of new PET and acetate fibers.

“We understand the challenges of the fashion industry and this is why we are working to find solutions; searching for new alliances, processes and materials to help to limit our impact,” the company said in a statement. “Through the Sustainability Innovation Hub, we are collaborating with different partners to bring more innovation to our products and to support them to scale up their initiatives. We believe innovation and collaboration are key in moving forward in this journey.”

LanzaTech is equally enthused. “We are hugely excited about this collaboration with Inditex and Zara which brings fashion made from waste carbon emissions to the market,” said Jennifer Holmgren, the company’s CEO. “LanzaTech has the technology that can help fashion brands and retailers limit their carbon impact. By working with Zara, we have found a new pathway to recycle carbon emissions to make fabric.”

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Zara isn’t the only fashion purveyor that LanzaTech is working with. In July, Lululemon revealed it is also experimenting with making yoga garb from the waste carbon material, one of several material innovation moves the Vancouver-based company made this year.

“Lululemon is committed to making products that are better in every way—building a healthier future for ourselves, for our communities, and for our planet,” Ted Dagnese, the company’s chief supply chain officer, said in a statement. “We know sustainable innovation will play a key role in the future of retail and apparel, and we are excited to be at the forefront of an innovative technology.”

Last month, Swiss sports brand On announced a partnership with materials-science firm Borealis to use LanzaTech’s ethanol to create performance foam for its shoes.

“It’s a win-win situation: we are capturing emissions before they pollute our atmosphere and are at the same time moving away from fossil-based materials,” Caspar Coppetti, co-founder and executive co-chairman of On, said in a statement. “Innovation is at the heart of our brand, and after four years of intense research, we are very proud to announce this supply chain coalition with our world-class partners LanzaTech and Borealis.”

Other companies are playing around with pollution, too. Earlier this year, London startup Pangaia released a capsule of hoodies, T-shirts and bucket hats featuring prints made with Air-ink, a water-based dye produced using carbon emissions. Newlight, a company from Irvine, Calif., touts AirCarbon, a bioplastic made by mixing captured greenhouse gases, such as methane, with microorganisms in a bioreactor. The material has found its way into a line of purses, wallets, sunglasses and smartphone covers, which the company has released under the label Covalent, to showcase AirCarbon’s potential as a high-end plastic and leather alternative.

Zara’s LanzaTech-powered dresses, which are available on its website, include trendy features such as bare shoulders, ruffles and asymmetric details. They retail for $69.90 each.