Design
Apr 05, 2024
by Karl Smith
The (Un-)Bleeding Edge: Introducing Material Innovation’s New Guard
by Karl Smith
Apr 05, 2024

When we talk about next-generation materials and next-generation innovators, we are inherently talking about the future. But we are also very much talking about the now and about how the two are entwined – about what is happening, at this very moment, and how it will affect what happens afterward.

It is, after all, all about what’s next.

In that sense, we tend to focus on the innovators and innovations which have created the biggest waves thus far – assuming that these products, processes, collaborations, whatever form they take, are what will produce the knock-on effects we’ll be discussing down the line. We look to the likes of Natural Fiber Welding, to Modern Synthesis, to Parley for the Oceans, and to MycoWorks – established names with equally established successes. And this, of course, is all well worthy of the spotlight – all very much deserving of the weight it’s given and the esteem these companies are held in.

It is, however, neither the full picture nor truly in the spirit of innovation itself. As well as the waves already in motion, we also need to look at the ripples and the building swell.

With this in mind, we reached out to the people shaping the capital-F Future; the vanguard of materials science – or, if you will, the Next Generation of Next-Generation Innovation, already leaving its indelible mark on the present day.

From carbon capture and transformation to bio-based leather alternatives, bacteria-derived and seaweed-derived materials to plant-based fur and nature-regenerating insulation, we posed a set of questions to innovators at the forefront of progressive change in fashion, footwear and design – a way of introducing them, and their work, to a wider audience and of charting a course for what comes next.

Featuring Rubi Labs, Kintra Fibers, Gozen, ESG Brands, TômTex, erthos, Savian (BioFluff), Ponda (BioPuff), Alt. Leather, Keel Labs, NEFFA, Beyond Leather Materials, and Ohoskin, their answers here – to the vital questions we’ve set out – are the roadmap for our shared future.

We’ll let them do the talking now.

“It’s rooted in optimism. It’s about solving the problems created by extractive capitalism where a path of least resistance was prioritized and resulting materials and processes gained significant momentum.” – Chase Kahmann, Co-Founder and CEO of ESG Brands

What does it mean to be a “next-generation” innovator? How does it differ from any other sector?

Neeka Mashouf, Co-Founder and CEO of Rubi Labs: Next-gen innovators think in terms of epochs and go beyond incremental improvements to establish visions that redefine what’s possible across industries and society. They have a deep understanding of systemic challenges and a vision for what dramatically different future should exist outside of the guardrails of today’s notions, and a long-term strategy of how to get from today to that future.

[Founded in 2021 by twin sisters Neeka and Leila Mashouf, Rubi Labs is a Northern California-based bio-technology company focused on carbon capture and transformation, using natural enzymes to convert emissions into cellulose pulp, spun into fibers for fashion textiles. In its short life so far, Rubi Labs became the first U.S. company to win H&M’s Global Change Award and secured a potentially game-changing partnership with Walmart to trial carbon capture.]

Julia Marsh, CEO and Co-Founder of Sway: At Sway, we often talk about “legacy” plastics. Plastics have dominated consumer culture since the 1950s, they’re heavily subsidized and perfectly optimized as the cheap, ubiquitous material everyone knows, loves, and hates. The problem with legacy plastics is not only that they prop up the fossil fuel industry, but also that they are over-engineered for their single-use applications, persisting in nature and communities forever.

As a result, there is a growing market for “sustainable” plastic alternatives made from biobased feedstocks including sugarcane, corn, potato, and wood. These materials come with their own unique trade offs, including resource-intensity, decomposition timeline, and price.

To Sway, being a “next-generation innovator” means creating materials that go beyond sustainability. Solutions for plastic should be sourced from abundant, regenerative inputs and return to nature without special facilities – and they should be accessible to all, at a reasonable cost.

[Established in 2020 by designer Julia Marsh (CEO), sustainable development practitioner Matt Mayes (COO), and Leland Maschmeyer – former CBO of Chobani – Sway uses seaweed to create materials for packaging and beyond. Earlier this year, it announced a serious breakthrough – A 100% bio-based thermoplastic resin, TPSea, which is home-compostable, free from microplastics, created from a regenerative seaweed that can actually aid in replenishing ocean ecosystems, and which can be made to scale using existing infrastructure.]

Julian Ellis-Brown, Co-Founder and CEO of Ponda: Perhaps this is counter-intuitive given the implication of how ‘next-generation’ sounds, but to me it means that the innovation isn’t incremental.

Next-generation design is about approaching difficult problems from a completely novel direction. We aren’t working to make polyester 10% less impactful, or animal-based products a little bit less resource-heavy. Instead, we’re looking to create completely novel, regenerative supply chains.

[Established in 2020 by Julian Ellis-Brown, Neloufar Taheri, Finlay Duncan and Antonia Jara-Contreras, Ponda – originally called Saltyco – is a biomaterials company developing novel textiles from truly regenerative fibres. With a particular focus on regenerative agriculture and marsh farming, the U.K.-based innovator is best known for BioPuff – a lightweight, water-resistant and plant-based insulation material, created from the fibers of plants that aid in wetland regeneration, positioned as a low-impact and cruelty-free replacement for both animal feathers and synthetics.]

Kintra Fibers’ bio-based and biodegradable Resin, designed to replace polyester.

Alissa Baier-Lentz, Co-Founder and COO of Kintra Fibers: ⁤A “next-generation” innovator must address pressing environmental challenges while also meeting industry demands. ⁤⁤

For the apparel industry, it is critical that a new material delivers a unique and beneficial performance attribute, has a seamless fit to existing production systems, and has a clear path to price parity. ⁤

[Creator of a bio-based polyester which boasts a 95% emissions reduction versus traditional PET, Kintra Fibers was founded by Alissa Baier-Lentz and Billy McCall in 2018. Biodegradable in aerobic environments, Kintra’s proprietary polyester not only claims performance on par (and often exceeding) that of its fossil-derived predecessor, but can also be manufactured on the same equipment, drastically increasing the possibility of systemic change.]

Tina Funder, Founder of Alt. Leather: Next generation innovators push the boundaries of existing technology, disrupting categories by designing/inventing a completely new approach. Next-gen innovation is sector agnostic, meaning any and all sectors can be disrupted.

[Still in its early stages but gaining fast, Australian innovator Alt. Leather is working toward exactly what it sounds like – a scalable, Earth-friendlier, bio-based alternative to animal-derived leather. Established in 2022 by Tina Funder, founder of vegan handbag brand LOM, the company recently expanded its research team and closed a funding round of $1.1 million USD – coming in well over expectation.]

Ece Gozen, Co-Founder and CEO of Gozen: In my mind an innovator is by definition someone who steps on something next generation. And should not differ from sector to sector. Innovation means making connections between points of knowledge where other people are fixed on the old perspective.

An innovator by definition is someone who prefers to operate at the cutting edge of technology, culture, arts & science. “Next generation” can refer to the next wave of products, technologies, ideas, or even societal norms that are expected to shape the future.

But what is the ‘secret’ of shaping the future? If you don’t care about nature then there is no future. Therefore, for a “next-gen” innovator, the planet should be a higher priority than profits at all costs.

The technology we create is damaging the biodiversity and we are at an inflection point where the damage we do will be there to stay. We have to get in tune with the planet, study nature and bring its marvels into our designs, adapt to this change with our inventions and mindset. That’s why at Gozen, we are saying ‘Transforming the Material to change mind’.

[Founded by Ece Gozen in 2022, the San Francisco-based bio-recreation outfit can already claim a collaboration with one of fashion’s biggest brands thanks to LUNAFORM™. Debuting the bio-based material in BALENCIAGA’s Summer 2024 collection, the microorganism-engineered leather alternative claims a tensile strength surpassing that of its plant- and mycelium-based equivalents and a tactile experience uniquely comparable to animal-derived leather – a combination which could, if other brands follow BALENCIAGA’s lead, shift the fashion industry toward a more progressive future.]

erthos: Being a “next-generation” innovator means using our voice to lead radical change against the plastic crisis and using cutting-edge technology to close the gap across the intersectional impacts that the plastic crisis perpetuates.

Historically, the materials industry has been a very niche and male-dominated sector that lacked representation and longed for meaningful innovation.

[Based in Ontario, Canada, erthos was founded in 2018 by then-students Nuha Siddiqui and Kritika Tyagi. Having created the naturally-derived resins terrafyllo™ and terrariza™, designed and ready to replace key-use plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene respectively, erthos is poised to drastically shake-up the packaging industry – the kind of change that brings knock-on effects that go well beyond the materials themselves.]

Adriana Santanocito, Co-Founder and CEO of Ohoskin: It means to build not only a material. It is about a new approach to manufacturing, consumption habits, and even the economy.

This is what we are doing at Ohoskin: creating a material out of discarded components to create a new luxury. We are doing things differently, marrying sustainability with durability. For instance, we are using recycled plastic to enhance both aspects.

This industry needs to progress in sustainability but also quality and feel, and this is exactly what we are doing with our material, made with byproducts of oranges and cacti, mixed with recycled plastic. This way, consumers don’t have to give up on anything. We must provide the public with something that constitutes an upgrade in all aspects and a setback in none.

Also, we are investing in transparency, because we believe that being “next-generation” means making the public aware of our research, processes, and what is possible with current technology. We believe we are opening a new way of doing business, and we hope other sectors will follow once that road has been explored and paved.

[Founded in Sicily in 2019 by Adriana Santanocito, Ohoskin produces a Made-in-Italy material from cactus and orange waste – a circular process which, combining those organic materials with recycled plastic, cuts down on waste and drastically reduces the emissions in a textile production that’s also entirely tracked via blockchain for radical transparency.]

Tessa Callagjan, Co-Founder and CEO of Keel Labs: Being a next generation innovator means taking an honest look at our current systems, playing out how that will look for our planet down the line, and deciding to commit to the future we want to live in – not the one we are being handed.

This requires a dedication to change that may feel foreign, or even intangible to some, and thus on the innovation side requires tackling both the challenges of scaling a business alongside educating audiences about the necessity and feasibility of future-focused solutions.

[Originally founded in 2017 as AligKnit by Tessa Callaghan and Aleks Gosiewski, and established as Keel Labs in 2022, the North Carolina innovator is best known for harnessing the fast-generating potential of our underwater ecosystems – most notably to create the seaweed-based fiber Kelsun™, championed by the likes of Stella McCartney.]

Mikael Eydt, Co-Founder and CEO of Beyond Leather Materials: I don’t see us so different from any other entrepreneur. We are all driven by building something from scratch. The little extra might be that we have a strong focus on having a positive impact.

For me it is crucial to combine sustainability with a profit orientated business. Both needs to be aligned to succeed.

[Copenhagen based Beyond Leather Materials was founded in 2017 and, as you might imagine, is focused on solutions to a world beyond animal-derived leather. Best known for its Leap material, created in partnership with Danish juice and cider producers whose waste the innovator upcycles into its 84% natural flagship product, Beyond Leather is also committed to a dual-mission of cutting down the planetary burden of food waste.]

Aniela Hoitink, CEO of MYCOTEX by NEFFA: To me a next-gen innovator means that he/she develops materials or methods that are not yet existing. Cotton, wool and leather are known for years, so for me that is not a next-gen material. You can improve them as well, but then you would be more a material innovator.

[NEFFA, which is a loose acronym for New Fashion Factory, is both a mode of production and the producer of a next-gen material its own right. Based in the Netherlands, NEFFA is the first – and currently only – 3D-manufacturing method which allows for the creation of seamless and custom products which are grown from home-compostable mushroom roots and other biomaterials. It’s also the creator of MYCOTEX – which just so happens to be one of those mycelium materials. ]

Chase Kahmann, Co-Founder and CEO of ESG Brands: In this context it’s rooted in optimism. It’s about solving the problems created by extractive capitalism where a path of least resistance was prioritized and resulting materials and processes gained significant momentum.

We’re simply continuing what humans do best by being innovative and standing on the shoulders of giants before us, but we’ve opened our optics through a planetary and living-thing lens to work toward a bright future based on circularity and optimizing regenerative natural resources.

[Portland-based ESG Brands was founded in 2020 by Chase Kahmann, Ryan Bachman, Ravi Kallayil, Eduardo Gonzalez, and Fred Dennis, created with a mission of turning agricultural waste into something with purpose. With a focus on banana – which produces an outsized amount of waste in its unused parts where food production is concerned – ESG has developed not only the plant-based material BANEX™ for use in the fashion industry, but also Tempo™, the innovative technology which processes it.]

Dauphinette FW2024 “Faux-Prosciutto” bag, made with TômTex Series M.

Uyen Tran, Founder and CEO of TomTex: Being a “next-generation” innovator in the textile industry means pushing the boundaries of fabric technology by combining materials science with creative design.

Unlike other industries, textiles must balance both practicality and beauty, serving various fields like fashion, interior and automotive. Addressing sustainability and adaptability challenges throughout the supply chain distinguishes textile innovation, requiring collaboration across disciplines to drive meaningful progress in the field.

[Founded in 2020 by Uyen Tran, New York-based biomaterial outfit TômTex is the developer of its namesake bio-based material collection – an offering which includes the 100% plant based, petrochemical-free, plastic-free, and 100% naturally biodegradable Series WS, derived from mushroom, and the Series WS, which boasts all of the same qualities other than being plant-based, derived instead from seafood waste such as shrimp shells.]

“A new material addresses today’s needs, while a next-gen material anticipates & solves tomorrow’s needs.” – Neeka Mashouf, Co-Founder and CEO of Rubi Labs

What makes a material or a process “next-gen” rather than just new?

Rubi Labs: A new material addresses today’s needs, while a next-gen material anticipates & solves tomorrow’s needs. At Rubi, we see that the land-, water-, and carbon-intensive manufacturing processes today are by design environmentally-depleting (forests, fresh water, air, biodiversity, etc) and inspired us to re-imagine manufacturing for the next era.

Sway: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s definition of the circular economy is defined by three foundational principles: 1) Eliminate waste and pollution, 2) keep products and materials in use, and 3) Regenerate natural systems. We love that final pillar as a guiding principle for how “next gen” materials should be designed!

At Sway, we practice regenerative design, which goes beyond the call of sustainability to simply avoid harm – instead creating products and value chains that give more than they take. They replenish life.

Ponda: In addition to  what I said previously, I believe a next-gen process is about consideration of the whole supply-chain, not just a particular innovation.

At Ponda. we consider how the processing and manufacturing of BioPuff® affects everyone from the farmer regenerating their land to the garment manufacturers crafting our clothes, all the way through to the brands and the stories they tell.

Kintra Fibers: A material earns the “next-gen” label when it demonstrates unique—and substantially improved—performance properties, enhanced manufacturing efficiency, and a positive environmental impact over traditional alternatives.

Alt. Leather: ‘New’ is an iterative improvement upon an existing technology – for example a refreshed design. Whereas ‘next gen’ is transformative, completely revolutionising or disrupting a sector with groundbreaking technology, forcing us to consider new ways of doing things.

Gozen: In that regard, many things can just be new. A new color of a nice shoe is also “new”. The definition of “new” is quite broad in that sense. But a next-gen material process innovation should ideally connect parts of the otherwise disconnected industries together to create something “net new”.

Make a new, unique mark on the marketplace and the world. While you are doing that you must be sure that your next-gen process is respectful to biodiversity and the planet. It is all about how many tonnes of water, energy or Earth’ land that you are saving.

erthos co-founders Nuha Siddiqui, CEO, and Kritka Tyagi, Head of Product.

erthos: A next-gen material/process is one that thinks beyond just new advancements, and instead is consciously challenging the status quo on behalf of future generations. At erthos, we start with the ideology of how we can partner with the planet and the resources that already exist to build a more plastic-free future.

The way that we view the holistic development of our materials is the same way that we view our holistic approach to the intersectional impacts of the end products created by our materials. Next-generation innovations like those pursued by erthos transcend mere novelty; they offer sustainable alternatives to conventional materials and processes.

Ohoskin: Because it is not just a new material. What we are trying to do is to propose a new mindset in manufacturing and consumption. We want to change the way creators and users see luxury and raw materials. Until a few years ago, to say that a luxury bag was made with agricultural byproducts would have raised more than an eyebrow.

Keel Labs: For Keel Labs, “next-gen” lives at the intersection of our material reality: where the limits of natural resources meet human necessity. We aim to upend the impact that we, as humans, have had on the planet by combining our existing knowledge and built environment with the availability of nature’s production and degradation cycles.

Our aim is not to create new systems, or business for business sake, but to create the next generation of natural building blocks we can all rely on to aid in the transition toward a prosperous future for all.

Beyond Leather Materials: In the past, materials were often developed with specific improvements with for example performance or aesthetics in mind. Now sustainability became a focus and needs to be added to all the other already available qualities a material needs to have. Therefore, a new generation of materials.

ESG Brands: Innovations are created within the context of their time; and today’s society has created momentum across the public and private sector to demand alternative raw material choices that provide ESG-based solutions at an industrial scale and within the context of a global capitalist market.

Next-gen companies like ours need to be very holistic in how we provide solutions and it requires us to offer more than something that is just a ‘new feature’ or ‘new formulation’. Corporations should be partnering with start-ups to accelerate next-gen so they can offer new materials at scale.

Next-gen takes into consideration three key things: methods of make, material inputs, and business innovation; this is something new companies (start-ups) are uniquely positioned to do.

TomTex: When we talk about “next-gen” materials and processes in textiles, we’re challenging the status quo of traditional manufacturing. For materials, it means shifting away from reliance on oil-based chemistry and instead exploring nature’s resources. We’re asking questions like, “What natural elements can we use to create eco-friendly materials that don’t harm the environment and are part of the natural ecosystem?” Moreover, we’re examining the entire textile production process, from raw materials to finishing touches.

“Next-gen” materials are game-changers because they streamline production, reducing the number of steps involved. This efficiency means we save precious resources, water, energy, and reduce labor requirements along the way. It’s all about finding smarter, more sustainable ways to make textiles while minimizing our impact on the planet.

Rheom Materials’ bio-based pellets, designed for melt extrusion.

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Rheom Materials: I think that a next-gen material is one that embraces some principle of sustainability into it’s design, whether that’s bio-based . This is contrasted with “new” materials which might have new functionalities or features but perpetuate old technologies like petrochemicals or animal hide tanning.

[Founded in 2020 by Zimri T. Hinshaw, Rheom Materials leverages the existing global infrastructure for melt extrusion – the practice of using polymer pellets to create materials through a heat-based process – and replaces traditional, petro-based polymers with a bio-based alternative. With its own leather alternative, SHORAI™, and the supply of its bio-based pellets for injection molding, Rheom is working to create substantial change in not only the fashion industry, but also across the design, electronic and automotive sectors.]

“We found our purpose in helping people change their mindset about the environment and their consumption habits. Take luxury, for example. We want to change the perception about it. We want to make it democratic, helping brands produce beautiful things that benefit people, animals, and the planet just for the fact they are produced and consumed.” – Adriana Santanocito, Co-Founder and CEO of Ohoskin

People often describe next-gen companies as “progressive,” but – beyond progress, which is a little vague – what would you say is the goal of a next-generation materials outfit?

Rubi Labs: Rubi’s vision is a world powered by “Symbiotic Manufacturing,” where human prosperity is aligned with ecological prosperity. An outfit made of next-gen materials should be regenerative for the planet and provide the quality and affordability that humans need to prosper too.

Sway: Sway’s end-goal is to bring benevolent materials into the mainstream. By scaling next generation materials made from seaweed, we have the opportunity to evolve entire supply chains, driving down demand for harmful petrochemicals, while actively healing natural systems from sea to soil.

Imagine if everyday materials had the power to rejuvenate ocean ecosystems! If Sway materials are ubiquitous, it means we’ve succeeded in building a global supply chain where traditional plastic manufacturers are working with seaweed and plants, instead of petroleum to make their products. If your Snickers wrapper is made from seaweed, it’s supporting ocean farms and ocean health – expanding biodiversity and improving water quality, while also eliminating plastic pollution.

But our work doesn’t stop there. Our vision is not only to normalize innovative materials for the circular economy, but also to help facilitate the mass adoption of circular practices. This includes easy access to compost infrastructure, which is impactful not just from the perspective of materials usage, but also in diverting organic waste away from landfills. We envision a future where consumption can actually feed into a cycle of biological circularity – a system nature invented eons ago!

Ponda: We’re looking for impact, measurable on a landscape-scale. To paint a picture of what this looks like – there’s currently 200 million hectares drained wetlands in agricultural production, creating gigatonnes of carbon emissions each year.

We want consumers to have the power to regenerate these environments through the clothing purchases they make. We see a world where each jacket that is designed, made and sold creates a little pocket of regeneration around the world. With enough scale, we can reverse one of our greatest emitters back into our best carbon store.

Kintra Fibers: By designing materials that align with both nature and the needs of industry, we aim to establish a new standard of sustainability in fashion, one where every aspect of the supply chain is optimized for environmental stewardship without compromising on product quality or performance.

Alt. Leather: The role of next-generational materials is to innovate and find transformative solutions to existing technologies, whilst solving major global issues like waste, carbon emissions, resource depletion, ethical treatment of animals and workers, etc.

Up to two thirds of a brand’s carbon footprint comes from choice of raw materials. Alt. Leather aims to create one of the world’s most sustainable leather alternatives – a low impact solution to carbon intensive animal leather and petrochemical based synthetic leathers.

Our low impact material will help brands across fashion, footwear, furniture and automotive, to reduce their carbon footprint and eliminate reliance on fossil-fuel derived synthetic alternatives.

Gozen: When you speak of “end goals”s At Gozen, we set out with an ambitious set of goals. Transforming our material world, shifting conventional supply chain models with an inspiring and transformative material. And doing this very fast.

But out of all the business goals we have, we think the most important one is a cultural one. We have to transform the minds as well as we transform the material world we speak of. We want to not only push the boundaries of this space but also how people perceive next gen materials as well. These materials can perform incredibly well in various conditions and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.

erthos: The ultimate goal for erthos extends beyond mere progress; it’s about drastically reducing the impact of the plastic crisis. In order to urgently address the issue, we believe true collaboration across industries and sectors is the answer. We understand that erthos is only one part of the larger equation that requires the sharing of resources for the future of all humanity.

GANNI’s flagship “Bou Bag” reimagined using BioFluff’s plant-based fur, Savian.

Roni Gamzon, Chief Commercial Officer at BioFluff: The end goal for BioFluff is to make a true impact for the planet. The consumer goods industry (including luxury) is very used to the production and sourcing methods used for the past few centuries and over the last few decades, certain materials have been prioritised and use increased with a pure consideration of price efficiency, but we are at a really urgent point where price cannot take priority, the environmental and human impact needs to be at the forefront of these decision.

[Founded in 2022 by biochemist Martin Steubler, textile executive Steven Usdan, and fashion-tech entrepreneur Roni Gamzon, BioFluff is the creator of the world’s first plant-based and plastic-free fur alternative, crafted in Italy from GMO-free vegetal inputs such as fast-growing nettle, hemp and flax – a combination which allows around 50% of these natural resources to be sourced from agricultural waste streams. Based in New York and Paris, the nature-focused innovator has declared a mission to reimagine luxury fashion. With Stella McCartney and GANNI already onboard, that’s not such a long shot as it might sound.]

Ohoskin: I agree, it’s vague because, to define progress, you first must define a direction you want to move towards. It is the hardest thing to do both for people and companies. It’s setting a goal you want the world to move towards that defines you.

With Ohoskin, we found our purpose in helping people change their mindset about the environment and their consumption habits. Take luxury, for example. We want to change the perception about it. We want to make it democratic, helping brands produce beautiful things that benefit people, animals, and the planet just for the fact they are produced and consumed. We want a great lifestyle that is also the right one.

Another thing we want to change is helping people build a more critical attitude towards some keywords in the discourse about sustainability.

Keel Labs: Keel Labs’ goal is to implement our materials at scale, lowering the environmental footprint of the textile industry as a whole. True, this involves a progressive mindset, however, when we think about what is fundamentally required to evolve one of the world’s largest industries, we are focused on the reality we are working within.

To that end, our goal is to diversify the raw materials that the world relies on in a way that removes the negative impacts associated with their production – all while improving safety for consumers and workers across the manufacturing supply chain. We aim to be a staple in homes and daily lives, providing everyone with a clean conscience & comfort in their closets.

Beyond Leather Materials: We are always very ambitious and want to make Leap (our leather alternative based on apple waste) the preferred option for every industry where leather and synthetic alternatives are used today.

We want to change how people see waste. We want everyone to see the value and beauty of it. We want to make waste beautiful!

NEFFA: The goal of NEFFA is to become a new manufacturing method next to knitting and cutting & sewing. For that we start with our first material MYCOTEX to bring the supply chain to the market.

In the future we will develop more materials, as well as looking at “competitors” to see if we could make their material suitable for our manufacturing method.

ESG Brands: ESG Brands consists of a team of founders who have worked in the industry for a long time up and down the supply chain. This team was either mid-career, or just retired and we all came together with a single independent purpose that fit together like a puzzle: to unlock material choices so brands can meet climate targets, and to do so by prioritizing the subjective well-being of the people in our supply chain.

Our end goal is to optimize the use of materials that already exist to create a circular economy where our feedstock not only supports human health, but also propels humanity forward with the materials people use everyday.

It just so happens that bananas are uniquely positioned to save the planet and fit nicely into the textile industry supply chain.

TomTex: At TomTex, we’re driven by a simple belief: everyone deserve better materials. When we say “better,” we mean a lot of things. It means materials that prioritize human health and environmental safety.

Sadly, many fabrics today are not only toxic in their final form but also during their production, posing risks to both people and the planet.

That’s why we believe next-gen materials are essential for the textile industry. We’re dedicated to transforming the industry by creating materials that are safe, sustainable, and accessible to everyone. Our goal is to make a real, positive impact on the world by offering materials that are both high-quality and affordable for all.

Rheom Materials: “We envision a world where all consumer goods companies utilize sustainable, bio-based materials, fostering a cleaner, greener planet.”

What are some of the specific challenges of that?

The first-ever yarn made directly from carbon emissions through a fully enzymatic process, created by Rubi Labs and debuted in partnership with GANNI.

Rubi Labs: This is a big, technically challenging vision across multiple industries and planetary impact areas, which requires us to prioritize and build in iterations so we can manage our company resources and meet market needs where they are today, tomorrow, and in the long-term.

Breaking an important vision into stages or sub-versions is challenging but motivating, because you need to ruthlessly prioritize sub-versions of the tech vision that meet market needs and grow the company in the short-term to achieve the vision in the long-term.

Sway: We must scale the seaweed industry in harmony with ocean health. In order to scale Sway products to compete with common single-use plastic packaging, we need a thriving seaweed economy. It will take science, policy, and community to help us get there. We need partnership with ocean nonprofits and coastal stakeholders to ensure that our work is in sync with what they see on the ground.
We must expand our global composting infrastructure. Will everyone compost at home or in their backyards one day? We certainly hope so, and can support in the effort to boost home composting rates. Realistically, we need composting infrastructure to expand. About ⅓ of the US population has access to municipal composting services, and that number is rising – but we need it to happen more quickly.
Perhaps most importantly, we must change our behaviors as consumers. As material enthusiasts, we understand that a lot of waste can be avoided entirely by simply reducing material usage. We want to encourage deeper questioning of the everyday materials folks are interacting with. In this way, we can understand the impact of our purchases, and choose to support the materials making a positive impact for our planet.

Ponda: So many challenges! The fashion industry has a complex supply chain with many different stakeholders. From plant to product you might go through 5-10 different processors, each with their own business to protect and goals they need to reach.

We need to understand the motivations of these stakeholders and ensure our products can work for all of them individually. At the same time, this incredibly complex supply chain, with numerous moving parts, has been perfected over centuries through relationships and decisions.

Introducing a next-generation material into this intricate supply chain presents challenges at every step, from feedstock logistics to garment integration. In addition, we’re having to push behaviour change amongst farmers, who tend to be incredible engineers, innovators and thought-leaders themselves, but sometimes a challenging group of people to contact!

Kintra Fibers: The apparel industry operates with complex, opaque supply chains. Yet, scaling requires buy-in from the entire supply chain. Achieving this demands a level of transparency and collaboration that may be unfamiliar territory for both brands and manufacturers to navigate.

Alt. Leather: Our mandate is 100% plant-based ingredients derived from either waste or renewable sources that are available in abundance globally. This limits options for our green chemists when developing our formulations.

Achieving a 100% plant-based leather alternative that is similar to traditional leather in terms of physical properties and aesthetic is a huge challenge.

Gozen: To create the time and space to trigger our creativity as much as we spend on scaling!

erthos: As a climate-tech company, we’ve navigated various challenges, but one recurring theme stands out: misconceptions. These misperceptions hinder the adoption of sustainable material solutions, specifically biomaterials.

For instance, some believe that biomaterials don’t fit into the circular economy or don’t perform as well as traditional fossil fuel plastics. Ultimately this miseducation around how transformative biomaterials can be has left innovative solutions vulnerable to dated ideologies around material-related policies.

At erthos, our approach is rooted in a holistic end-to-end sourcing and material development process that illustrates that a more plastic-free future doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice performance and comfort in product applications we know and love. The other misconception we face is the belief that humanity has more time to address the climate crisis and, more specifically, the plastic crisis.

At erthos, we prioritize a heightened level of urgency and speed that is needed to accelerate the adoption, scale, and acceptance of biomaterials worldwide. These misconceptions impede progress toward a cleaner planet and stifle innovation.

Ohoskin: Innovations like ours need two things. The first is to be adopted by an increasing number of brands that use materials like Ohoskin not for one-time only collaborations or capsule collections designed only to exhibit a vague effort towards the planet but for steady parentships like the one we established with Ganni for the Bou Bag or MoEa, which already created a second generation of Ohoskin-made sneakers.

The second is investments. We opened our capital to new partners, and we are in the fundraising stage. Our goal is to grow as a company and to let more companies buy our materials, so they can answer to the growing market demand for materials that can replace old ones without sacrificing performance.

Both factors are crucial for companies like us to grow and to provide the market with something that can really change the textile industry, which is the world’s second most polluting sector.

Keel Labs’ seaweed-derived (and Stella McCartney-approved) textile product, Kelsun.

Keel Labs: The biggest challenge we face as a company – and within our industry – is around coordination. Though the industry is working towards implementing positive change, aligning all members of the value chain to act, cooperate, and take responsibility at the same time is not an easy task.

For companies like ours, it can be difficult to thread the needle with conviction and commitment when there are multiple moving parts and incentives at play.

Beyond Leather Materials: In short: There are many, like for every other startup. To develop a new material takes a lot of time and resources. We developed Leap for 6 years! And are now finally ready to bring it on the market.

NEFFA: The main challenge is that this is completely new to everyone. How to convince the industry to work with a new manufacturing method. Currently the focus is only on improving specific parts of the supply chain, like material innovation, better dyeing processes. These are quick fixes that are needed right now.

But it will not be enough for the future. What we need is a systemic change to really create impact. MYCOTEX by NEFFA has a holistic approach and therefore solves problems that are not possible in the conventional supply chain.

ESG Brands: Start-ups are part luck and part relationships — but this is only true if you have a great team and interesting business solution. Despite having experience in the industry, the startup itself is new and does not yet have a track record or established reputation.

This lack of credibility will continue to make it challenging to attract partnerships with established brands, secure investment funding and scale-up partners, or gain market traction. Despite it feeling daunting, we remain determined because we have a lot riding on this to be successful and the supply chain we’ve been building is undeniable in how it serves people and planet — we need capital, and we need to continue to seek strong supply chain partners who meet our determination and can catapult our work as a unit.

TomTex: The road to next-gen sustainable materials comes with its share of challenges. Even though there’s a big interest in exploring these materials, getting them adopted in the market is a slow process.

This is partly because brands may hesitate to change internally, and economic factors also play a role. Moreover, moving through different development stages and scaling up requires support and teamwork from brands to incorporate these materials into their products.

It’s clear that transforming the industry requires a collective effort from various sector, not just relying on startups to do it alone.

Rheom Materials: First, manufacturers and brands are justifiably afraid to take risks and put their reputation on the line.

Additionally, While having one-off collections is a great showcase of support, finding brands who will incorporate your material into their supply chain, sponsor co-development projects, or take offtake agreements is still challenging.

“Everyone should be held to a high moral standard. In my opinion, if nobody holds you accountable for it, you should hold your own self accountable.” – Ece Gozen, Co-Founder and CEO of Gozen

Do you feel like next-gen companies are held to a different moral/ethical standard? Should they be?

Sway: Absolutely. We’re held to an incredibly high standard (just check out some of the wild comments we’ve received on our Instagram posts), and we understand why folks are skeptical. There is a lot of information for people to sift through as they consider strides towards sustainability.

Our job as next-gen innovators is to peel back the layers of complexity and shed light on how and why we’re building new materials.

Question everything, question it all. All we’d ask is that folks do a little research before judging a company that has likely answered your question online already

Ponda: When we try to ‘do better’ as a company, be that environmentally, socially or otherwise, it automatically creates a benchmark between yourself and the status quo. Good or bad, that does create a culture of being held to a higher standard across everything you do.

Startups are scrappy, highly imperfect machines and we are a long way away from ‘the ideal’. This imbalance of expectations verses reality may create accusations of greenwashing for companies that are genuinely trying to do better.

The problem with this is it enables perfect to be the enemy of good, which can stymie progress of well intentioned companies. Either way, I think it’s important we continue to hold ourselves and others to the high standards, as on the most fundamental level, it’s how we affect change.

Kintra Fibers: Next-gen companies are often held to a higher moral and ethical standard due to our focus on sustainability. As stewards of change, it is our responsibility to uphold these values, lead by example, and work together with brands to achieve new benchmarks of environmental impact.

Alt. Leather: Next-gen companies are purpose-driven, so understandably, we all expect them to live up to their objectives.

What we also need to consider is that we are in a transition phase within the material innovation space and a) there is currently no silver bullet b) it takes time to innovate c) solutions may not be perfect, but we’re making progress.

Gozen: Yeah they do indeed. To start with, everyone should be held to a high moral standard.

In my opinion, if nobody holds you accountable for it, you should hold your own self accountable. You owe that much to the community you live in. So, yeah, they should. No problem with being held accountable, that only makes us go forward. But this is not always done in a constructive way.

Sometimes they expect us to make everything great once and for all. Truth is we are doing the best we can. We are holding ourselves to very high standards and we have no intention of doing any less than that.

erthos: Yes, next-gen companies are often held to higher moral and ethical standards due to our focus on sustainability and social responsibility. While this heightened scrutiny can be challenging, it’s essential for driving meaningful change and building trust with stakeholders.

In some cases however, we feel as if next-gen companies are held to unreasonable standards, or are being defined by groups who have not yet grasped the true potential of solutions like ours.

We have to create an environment that encourages growth and transparency throughout the process. At erthos, we embrace this responsibility and strive to set an example of ethical leadership in the materials industry. We understand that a large part of that responsibility is inherited from generations that contributed to the current state of the planet.

BioFluff: They do and they should. However I do think the expectation that a next-gen company is going to come out straight away with the perfect solution straight off the bat, which is somewhat unfair.

But the beauty of material innovation and starting from scratch is that we can strive for the best social and environmental standard from the beginning while also continuing to push to improve our innovation.

We are proud to say that our solution is better than the accepted alternative and excited by the prospect of it becoming even better with time.

Ohoskin’s bio-based leather alternative material, crafted from orange and cactus.

Ohoskin: Maybe they do. But they should not. On the contrary, we all should be held accountable for the future of the planet: us, regular companies, citizens, and institutions. The emergency is real and only with a collective approach, we can save ourselves. It is a serious situation, and we should all work together.

Keel Labs: In our experience, we’ve found that next-gen companies are often held to the expectations created by legacy systems of textile production. Though it is our job to establish fast-scaling, high-performing, and cost competitive products, we are also bound within the constraints of what is achievable given our company size, available resources, and industry cooperation.

We firmly believe that any step we can take as a global populace to move in the direction of “better” is worthy.

It takes many individual changes to create a better future and to shift the norms we’ve become accustomed to – from brand to material innovator, this process requires buy-in from all members of the textile value chain.

Beyond Leather Materials: I think to some extent yes. People want us to be radical, but what some forget is that we need a strong business to have an actual impact.

NEFFA: From research it showed that consumers are actually open to these new materials. This is also why we started already in 2016 to inform consumers and brands of our materials, and to get acceptance from every stakeholder.

For us the problem is more with brands that want us to meet leather specs (flex, abrasion, tensile strength, etc.), even though we do not claim to make leather.

Ideally brands start creating specs that are suitable for next-gen materials. Even more ideal would be if we could get industry-wide specs, as now every brand has their own. It would be great to have a sort of base line for every innovator to meet. If you have this tensile strength, this abrasion, etc. brands want to work with you. That would really help innovation move forward.

ESG Brands: People should hold all companies to high standards. When you look at a balance sheet, people will always do as little as possible. Having the right governing board and partners matter a lot.

TomTex: Next-gen companies are often seen as leaders in driving positive change, especially in areas like sustainability and social responsibility. Because of this, there’s a natural expectation for them to uphold higher moral and ethical standards.

People want them to deliver on their promises of innovation while also prioritizing things like ethical business practices, taking care of the environment, and contributing positively to society. However, it’s important not to overload them with too much responsibility.

Every company, whether next-gen or traditional, should be accountable for their actions and strive to do better.

Rheom Materials: We think that all companies creating products should be held to a higher standard and accountable for their impact on society and the environment.

One of our main goals is to change the narrative, encouraging consumers, brands, etc. that ethically sourced and produced materials can compete with the current industry standards.

“It is never easy to be the first pioneer in an emerging space, and we have deep admiration for those innovators who paved the way before us. With that, we’ve learned firsthand the urgency of limiting the unknowns around technology and scaling up as much as possible.” – Tessa Callagjan, Co-Founder and CEO of Keel Labs

As part of the new guard, what have you learned from the innovators who came before you?

Rubi Labs: I’ve learned from my peers in the industry that partnering with innovative, established manufacturers and brands is critical to implementing a robust and lasting technology at scale, instead of trying to build and own it all.

Ponda’s plant-based insulation material, BioPuff, created using regenerative agriculture.

Sway: Scale responsibly, and not too quickly. We’ve seen innovators in the past build out enormous teams and raise huge rounds prior to having a scalable product available.

Collaborate as much as possible. Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation – it happens in partnership with our customers, and in tandem with our supply chain and nonprofit partners.

Ponda: The next-gen fashion space is continuing to change and expand rapidly, a lot of lessons are having to be learnt by each innovator as the landscape shifts so quickly. That said, it’s clear there are some lessons which are consistently revealing themselves.

Number one is don’t scale too quickly; we need to ensure we have viable, feasible, desirable business models at pilot-scale before we expand. Secondly, we must find a way to avoid a green premium if we want impact at-scale. These are not easy problems to solve, but they are critical for scaling technologies with completely unique supply chains.

Kintra Fibers: Drawing from the experiences of innovators who came before us, we see that product performance and quality are key, that every stakeholder along the supply chain must see benefits in the new material, and that scaling requires collaboration and unwavering commitment from all involved parties.

Alt. Leather: We are inspired by innovators who have forged a path for us. When the challenges mount up, they encourage us that scaling is possible, and most importantly, they push us to find better more innovative strategies.

Some key learnings include: Do things 100% right from the start: Zero animal products. Zero petrochemical plastics. Ethical production. Transparency is critical: brands and consumers are aware of greenwashing, earn their trust with transparency, identifying hot-spots or areas for improvement and how they will be addressed.

Gozen: I learned a lot from nature. Nature is my biggest inspiration and the OG innovator. Ground zero for innovation.

But of course I have masters/mentors I feel connected with, share ideals and perspectives. I learn a lot from them. From Carl Sagan, I learned to look at science from a completely new perspective, From Jung collective consciousness, Alchemy from Paracelsustan, and Biomimiocry from Janine Benyus.

So as part of the new guard, my mission is not to compete with others. Instead, everything is just discovering yourself, changing your perception, and understanding your real connection with mother nature. This wisdom is invaluable.

erthos: We’ve learned valuable lessons from innovators who came before us, including the importance of acceleration and speed delivered through custom materials solutions. We’ve also learned how vital transparency is with anything related to climate action.

By avoiding the pitfalls of greenwashing and prioritizing sustainability, erthos aims to build a reputation as a trusted leader in the materials sector.

BioFluff: We have learnt that growing our own raw materials is very difficult to scale and perfect, and that building entire new machineries is a very long and cost intensive process. In order to create a better alternative there is no need to reinvent the wheel, rather focus on key aspects to innovate.

At BioFluff we use raw plant-based materials that are widely available and production methods that already exist so that has allowed us to really focus on the actual product.

Ohoskin: Among the many things, I think that the best lesson I learned is not to walk alone. To listen a lot, to choose wisely who can give you the right advice – which you don’t have to be afraid to ask for – and at the same time make your own decisions, despite the many who will tell you to give up.

And that often, other innovators and companies are great allies.

Keel Labs: It is never easy to be the first pioneer in an emerging space, and we have deep admiration for those innovators who paved the way before us. With that, we’ve learned firsthand the urgency of limiting the unknowns around technology and scaling up as much as possible.

Supply chain integration is one of those areas, where going to market with speed, scale, and cost-effectiveness has great impact.

It is key to work within the existing supply chain and physical requirements of established manufacturing systems to execute with less risk and more speed.

Additionally, education and communication have been a core focus throughout the growth of our company. We often get caught up in our day-to-day bubbles – living and breathing the world of seaweed, fibers, and textiles – and it can be easy to forget that most people are entirely removed from the impact their clothing & choices have on the environment.

Helping customers & consumers understand this impact, and demonstrating the importance of next-gen materials solutions, is a mainstay of our communication efforts for the long-term.

Beyond Leather Materials: I wouldn’t see myself part of a new guard. What I learned from former founders is that you should always ask for help. I still haven’t met anyone who didn’t want to support me. Otherwise, one needs patience, a strong will and endurance.

NEFFA: When I started in 2014 there were not a lot of people working in this field. Nylon was probably the last innovation. I would say Susanne Lee was one of the first and she has been a great inspiration. She showed what you could achieve as a designer.

ESG Brands: Walk your talk, and be exceptionally focused on offering the industry something that meets impact, performance, and economics; most importantly, think outside the box on how to make this happen. Mass market wants value, and to feel great about the purchases they make.

At ESG Brands, we are hyper focused on our supply chain and technology as an enabler; to provide natural materials that allow our customers to be authentic. Just so happens that when you combine supply chains with the food industry, beautiful things can happen and we’re happy to be a part of that because we think a healthy human is a happy planet.

TomTex: We’ve learned a great deal from those who paved the way. It’s crucial for new textile tech to be both cost-effective and scalable, seamlessly integrating into existing supply chains while adding value for their consumers.

Scaling production must match market demand; going too fast burns through resources, while going too slow means missed opportunities. Strategic alignment is key at every stage of startup development.

Community engagement and authentic branding are vital takeaways, alongside avoiding greenwashing and fostering genuine collaborations. Sustaining momentum requires ongoing innovator and brand partnerships. The journey to transform the textile industry is long-term, demanding continuous education, norm-challenging, and collaboration. Overnight changes aren’t realistic—it’s a decade-spanning evolution.

Rheom Materials: Do more with less cash, aim for sustainable margins, grow with an asset-light approach by toll manufacturing everything out, choose a scalable and realistic manufacturing method, and a plan to profitability.

What are you doing to engage brands and manufacturers, to push them toward making the right choices and not just continuing the status quo? Is it important to work with them directly?

Sway: Excitingly, Sway has already established relationships with plastic manufacturers eager to participate in the scaling of next-gen solutions! Naturally, legacy plastic manufacturers understand the plastic problem on the deepest level. Their knowledge of this industry is what holds the key to unlock the most scalable solutions.

Fortunately, many brands have commitments to reduce or eliminate their plastic footprint. As a result, our customer relationships are overwhelmingly the result of inbound interest. Through our discovery process, brands begin to understand that the seaweed packaging story goes far beyond avoided pollution.

We find it important to tell the story of seaweed – it’s an incredible ocean crop that can purify and clean our seas, enhance underwater biodiversity, and boost coastal economies, securing climate-resilient employment for those most vulnerable to the impacts of our changing planet. Once you start to learn about the tangible benefits of seaweed, there are so many other stories to uncover: New science, frontline farmer stories, ocean health, regeneration, circularity, composting, and beyond.

These entry points offer valuable and inspiring narratives that go beyond the available alternatives, which ultimately leads to more impactful engagement with the end consumer – our most important ally in bringing next-gen materials into the mainstream.

Ponda: Brands are the storytellers and the customer-facing companies that drive change through demand for new materials and to push the limit of innovation. However, manufacturers are often the ones enacting that innovation, usually behind-the-scenes.

We’ve found that it is more and more important to work with manufacturers to ensure BioPuff® can be integrated seamlessly into production lines, otherwise no matter how many brands want to use it, we will face the same challenges of onboarding new manufacturers each time.

If you want to make an impact, you have to focus as far up the supply chain as you can.

Kintra Fibers: We partner directly with both brands and mills, recognizing the unique insights each brings to the table. By involving both early in the process, we gain a comprehensive understanding of both the brands’ product requirements and the mills’ production needs, ensuring a more fruitful, long-term collaboration.

Alt. Leather founder Tina Funder & Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Tuan Nguyen.

Alt. Leather: Of the Australian and international brands we have spoken to there is strong appetite for our 100% plant-based leather alternative. There is high awareness amongst all of them of the need for more sustainable solutions to traditional leather due to it’s carbon footprint, toxic tanning process and oftentimes PU/silicone topcoats, and the vast majority are not satisfied with a partially bio-based solutions claiming that it is simply replacing one problem with another.

Collaboration works both ways, it’s important for Alt. Leather to work closely with values-aligned brands and manufacturers to ensure that we can meet price points and integrate seamlessly into their supply chains to ensure adoption.

We are in constant communication with brands across fashion, footwear, accessories, furniture and automotive; asking questions, collecting data and keeping them updated with our progress.

Gozen: We work hand in hand with brands and manufacturers. It’s not that they don’t know or completely fazed out of the conversation. We engage with brands and manufacturers and work hand in hand with their creatives, producers etc. Taking feedback along the way to land on the perfect fit.

So, yeah, it is very important to work with them directly, not to just encourage but to know them and know their needs in order to solve problems better and faster together for the planet! Make using bio-based materials easy and more fun to work with for them.

erthos: At erthos, we recognize the importance and power of relationships. We found that by leveraging a community-centered approach, we put the ownership and commitment on our partners and ourselves to make a scalable change that requires extreme intentionality to build a more sustainable future.

It is absolutely essential to work directly with our partners across the value chain to support their sustainable journey.

BioFluff: Brands are hungry for innovation, it is just a matter of working with them on their needs and timelines to make a change.

There has been a lot of interest in our luxury material Savian, but what has really accelerated the interest is brands seeing it in use – whether it was the Stella McCartney showcase during COP28 or the GANNI exhibition during Copenhagen Fashion Week in January.

Ohoskin: It is crucial. But they want data. And rightfully so. So, we are working on measuring our impact instead of making unbiased claims. On the other hand, we are putting a lot of effort into creating a culture of a critical approach to sustainability, using data to overcome taboos and prejudices regarding composition.

Many brands showed some resistance to using a material that contained recycled plastic at first, but when we gave them our impact measurements and tested our material’s resistance, chose to move past some of their “don’ts” in favor of a durable material with the lowest carbon footprint, only 2.57 Kgs of CO2 for each square meter.

We believe that our approach to transparency – the same that led us to disclose our full composition, certify our bio-based percentage (32% as determined by an independent C14 Analysis), or make our entire supply chain traceable with blockchain – is the key to build better collaboration for brands and is also part of our responsibility towards consumers.

Keel Labs: We engage brands and manufacturers on multiple levels to increase buy-in and facilitate learnings as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

A guiding principle in developing Kelsun™ fiber has been to engineer it so that it can fit into existing machinery and production practices, delivering on the performance, handfeel, cost, and impact metrics that brands and designers need to develop their products.

Beyond Leather Materials: It is super important to work directly with brands and manufacturers. You need to support them and build trust. It will not work otherwise. We are trying to make their decision fairly easy by giving them the documentation they are used to and a little extra.

I am convinced that you need not only to show your partners that they can for example potentially lower their footprint, but also grow their business with a new customer audience or increased pricing.

NEFFA: Since 2016 we have been talking with every stakeholder in the industry. First to learn if they were open to mycelium-based materials, then on how the material should look and feel, and now we work together on developing final products for the market.

Creating awareness on both sides (ours and theirs) is extremely important for us, and the only way to move forward. My background in fashion is also helping to bridge the gap between innovation and fashion / textiles, something I have been doing since 2008, prior to founding

Harvesting the raw materials for ESG Brands’ banana-based BANEX material.

ESG Brands: We are offering an alternative natural fiber from an authentic supply chain that makes sense environmentally, socially, and economically. Brands and OEMs will drive our sales, but at the end of the day, consumers hold the power.

We ultimately offer an authentic story that our customers can reveal to their consumers; and if they choose not to, that’s fine too because we’re building a product that meets brands needs with or without the story.

TomTex: To drive change within brands and manufacturers, we focus on establishing realistic and transparent plans that align with both the startup’s development stage and the sustainability goals of the brands. We emphasize transparency regarding capabilities, timelines, and financial needs.

From exploring new materials to integrating them into products, we set clear, long-term goals and highlight the value each stage brings to both parties.

It’s essential for brands to articulate their sustainability goals upfront, allowing us to tailor solutions accordingly. Starting with these shared objectives fosters efficient engagement and ensures desired outcomes for both parties.

“Engaging with consumers directly is crucial for building brand recognition and fostering trust. By educating consumers about the benefits of sustainable materials, Erthos aims to empower consumers by giving them resources to hold brands, policymakers, and industry leaders accountable for their role in the plastic crisis.” – erthos

Is it also important to work with (or at least engage with) consumers directly – to build a “brand” that’s recognized?

Sway: Yes! Building an engaged, passionate community that can champion Sway’s solution has been a priority since our inception (if you followed us in Instagram in 2020, shoutout to you!). We want folks to care about innovative materials.

Systems change is only possible with behavior change. If our community understands the value of seaweed, regeneration, ocean health, and circularity, they will go beyond just advocating to their favorite brands that they don’t want plastic. Instead, they’ll have suggestions for how to replace it!

Ponda: Almost every next-gen innovator will tell you that they want to become the ‘GORE-TEX of sustainability.’ Whether that is even a concept that can exist is yet to be proven, is sustainability a strong enough proxy for pure performance value?

At Ponda, we want to build a community of people of who care about our mission – the regeneration of drained wetlands around the world. Keep an eye out for our hats: Make Wetlands Wet Again!

Kintra Fibers: Absolutely. By engaging with consumers and sharing information, we can empower informed purchase decisions and drive demand for sustainable products.

Alt. Leather: Consumer buy-in is imperative for adoption. If consumers aren’t purchasing the products made from next-gen materials, the category will fail. The question is, does education make a difference or is there a bigger driver at play?

Research indicates that there is strong consumer appetite for next-gen materials, however the current economic climate coinciding with the abundant availability of low-priced fast fashion, makes price an influential factor in consumer behaviour.

We can educate consumers until the end of time, but the ultimate driver will always be price point.

Gozen: Yes! It is definitely incredibly important! Yes our “consumers” by definition are the decision makers at brands, creatives etc. But their thoughts are in sync and if not guided by the culture on the streets & screens! So it is very important to be top of mind with the consumer, make them demand your product.

Today connecting with your community is far easier than say 10 years ago. A B2B company of the past might not be very focused on the consumer but today, having a strong connection with your community is gold.

erthos: Yes, engaging with consumers directly is crucial for building brand recognition and fostering trust. By educating consumers about the benefits of sustainable materials, Erthos aims to empower consumers by giving them resources to hold brands, policymakers, and industry leaders accountable for their role in the plastic crisis.

BioFluff: The space is definitely getting more and more interest from brands and consumers – it feels like there’s a new pilot or capsule launching every month. But what we aren’t seeing (which I definitely think it’s time for!) is a true commitment to material innovation at scale. It does feel like that could come soon though…

Ohoskin: It is because brands and manufacturers – as conscious as they can be – answer to the market demand. So, consumers have the power to influence their decisions.

This is why in our communication we engage also with consumers, trying to create a culture around sustainability and showing them what beautiful and quality items can be created out of byproducts. And it is working people are getting curious and frequently ask us where to find products made with Ohoskin.

Consumers are often more ready than we can imagine about next-generation materials and this curiosity is the key to convincing brands to try new solutions.

Keel Labs: As a company, we find it critical to meaningfully connect with consumers directly. They are directly funding the brands and products that they see value in. With that, we strive to understand – and be a reflection of – those values, which means it’s our job to listen.

Additionally, we want to establish trust with those purchasing the products made by our customers. When you see Kelsun on a product’s label, you know you’re about to buy a product that is reliable, transparent, and a representation of your core values. The only way to get there is through connectivity and communication.

Beyond Leather Materials: Very important to help the consumer understand why next-gen materials are important.

NEFFA: I think this depends on the type of brand/company you would like to be.

ESG Brands: We think there’s a lot of merit to this because we believe having a level of control over the storytelling is a benefit and it opens the doors to authenticity.
Let us be direct to consumer with messaging, and let our customers own direct to consumer with the products they sell.

This is a huge undertaking, however, but we’ve been building our foundation to support this since our beginning.

Rheom Materials: If you’re a B2B company, you can certainly have a voice in the way that products are branded and advertised, for example we see a lot of “powered by X brand technology” or “this material is X% made from Y sustainable ingredient.”

At the end of the day, however, the brand you’re collaborating with has final say on how they communicate their product to the final consumer. Without consumer products yourself, it is most important that the business community recognizes your brand.

“The apparel industry demand for low-climate-impact materials is forecast to exceed supply by 133 million tons by 2030. Next-gen materials stand ready to bridge this gap.” – Alissa Baier-Lentz, Co-Founder and COO of Kintra Fibers

Do you feel like the space is growing at the rate it should be? Has it become crowded or does it feel like, with companies like Renewcell collapsing, things are going backward a little bit?

Sway: Material innovation takes time. We’re operating on an accelerated timeline, where plastic has been perfectly optimized over the course of more than a century. More infrastructure and policy investment will accelerate the adoption of innovative materials. But the materials themselves? They’re here.

Ponda: I think there is plenty of space left for new innovators. Next-gen materials make up around 0.1% of global textile supply, we need more companies to come to the table to drive the quality and performance of the incumbents up.

Renewcell are a thought-leader and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of them! The next-gen community is an amazing group of innovators that we continue to learn so much from, I highly encourage everyone with a new idea to find a way to bring it to the market!

Kintra Fibers: The apparel industry demand for low-climate-impact materials is forecast to exceed supply by 133 million tons by 2030. Next-gen materials stand ready to bridge this gap.

Drawing from the industry’s past setbacks, such as the closure of Renewcell, we’re seeing brands, mills, and innovators forging stronger collaborations to maintain momentum in driving sustainable solutions forward.

Alt. Leather: There are an exciting number of leather alternatives in development.

The challenge is scaling from pre-pilot to commercial scale production. For that we need serious uptake and investment from the world’s most iconic brands. And for that we need accessible price points and for the unit economics to stack up.

Gozen: No, it’s never going backwards. It can’t. It shouldn’t. The world needs it. As humanity, at least we owe that much to nature. It is literally growing at an exponential rate!

Should it be faster? We would love to! But the truth is, it is going at the speed it should, and it is improving very fast!

This space is welcoming a new player every day, a new ground is being broken as we speak. It is indeed crowded in that sense, but it’s exciting. New ideas are always exciting! All we need to do is not to enjoy each other’s mistakes, but to learn from them and develop and grow the industry together.

erthos: No, we are not growing at the pace we need to be! At erthos, we believe that until we get to the point where we can see an actionable future toward truly moving the needle away from a dependency on plastics, it’s never enough.

BioFluff: We all need to remove the beliefs that these innovations can’t scale, that to me, is one of the things that is holding the industry back – whether it’s brands hesitating to be the first to take the leap and buy into the next-gen materials at scale. The media should continue to support the innovations and also call out the challenges while telling positive stories.

Consumers should really think about the materials that the brands they love use – if you come across a material or innovation that you want your favourite brand to use, tell them! Understanding of the consumer demand will only push brands to invest further.

And innovators, we just need to keep going. It can be easy to feel deflated by the negative stories in this space but I do really believe that we are close to an inflection point.

Ohoskin: Being part of the next generation means also exploring new territories, and not all of them lead to good results. But it is not by any means a failure. It is part of the process.

To innovate, we must experiment, try new things, and sometimes make mistakes. In any case, the industry is growing, as are investments.

Keel Labs: The next-gen materials space has certainly had its fair share of growing pains over the past 12 months. What’s come into focus is the importance of having the right product-market fit – ensuring that a material’s price, performance, and placement resonates with a brands’ material catalog.

Additionally, it’s clearer than ever that innovators like us aren’t making change happen in a vacuum.

The success and longevity of this transformational field is driven just as much by the brands’ and manufacturers’ decisions to buy-in. With that, the more new players and solutions in our space, the better. We’re dealing with one of the world’s largest markets, monopolized by just a handful of legacy raw materials.

Not only is there space for new, next-gen materials, the success of one is just another proof point that it is possible for others. We are all necessary, and time is of the essence.

The bio-based raw materials of Beyond Leather’s leather alternative product, Leap.

Beyond Leather Materials: Honestly, I expected the industry to grow a lot faster. Sure, there are more companies out there than 3 years ago, but a lot are still early stage and scaling seems to be an issue. It was for us at least. Something that we solved now.

Again, developing a next-gen material just takes a lot of time with so much testing involved and then you “just” developed a product. Then you need to produce it, secure supply, ship it on time, quality control etc…there are so many things one needs to figure out.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Renewcell. It seems that they made some not so thought through strategical decisions that they weren’t able to overcome. I am always optimistic and still see 2024 as a great year for next-gen materials.

NEFFA: Innovation is always going forward and backwards, this is not new (although very sad for the companies who have to stop).

We need a lot of options as the demand is still exceeding the offer, but they need to be good. So innovators should be able to take the time to create something good.

People tend to forget how cotton and leather have evolved over the decades. You can’t expect innovators to create something new from scratch within certain amount of years.

ESG Brands: Honestly, we have been focused on our own work. We are seeking factory and brand scale-up and go-to-market partners.

We have found it challenging to balance scale-up requirements and securing sales commitments in the face of fundraising constraints. It’s an innovators tale: chicken or the egg. To get the fundraised capital, you need sales commitments or to be in the market, to get sales you need to have proven large runs of material, and to do this in our space you need capital.

The right partnerships can bring all of this to life and we welcome the industry to reach out to ESG Brands to join our ongoing conversations.

TomTex: I think we must prioritize genuine solutions and fight against greenwashing. In this new revolution, some companies will thrive while others may not, influenced by many factors beyond just the technology itself.

By learning from both successes and failures, we can navigate in the right direction. Just as in the food and energy sectors, industries go through hype cycles, experiencing both triumphs and setbacks.

However, looking forward, many innovators will authentically transform the industry, turning their innovations into sustainable and successful businesses.

Rheom Materials: With the shift in consumer attitudes and priorities relating to environmental sustainability, it is our belief that until every material is bio-based, the industry still has room to grow into. We continue to see strong investor support for next-gen materials companies.

We’ve seen an enormous amount of support for Renewcell after they announced their bankruptcy with many potential buyers, but the forces that lead to that bankruptcy are troubling. The hesitancy of brands to commit to offtake agreements and contractual obligations for next-gen material quantities remains.

Without brands taking risks and reserving next-gen material production quantities, material innovators will struggle to plan effectively for the future.

Collaborate, be transparent, be reasonable about expectations and honest about what’s possible. But also take risks and don’t conform to the status quo!” – Julian Ellis-Brown, Co-Founder and CEO of Ponda

What do we – innovators, consumers, brands, the media – need to do to move things forward?

Rubi Labs: I think more than anything we need governments to enact more regulations, incentives, and funding options to accelerate adoption of next-gen processes, like the successful significant incentives seen in the solar and electric vehicle markets.

This support fills an important gap for successful industry-scale implementation of next-gen technologies.

Sway: Every day, we all interact with materials without pausing to consider the full story. What is it made from? Where did it come from? Where will it go afterward? Be curious and inquisitive about the products we consume on a daily basis. If your favorite brand is using unsustainable materials, let them know you want to see better — and point them towards next-gen solutions!

Ponda: Collaborate, be transparent, be reasonable about expectations and honest about what’s possible. But also take risks and don’t conform to the status quo!

The most precious resource we have is time, and by having clear ambitions on how we can make a difference, we will give ourselves the best chance of achieving what we need to!

Kintra Fibers: Policy, such as the New York Fashion Act, plays a pivotal role in driving change.

Consumers, brands, manufacturers, innovators, and the media all have the power to influence policy shifts that will help build the future that we want to see.

Alt. Leather: Work together.

Gozen: To move things forward, it’s crucial for innovators, consumers, brands, and media alike to foster a culture of collaboration, transparency, and sustainability.

Innovators should prioritize ethical development and transparent communication about their products.

Consumers can drive change by demanding sustainable and ethically sourced products. Brands must align their values with consumer demands, emphasizing sustainability and responsible innovation.

Media plays a vital role in raising awareness and advocating for ethical practices, shaping public perception and driving industry standards forward.

Together, by prioritizing shared values and collective action, we can catalyze meaningful progress towards a more sustainable and ethical future.

erthos: Moving things forward means acting with a sense of curiosity and thirst for knowledge to better understand the problem and the actionable steps to address it. Doing so enables everyone to actively participate in the discourse about the issues at hand.

Finally, a willingness to sacrifice comfort is essential because progressive change is impossible without it.

Ohoskin: We must be willing to challenge our beliefs and try new things. We can make the most innovative material ever, but nobody would know about it if brands weren’t curious about it. And they would never be curious if their customers did not make them try new solutions.

Keel Labs: To put it simply, we need to keep going. Between material innovators, consumers, and the media, the focus is often on the end-result – one that is perfect, glamorous, and has all of the questions answered.

The truth is, our work in the next-gen materials space is constantly evolving. We can either wait until all parties are fully versed and all the unknowns are defined, or we can start making change now, knowing that the understanding of our global needs and constraints are ever-expanding.

Scaling any material business takes patience and will always lead to new learnings. From R&D, to supply chain integration, to awareness, to funding: progress just takes time.

By recognizing this simple fact, we can shift the perception of ‘forward progress’ to encapsulate the multitude of smaller wins on the path to a better future for people, planet, and business alike. This is something we can all participate in.

Beyond Leather Materials: Easy. Innovators – be honest. Consumers – demand brands to share product details and don’t buy fast fashion. You can vote with your wallet. Brands – be brave and take the (financial) risk. Media – don’t hype us too much and spend more time on own research demanding facts.

A garment created with NEFFA’s MYCOTEX mycelium material.

NEFFA: Just keep on doing, start more collaboration and support each other. The future of fashion is collaboration.

ESG Brands: Be determined and surround yourself with a strong community because that’s a super power in itself.

Brands and supply chain partners are simply people — to those working within the supply chain, be curious and be a voice for change, and be responsive because every one of our friends who have come before us with stellar next-gen start-ups have only been successful and had incredible brand launches because of the people they partnered with inside organizations.

It’s a beautiful thing to see. Lastly, support legislation that addresses climate change and social well-being.

TomTex: It all comes down to our core values. As consumers, we need to ask why we accept toxins poisoning our lives and planet, why we settle for this quality of life. We deserve better materials and solutions for ourselves and our families.

When we align our values, we inspire action in our workplaces and communities. Whether you’re an innovator, brand, policy maker, or part of the media, we must unite with a shared commitment to health and sustainability. Together, through collective effort, we can genuinely make a difference.