Are you someone who wears all black? Do you only use black pens? Own a black car? Or protect your phone with a black case? Don’t worry, we’re not trying to out you for your style choices. But, did you know that the material that gives all these objects and many others that depth of black is likely to be carbon black?
Carbon black is a pigment derived from petroleum. And we all know that anything petroleum-based is nowhere near the positive end of the sustainability spectrum. Not only does the process produce harmful greenhouse gasses, the end products are difficult to recycle and the harvesting of the substance damages local environments.
It’s this problem — the problem of black in the products we buy — that material tech company Vollebak has taken on in its latest capsule. Last year, we reported on the Black Algae T-shirt that Vollebak released in partnership with Living Ink. This year, the two brands have developed the technology further to create a small collection of products made with algae and hemp, including hoodies, sweatpants and T-shirts.
Vollebak praises algae and hemp as heroes of the material world: “If scientists suddenly invented two new materials that could produce over half the oxygen in the world, and clean up soil and air after nuclear meltdowns – all whilst sucking up carbon dioxide – it would be hailed as a miracle. But algae and hemp both do it for free.”
Sounds too good to be true. Let’s start with algae, which is used to give the products their worn black color. It grows in ponds using sunlight and carbon dioxide, and generates oxygen — already much better than its petroleum equivalent. Then, when it becomes a part of these products, it captures and stores the carbon it used as its fuel for the next 100 years.
But why is it a replacement for the carbon black that’s traditionally used? Living Ink discovered that an algae cell is almost identical in size to a carbon black pigment and can produce the same color. An ink can be made from the algae which is then used to print on the raw, undyed products. (Dyeing can’t be used as a black algae dye hasn’t yet been developed.)
As you wear your algae black hoodie, sweatpants or tee, the color will brighten over time, altered by the UV light from the sun. It’s all part of the natural process.
The base of the items, plus the undyed raw options, are all made with hemp. Hemp has a lot of positive things to say too. The production of it removes carbon dioxide from the air. It can grow pretty much anywhere and when it does, it requires zero pesticides, very little water and purifies the soil. It can even be used to clean up soil, water and air contaminated with radioactive isotopes after nuclear meltdowns.
Functionally, it works great in our clothing. It’s highly breathable, moisture-wicking, antibacterial and can block harmful UV rays from our body. The hemp used by Vollebak is from Heilongjiang, the most northerly province in China, using natural rainwater.
The items are simple in their design, focusing instead on the materials and color they are made from. The super soft sweatpants and hoodies are jersey-lined, which is made with organic cotton also grown in Heilongjiang.