This $ 110 t-shirt sucks carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere


Perhaps the most popular color in fashion, black is found in everything from little black dresses to classic black t-shirts. But when we dress in chic black outfits, we rarely stop wondering what it takes to dye clothes this color.

The truth is that most black pigments come from a material called soot, which is made by the incomplete burning of heavy fuel oil. This creates fine black particles, which are then used, for example, to manufacture printing inks, dye clothing and reinforce tires. But making soot is bad for the planet. The mining of fossil fuels and their burning contributes to global warming. In addition, experts believe that soot is likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

[Photo: Sun Lee/Vollebak]

Vollebak, a futuristic clothing label based in the UK, has been working to develop a greener approach to black clothing. It is partnering with a U.S. biomaterials company called Living Ink to create a pigment from algae that will be used to make the $ 110 Algae Black Shirt, which launches this week. In contrast to soot, algae are actually good for the environment as they absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and at the same time produce oxygen.

[Photo: Sun Lee/Vollebak]

There is hope that the fashion industry can replace soot with black algae on a large scale, thereby reducing the industry’s huge carbon footprint. “Algae are fascinating materials for many reasons, including storing carbon,” said Steve Tidball, co-founder and CEO of Vollebak. “You’d have to use it on a large scale to store a lot of carbon, so we’re most interested in the feasibility study on this project.”

[Photo: Sun Lee/Vollebak]

This is not the first time black algae have been used as a pigment. It is used to make natural food coloring and ink for screen printing. But so far no fashion label has produced a completely black item of clothing with it. For the shirt, Vollebak created a material made of eucalyptus, beech and spruce from sustainably managed forests and then printed the entire fabric with the black algae ink using Living Ink. This ink is designed to be UV resistant so it won’t fade. In the last step, the T-shirt is washed with a mango fabric softener so that it feels comfortable from the first moment. And since the entire shirt is made from organic materials, it will biodegrade in 12 weeks if you put it in soil.

[Photo: Sun Lee/Vollebak]

Algae are abundant and easy to grow. Living Ink has teamed up with an algae farm in California that grows the organism as a raw material for animals. When the food is removed from the water, a black waste product remains, which is then dried and ground to form the base for the algae ink. “We believe this is the future of sustainable dyes because you don’t need chemicals or complex processes to grow the algae,” says Tidball. “The algae grow exponentially within days with just water, sunlight and carbon dioxide.”

[Photo: Sun Lee/Vollebak]

Like many other Vollebak products – including the virus-killing copper jacket and the pomegranate hoodie – the company has produced a limited edition of a few thousand items of clothing. However, Tidball says he co-founded the company with his twin brother to come up with radically new ideas for the fashion industry that he hopes others will quickly pick up on. “I understand that making a few thousand pieces of clothing is not going to change the world,” he says. “But the story we’re trying to tell could be. Perhaps brands and consumers will start figuring out where their black dye actually comes from. “

Vollebak’s business strategy is unconventional: most brands spend a lot of money protecting their intellectual property and don’t want others to copy their ideas. But Tidball is more interested in building a long-term legacy. “I would get really bored if we found an innovation, patented it, and built our careers on it,” says Tidball. “We see ourselves as a small R&D laboratory for the world. Our customers are not only interested in our products, they are also interested in funding our work; They believe that they are investing in the future. “

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