Written by 12:23 Gear, Sustainability Views: [tptn_views]

Seaweed clothes

An Australian startup creates a material sourced from the ocean, with the potential to replace the fabric that’s used to make our outfits

“Imagine there’s no plastic…” John Lennon didn’t get round to singing plaintively in his epic and thought-provoking 1971 single, Imagine. It’s possible that he didn’t foresee what a pain this material was to become 50 years later, and how much of an ecological mess it was to produce. And maybe it was because there weren’t many words that rhyme with it… ‘drastic’ and ‘mastic’ not fitting with the overall narrative of the song, and ‘overenthusiastic’ just not scanning right somehow.

An alternative to plastic is constantly being sought after, researched and investigated by the world’s top scientists, universities and startups. One such company is ULUU, founded by Dr Julia Reisser and Michael Kingsbury. This Australian startup consists of a world-class team of scientists, academics and engineers all working towards the goal of making materials similar to plastic, and with similar uses, but that won’t take 10,000 years to degrade.

Like so many companies looking for alternative solutions to the damaging man-made inventions and energy demands of our times, the startup has taken inspiration from the natural world. After much research, they found one answer in the oceans. 

There are already some advances made in biodegradable, compostable and biobased forms of plastic, which are made from renewable materials such as corn, potato, tapioca starches, cellulose, soy protein and lactic acid.


Photo: Ethan Bodnar

Sea what?

For ULLU, it found that a combination of seaweed sugars, sea water and saltwater microbes could be blended together in a fermentation process that is similar to brewing beer. The compostable polymer is called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) and is not only biodegradable, but compostable as well, and has a durability that is similar to that of plastic.

There’s plenty of big plans and belief in the startup. The company recently announced that it had raised $8m AUD (£4.5m) which was led by one of the country’s leading deep-tech companies, Main Sequence, in participation with Possible Ventures, Mistletoe and Albert Impact Ventures. Other investors have Melvin Benn (managing director of Festival Republic), model and philanthropist Karlie Kloss, and Tame Impala frontman, Kevin Parker. With all this potential and momentum, ULUU hopes to have launched its product-ready alternative to plastic in 1-2 years. 

The compostable polymer is called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) and is not only biodegradable, but compostable as well, and has a durability that is similar to that of plastic.

There are talks of partnerships with consumer brands and commercial projects within the fashion sector. Speaking to TechCrunch, Kingsbury said, “We’re exploring potential opportunities in sustainable fashion, changing the space one step at a time.” He added that, “It’s no longer cool to have only the best design and cut when it comes to the clothes we wear—people are starting to care about the materials behind them.”

The impact of our clamour for new clothes and the rise of fast fashion has fuelled the amount of microplastics that are now found in the world’s oceans. Up to 60% of the fibres used in the world’s clothes are produced with the help of fossil fuels. 

However, more clothing brands are becoming increasingly aware of their impact on the environment, and are turning towards more sustainable ways of manufacturing clothes, such as Kindly, For Days and Patagonia

All together now:

“Imagine there’s no plastic…
wouldn’t that be fantastic…”