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Plant & Algae T-Shirt; Built to Biodegrade

18 September 2020

Vollebak, a three year old London based clothing brand, are giving a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘throwaway fashion’. They’re innovating to produce cutting edge, outdoor clothing and their latest idea is one that can be easily disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

“As ideas are at the centre of our business we try and spend as much time as possible doing stuff that generates ideas. So we’re outside a lot as we come up with all our best ideas when we’re doing sport. We run, ride, surf, ski, climb, kayak, paddleboard. There’s an old quotation about how you should meditate for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy, in which case you should meditate for an hour. That’s what we do with sport. The more stuff we know we have to get done, the more sport we’ll do as it just keeps our brains wired.” David Row, Head of PR & Marketing, Vollebak

Using science and technology, they’ve invented a new breed of t-shirt; one which is born from the earth and can be returned to the earth. Made from the wood pulp of sustainably managed forests and printed with algae instead of chemical dyes, the natural materials of the completed garment are entirely biodegradable and compostable within 8-12 weeks.

“The t-shirt that starts its life in nature is literally designed to end up there too” say the creators. In fact, once you’ve decided your t-shirt has reached the end of its life, Vollebak recommend that customers simply throw it on the compost heap or dig a grave and bury it in the ground to become “worm food”.

On one hand, this t-shirt is primitive in the way that it’s designed with mere mortal properties, destined to decompose as Mother Nature intended. On the other hand, it’s printed with green algae, an organic material which dies as soon as it’s removed from water – meaning the printed design oxidises, changes colour and fades from one week to the next. A naturally colour changing t-shirt sounds pretty futuristic, right? Clothing that after every wash you can don a different design, creating the illusion that the t-shirt is somehow alive when actually the exact opposite is true.

Yes, this caveman concept has become a radical idea for modern-day society. It provides an alternative narrative to those ‘ethical clothing’ brands journeying down well-trodden paths which preach “buy fewer, better things” and claim “quality lasts longer” or replace one fibre type for something less environmentally harmful; like organic cotton (whereby production uses copious amounts of water) or recycled plastic bottles (which raises questions about the disposal of plastic garments).

Vollebak’s plant and algae t-shirt, however, is fearlessly venturing farther to earn its eco-warrior credentials. It’s made from pulped eucalyptus, spruce and beech, harvested from sustainable forestry plantations that are certified by the Forestry Sustainability Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Plus, the t-shirt is produced using a “closed loop production process”, meaning that over 99% of the water and solvent used to turn their pulp into fibre is recycled and reused. The fabric is also left raw and un-bleached, to simply allow the natural off-white colour of the fibres to become part of its earthy design.

As is the case with manufacturing anything new from raw materials, the t-shirt still requires energy to produce and Vollebak doesn’t absolve itself by acting squeaky clean. They refreshingly acknowledge and publish the environmental impact of producing a kilogram of their fibre using the Higg MSI scoring system. They state that “taking into account fossil resource depletion, water scarcity, eutrophication and global warming – this fabric scores 10 against cotton’s score of 60” and are clear that their “eventual aim is to score 0.”

It’s always exciting to observe innovation being taken to the extreme, particularly within the fashion industry. Vollebak’s method to engineering next-generation pieces of clothing is a process which they say can take between one and five years for each design. They’re also ahead of the curve to acknowledge that their products have a finite lifespan and turn this truth into an attractive part of their value proposition. An interesting case of truthful consumerism and one which we just had to share.

For more information about the plant and algae t-shirt, visit the Vollebak website by clicking here.

To read the Forbes article about Vollebak’s background, follow this link: 

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