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Stella McCartney and Protein Evolution partner on textile recycling venture

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Image: Protein Evolution, Inc. (PEI); A variety of Stella McCartney polyesters and nylons delivered to PEI's HQ

US biological recycling company Protein Evolution, Inc. (PEI) has announced a research and development collaboration with Stella McCartney to turn unused polyester and nylon fabrics into “good-as-new” products to demonstrate a circular solution for the fashion industry.

The collaboration aims to demonstrate the potential of PEI’s enzyme-based technology to recycle synthetic textiles and plastic waste in a low-emission, eco-friendly process to create good-as-new plastic bottles, textiles, and other infinitely renewable plastic products.

From 2023, Protein Evolution will process leftover polyester and nylon fabric from Stella McCartney’s collections and transform them into good-as-new fibres. The label’s manufacturers and partners will then see how these new fibres could be used to produce new clothing and footwear.

Image: Protein Evolution, Inc. (PEI); Before and after - Stella McCartney fabrics and the reusable material they will become having gone through the PEI enzymatic process

Scott Stankey, co-founder and chief technology officer at PEI, said in a statement: “Our proprietary biological recycling process has the power to enable circularity efforts across the textile industry. By partnering with Stella McCartney, we are able to test our platform in a real-world setting and collectively learn how to seamlessly integrate PEI’s technology into existing manufacturing processes.

“This collaboration will ultimately demonstrate for the first time how complex fabric types, such as nylon and polyester blends, can be fully re-used to make new plastic material in a low-energy, cost-effective way.”

Protein Evolution to showcase biological recycling technology to create “good-as-new” textiles with Stella McCartney

Image: Protein Evolution, Inc. (PEI); PEI co-founders Scott Stankey and Connor Lynn

Stella McCartney, a pioneer in sustainable materials, from introducing the world’s first-ever luxury bag crafted from mycelium, the root-like structure of fungi at a commercial level this summer to utilising bioengineered yarn ‘MicroSilk’ in her collections, was an early investor in Protein Evolution and an advocate for the company’s technology.

Commenting on the collaboration, Stella McCartney, added: “The horrific amount of fast fashion produced that then goes to landfill is truly shocking, both from the natural resources used to the sheer quantity wasted. We must act today to protect our planet for tomorrow, and circular and regenerative solutions offer an optimistic look at the future of fashion.

“Through our partnership with Protein Evolution, we hope to pioneer a new type of polyester from old materials. Establishing climate goals is one thing, taking meaningful steps toward a more sustainable future is what truly matters.”

PEI’s initial fundraising round was led by Collaborative Fund’s climate-focused Collab SOS, which is in partnership with McCartney. The biological recycling company raised more than 20 million US dollars in October 2022, with additional funding coming from New Climate Ventures, Eldridge, Nextrans, and Good Friends, which is backed by the founders of Warby Parker, Allbirds and Harry’s.

Connor Lynn, co-founder and chief business officer at PEI, said in October after the funding announcement: “Despite significant and aggressive industry commitments toward sustainability, the current approach to plastic recycling is costly, ineffective and resource intensive. Right now, it's far cheaper for petrochemical companies to produce new 'virgin' plastics than it is to recycle existing materials, which is one of many reasons why used plastic is piling up in our oceans, landfills, and incinerators.

“PEI has innovated a low-energy, cost-competitive process for upcycling finished plastics that's poised to meet both industry concerns and deliver massive environmental benefits. We're working hard to usher in a new era of plastics—one that's truly sustainable and circular."

Image: Protein Evolution, Inc. (PEI); PEI scientist prepares used plastic waste material for enzymatic recycling process
Protein Evolution
Stella McCartney