'Infinite recycling' startup Samsara Eco partners with Lululemon

Samsara Eco, an Australian startup that uses enzyme-based tech to recycle plastics, textiles and other materials countless number of times, has struck a major partnership with Lululemon. The deal means Samsara Eco and Lululemon will create what they describe as the world’s first infinitely recycled nylon 6,6 and polyester from apparel waste.

The partnership is also Lululemon’s first minority investment in a recycling company, though the amount was undisclosed, and Samsara Eco’s first partnership in the apparel industry. The startup has raised a total of $56 million from investors like Breakthrough Victoria and Temasek, and its commercial partners include Woolworths Group.

Nylon and polyester currently make up about 60% of clothing produced today, but at the end of their life cycle, 87% end up in a landfill or incinerated.

Samsara Eco’s enzyme-based technology breaks down mixed apparel derived from plastics into their molecular building blocks to produce new apparel, which in turn can be broken down again, creating what the company refers to as infinite recycling.

Paul Riley, the CEO and founder of Samsara Eco, explained that nylon 6,6 is one of the textile and fashion industries’ most commonly used materials, because its complex chemical structure makes it very versatile and resilient. But it’s also difficult to break down and recycle.

Both nylon and polyester are derived from fossil fuels and usually end up in landfills. By working with Lululemon, however, Samsara Eco has expanded its library of plastic-eating enzymes to include ones for polyester and nylon 6,6. “What this means is that we can now break down apparel made from blended materials back down to its core molecules, which can then be used to re-create brand-new apparel again and again.”

Samsara Eco and Lululemon’s partnership will span several years, with plans to scale circularity through textile-to-textile recycling for the performance apparel industry, but Riley said it is open to textiles from other sources.

“While this partnership is a key milestone for our roadmap to recycle 1.5 million tonnes of plastic annually by 2030, as our society moves away from creating new fossil fuel made plastic, we’re expecting more industries that depend on plastic to see Samsara Eco as a viable recycling option,” he said.

Lululemon Raw Materials Innovation vice president Yogendra Dandapure told TechCrunch that Samsara Eco’s enzymatic recycling process will enable the company to move toward recycling end-of-life products to create new apparel, over and over again. The company’s Be Planet goal is to make 100% of its products with sustainable products and end-of-use solutions, moving toward a circular ecosystem, by 2030.

Other Lululemon initiatives include products made from renewably sourced, plant-based nylon, which launched in April in partnership with Geno, and Lululemon’s Like New program, which sells previously owned clothing.

Dandapure said Lululemon is currently focused on creating and testing a successful fabric for nylon and polyester this year, with an eye toward future scaling and product plans. “We are working towards previewing our first prototypes later this year and will start to unveil small collections in the next one to two years,” he said.