Decarbonizing Textiles, with Tandem Repeat

There’s something about academics, professors, turning Founders. I could spend hours discussing science with them and learn so much from them. In this case, that would be Prof. Melik Demirel. Prof. Melik Demirel, Lloyd and Dorothy Huck Chair in Biomimetic Materials, is a scientist with two decades of expertise in biotechnology, nanotechnology and materials science. Frankly, it didn’t take that long for both of us to hit it off, he’s a man of his word who says it the way he sees it, no wonder we get along because the filter doesn’t exist for both of us. It’s impressive how Gozde, Co Founder, a PhD in Biomedical Engineering with a background in Textiles, and Prof. Melik built up the building blocks at Tandem Repeat over time. This is our 1st investment with the GHG metrics assessment model, to achieve the Net Zero goals, using a price parity roadmap. Finally!!!!

Tandem Repeat, is a synthetic biology and materials science company, that has already developed novel fibers to remove plastic pollution and reduce the dependence on fossil fuel sources. In our estimates, the Fashion industry was responsible for 2% of annual GHG emissions or 1 GT of CO2eq back in 2019 and could reach 1.588 GT annually by 2030 if unchecked. Initial conservative estimates by Prof Melik suggest if globally 10% of synthetic fibers in the market are replaced by materials like Tandem’s cellulosic fibers, they can potentially reduce about >30 million tons of GHG annually.

That’s what excites us about Squitex, an innovative material created by Tandem Repeat, that can be made into textile fibers, coatings, adhesives and more. The end products are thermoplastic, easily processable, entirely natural and recyclable. Blending Squitex with natural materials imparts on them, the elasticity (like Spandex) required for athletic wear and desired for comfort in all types of clothing. This feature can dramatically expand the market for inexpensive natural materials based on regenerated cellulose and provide a fully sustainable alternative to non-sustainable cotton/polyester/elastane blends. For some context, the global cellulose fiber market is expected to be at $250 Billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $305 Billion by 2026. The global spandex market size is about $7.5 Billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $98.5 Billion by 2026. They’re already getting strong inbounds from fashion brands, are already negotiating partnerships for industrial scale manufacturing, and lastly working with suppliers to launch the fabric soon.

What Tandem Repeat has already achieved isn’t easy, no material available today, whether natural, synthetic, or blend, offers the ideal sustainability and performance needed by the fashion industry. More than 60% of fabrics are now made from synthetic fibers because they provide certain performance features. Unlike natural fibers, synthetic fibers are more durable, elastic, strong, soft, cheap, and do not wrinkle easily. Among the most significant clothing inventions in the 20th century was Lycra (also called Spandex and elastane) at duPont by Joseph Shivers. The high elasticity (stretch) made possible by Lycra allowed for huge performance gains for fabrics that blended small amounts of Lycra. Given the environmental challenges associated with synthetic fabrics, major apparel brands are actively looking for a green alternative for the stretch component of their natural-fiber garments. In addition to elasticity, the self-healing properties of Squitex also allows for adhesive type features for their materials which can then replace sizing that is done in certain textile processes (strengthening of warp yarn to avoid damage during weaving). In addition to the stretch or elastic properties, the next generation of Squitex products could have functionalities that go beyond what is possible with existing materials. This includes self-healing coatings, adhesive properties and the ability to change their thermal conductivity under heat and humidity. These thermal properties can result in sustainable athletic apparel which keep you cool while you are active.

What’s even more exciting about Tandem Repeat, is their super technical team. We couldn’t have chosen a better team to support, for our 1st Textiles investment, that has the potential to be carbon negative. As for us, for now, its helping them with hiring, addressing equipment & material supply challenges to scale up production, and implement the price parity roadmap.

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Kunal Sethi

Cancer Warrior, Climate & Longevity: Prithvi Ventures & Ayuh Ventures