Sustainable textile innovations: self-healing fibres made out of squid genes

March 22, 2019 0 By HearthstoneYarns

In view of resources dwindling fast and natural fibres like cotton
being resource-intensive to process and petroleum-based fibres like
acrylic, polyester, nylon and spandex not being the most environmentally
friendly, it is about time to look for sustainable alternatives when
producing fibres and fabrics. In this series, FashionUnited explores the
sustainable alternatives and textile innovations that are currently being
pursued all over the world.

Philadelphia-based company Tandem Repeat
headed by CEO Gözde Şenel-Ayaz and COO Dennis Werger, found self-healing
characteristics in squid genes. In an eco-friendly and low-cost process,
thermoplastic fibres are extracted, which are made into a fabric that is
biodegradable and 100 percent recyclable. The material also acts as a glue,
meaning it minimises the shredding of microfibres in the wash, thus
reducing plastic pollution in the oceans.

Self-healing fibres
allow for products with longer life cycles

“Our material production
is energy efficient (at least half of the energy cost compared to synthetic
fibers). It is an excellent alternative to synthetic fibers including but
not limited to spandex (elastane). Besides, our fibers are the only fabric
that has the ability of self-healing. Various natural or synthetic yarn
(polyester and nylon) becomes self-healing and repairing with our coating,
and preserves fiber integrity under high wear and tear conditions. This
allows creating products with longer life-cycles and minimizes
environmental pollution,” explains Tandem Repeat.

The way it works
is that Tandem Repeat isolates genes from squids that have the ability to
synthesise self-healing fibres. Production is performed via industrial
biofermentation and the resulting thermoplastic fibers and coatings that
are available in powder, polymer and liquid forms, are biodegradable, 100
percent recyclable, up to 400 percent stretchable and with 50 MJ/m3
ultimate toughness. Fabrics created out of these fibres are the only ones
that have the ability to self-heal, thus creating products with longer
life-cycles and minimised environmental pollution.

As one can
imagine, there are many areas of application and Tandem Repeat provides
green fibres and coatings to the medical, industrial and textile
industries, for example for wound care and catheters, food packaging, water
filtration and cosmetics as well as synthetic leather, military nylon
replacement and high performance, self-healing fabrics.

Repeat’s work has received awards and recognition

No wonder then
that Tandem Repeat’s contribution to a sustainable future for textiles has
been honoured various times: The company was selected as one of ten
startups competing for the 3rd Annual Green & Bio-Based Chemistry
Technology Showcase & Networking Event, which took place on May 8th, 2018
at the GC3 Innovators Roundtable at Eastman Chemical, Kingsport, TN.

Tandem Repeat was also selected as the Early Bird Winner of 2018 for
the Global Change Award, meaning the best entry from the pool of entries
submitted in the first half of the application period. The Early Bird
winner does not receive a grant, but gets the opportunity to attend one of
the Innovation Accelerator weeks.

Tandem Repeat is also one of seven
finalists of the Tommy Hilfiger Social Innovation Challenge, a global
initiative that aims to support entrepreneurial start-up and scale-up stage
businesses that are developing solutions that have a positive social impact
on the fashion value chain. Winners, which will be announced in January
2019, will receive a year-long mentorship with Tommy Hilfiger’s internal
experts globally, in addition to winning a grant of up to 100,000 euros as
well as a place on the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Program (ISEP).

Last but not least, those wondering about the start-up’s name –
“tandem repeats” refer to the occurence of a repeated pattern of one or
more nucleotides in DNA and the repetitions are directly adjacent to each

Also read our other articles in the series:

  • Photos: 1) Prilfish – creative
    commons via flickr / 2) – 5) Tandem Repeat website