Biotechnology and recyclability/circularity through Helsinki fashion week

I had the lovely opportunity to discuss with Olivia Rubens, a positive knitwear women’s wear designer, super interesting topics such as sustainability and fashion. These topics within the realm of biotechnology, synthetic biology, the end-of-life of our clothes, and side-streams are at the core of our beliefs. We also discussed human & climate positive centered garments and microbes,  creating new circular systems and new materials from glucose with fungi, and enzymes that eat plastics.

(c) Olivia Rubens and Marco G. Casteleijn. 2020.



Open letter to the Fashion Industry

We are flooded with difficult choices every day. We are witnessing the fastest changes humanity has ever seen, and it is both wonderful and at times a bit scary. Yet happiness follows when we choose to do meaningful things.

We have the knowledge and capability to make almost anything, but what we choose to do now is more crucial than ever before.

In a world of decreasing resources, there really are no materials to waste. New ways to produce, manufacture, and consume are needed very, very soon.

There is a potential to make life sustainable for future generations and to create business opportunities for businesses today. Therefore, in order to combat climate change and save global resources, the production of materials needs to quickly move from virginal fossil raw materials to renewable or recyclable feedstocks.

From making proteins to the textile industry seems like a big leap, but surprisingly it is not. We are at a pivotal point to move away from non-sustainable materials to replace them with biobased materials. We are harnessing the power of microbes and fungi to create protein-based fibers, such as spider silk, or vegan bio-leather made from fungal mycelium. We are discovering new enzymes that can break down mixed textile materials, even plastics, into smaller molecules, which microbes use as food to make new materials. Biobased coatings, dyes, colors, biodegradable biobased plastics, and novel functionalities are being developed at an increasing rate.

More recently, “sustainable fashion” is an often-heard buzzword, but is the industry looking at real solutions to enter the much needed new models? For example, when creating clothing from leftover fabrics, are the textiles and garments designed for recyclability? What about the dyes and coatings used? How can we eliminate microplastic formation during washing completely? Can we produce buttons and zippers that are both sustainable to produce as well as easy to recycle? Can we make all clothing without the use of fields and animals? Should we?

Here the role of consumers also plays a key role. There will be a great need for personalized design in the future, a trend we can already observe in many industries. There is also a greater need for transparency. When AI and computational driven design of materials can design-test-build on the fly in-silico before the material is physically produced, novel materials will come to the market at an increasingly rapid pace. Before they do though, designers must ask from the material scientists: are there solutions to recycle these materials indefinitely. Is the material I use a virgin material or not? How long can people wear my clothes and how will it be recycled? How can I educate my customer and how can I play my part?

We can only get big answers if we ask big questions. Clearly we are at a remarkable point in our history to understand the big problems of our time, but if we do not solve our linear consumption behavior now, our amazing ways will soon find a planet who is no longer willing to sustain us.

~ Marco Casteleijn

Senior Scientist of VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland

Please join our “Waste to Wear” concept:
or contact me: for inquiries for biobased materials and enzymes for textile recycling.