As fashion companies scramble to find ways to reduce waste and make their products more environmentally sustainable, new technologies are emerging to keep clothes out of the landfill and materials in circulation.
This concept of circularity in the fashion industry isn't new but it's becoming top of mind for companies as they face increasing scrutiny from environmental organizations and governments that estimate some 120 billion articles of clothing are tossed every year.
That's one reason why H&M's investment arm, H&M CO:LAB, has joined with a the private family office behind the LEGO company and some big government-backed investors to fund Ambercycle.
Based in Los Angeles, Ambercycle was founded college roommates Shay Sethi and Moby Ahmed, two graduates from the University of California, Davis. The two former roommates developed a way to recover natural and synthetic polymers in textiles and founded their company in 2015 as soon as they graduated.
The two have been on H&M's radar for a while, having picked up the company's Global Change Award in 2016.
That initial award helped fund the company's development and with the new round, the business is likely ready to expand beyond pilot runs with small streetwear brands, like the Los Angeles-based Come Back As A Flower.
Waste in the fashion industry drives more than just pollution, it also helps prop up the oil industry since a large percentage of apparel uses materials derived from crude oil. Those materials account for half of the total fiber used in the manufacturing of textiles for apparel, upholstery and fabrics and less than 1% of those products get recycled.
Ambercycle says that its technology can break those materials down into their molecular components and recover the polyester from garments and then turn that back into yarn.
The company isn't the only player that's making those claims in the market these days. A whole slew of companies including Everywhere, another Los Angeles-based brand that has a process for recycling garments. So does Evrnu, which has already inked preliminary deals with companies like Adidas to use recycled fibers in their clothes.
At Ambercycle, the company's founders estimate that their process uses 80% to 90% less energy to produce a kilogram of material versus virgin material production.
With $21.6 million in new funding, Ambercycle hopes that it can bring its products to market faster. The first of those products is cycora, a direct polyester replacement.
"The transition to circularity in fashion is inevitable" said Shay Sethi, co-founder and chief executive of Ambercycle, in a statement. "We are building an ecosystem in which materials can exist in harmony with humans and the environment. Our breakthrough molecular regeneration process enables a clear vision for circularity, in which fashion can flow in and out of our lives."
The circularity proposition also appealed to the LEGO family's investment fund (for obvious reasons).
"In KIRKBI, Circular Plastics is a new thematic investment area where KIRKBI wishes to support the movement towards a world where plastics never become waste. Globally, a significant part of plastic waste generated comes from textiles," said Damir Hamzić, KIRKBI's head of circular plastics investment. "In Ambercycle, we see a promising company within textile-to-textile recycling led by a highly dedicated management team and through this investment we want to support the further development of the company's ambitious plans."