This company is using plants to make handbags, shoes and clothes

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Victoria Masterson, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Illinois start-up Natural Fiber Welding says making clothes, shoes and furniture from plants is the future.
  • New fibre ‘welding’ techniques can make natural fibres as strong and durable as synthetic alternatives.
  • NFW is one of 17 companies in The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021.
  • Your next handbag or pair of shoes could have a lot more in common with your garden or local park in the future thanks to new fabrics being created using the power of plants.

    An Illinois-based start-up is using new techniques and natural fibers to create durable and sustainable materials that can be used in everything from handbags, clothing, and footwear to car interiors.

    Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) is using plants to create sustainable materials and yarns such as plant leather. Its aim is to move the materials industry away from petroleum-derived products and a single-use approach.

    The company has also developed a process to strengthen recycled cotton by ‘welding’ short fibers into longer fibers using natural molecular bonding. This reduces damage to the fabric and means garments last longer.

    “Making our clothes, shoes, furniture, and automobiles from plants grown by regenerative agriculture is the future,” said NFW founder and chief executive Dr Luke Haverhals.

    Plastic-free

    The fashion and fabric industries have typically relied on plastic-based synthetic materials to create long-lasting goods. For example, many leather alternatives currently available use synthetics and oil-based products like polyurethane.

    NFW says its technology enables natural fibers like cotton, flax, silk, wool, and other renewable resources to deliver the same performance from 100% natural sources.

    The business is one of 17 companies in The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021, an initiative to help circular economy entrepreneurs scale their innovations.

    The six-month remote programme, led by Accenture in collaboration with the World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform, Anglo American, Ecolab and Schneider Electric, includes expert circular economy workshops, coaching modules, mentoring, networking opportunities, investor engagement and accelerator team support.

    From linear to circular

    NFW’s processes also support a more circular approach in the materials sector, which can typically be wasteful.

    The circular economy is about moving from a linear “take-make-waste” use of the world’s resources to a more circular and sustainable “reduce-redesign-reuse” approach. This involves designing out waste and pollution, keeping materials in productive use and allowing the earth’s resources to recover. sustainability

    What is the World Economic Forum doing about the circular economy?

    The World Economic Forum has created a series of initiatives to promote circularity.

    1. Scale360° Playbook was designed to build lasting ecosystems for the circular economy and help solutions scale.

    Its unique hub-based approach – launched this September – is designed to prioritize circular innovation while fostering communities that allow innovators from around the world to share ideas and solutions. Emerging innovators from around the world can connect and work together ideas and solutions through the UpLink, the Forum’s open innovation platform.

    Discover how the Scale360° Playbook can drive circular innovation in your community.

    Connect to Learn More →

    2. A new Circular Cars Initiative (CCI) embodies an ambition for a more circular automotive industry. It represents a coalition of more than 60 automakers, suppliers, research institutions, NGOs and international organizations committed to realizing this near-term ambition.

    CCI has recently released a new series of circularity “roadmaps”, developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), McKinsey & Co. and Accenture Strategy. These reports explain the specifics of this new circular transition.

    Connect to Learn More

    3. The World Economic Forum’s Accelerating Digital Traceability for Sustainable Production initiative brings together manufacturers, suppliers, consumers and regulators to jointly establish solutions and provide a supporting ecosystem to increase supply chain visibility and accelerate sustainability and circularity across manufacturing and production sectors.

    Connect to Learn More →

    Around 50% of the world’s current greenhouse gas emissions result from the extraction and processing of natural resources, with demand for raw materials under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario predicted to double by 2050.

    UpLink is a crowdsourcing platform for innovations launched by the World Economic Forum at Davos 2020 in partnership with Deloitte and Salesforce.

    The platform hopes to elevate solutions that accelerate the delivery of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include achieving good health and wellbeing for all, sustainable cities and communities and zero hunger by 2030.

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