Ambercycle Raises $21 Million to Change the Fashion Industry

Few industries are as tangled with buzzwords as the fashion industry. Clothing brands, rightly concerned about their tremendous effects on the environment, are eager to define their collections as “green” or “sustainable”. But making tangible changes in the way clothing is produced and distributed has been a struggle.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles-based startup Ambercycle announced it had raised a $ 21.6 million Series A round to try and tackle the problem. Funding comes from fashion heavyweights including H&M (which has used its technology in recent collections) and online fashion and shoe retailer Zalando, among others. It will increase production of the company’s regenerative fiber technology, which it created and tested at a downtown manufacturing facility.

Ambercycle co-founders Shay Sethi and Moby Ahmed are scientists and former UC Davis college roommates. The two see themselves as different from the founders of traditional fashion or manufacturing and other research-based innovators.

“Traditionally, people have always thought, ‘here’s an interesting technology, how can we create a story around it?'” Instead, says Sethi, Ambercycle “begins.[s] with products that we would really like to see and then work backwards into technology. We develop, research and engineer this way instead of starting in the lab ”.

Shay Sethi, CEO and co-founder of Ambercycle

Their technologynology is able to break down the components of clothing into its basic polyester materials, separating its natural fibers and dyes and creating a new material in the process, which they call cycora.

“We imagined a technology that could take an old t-shirt and turn it back into the yarns needed to make that green t-shirt again,” he adds. “Anything in your closet today, like yoga pants or shirts, that is traditionally made from polyester can be made with cycora.”

Sethi and Ahmed founded their company in San Francisco in 2015, then moved it to the Los Angeles clothing district two years later, looking for a manufacturing hub near an innovation hub.

“We felt like this was a great link for innovation, fashion and materials science,” says Sethi. “There is a very strong industry and a very strong familiarity with manufacturing, so we felt it was a perfect blend. We also grew up in California and didn’t want to leave ”.

We chatted with Ambercycle co-founder Shay Sethi about his company’s journey, its new funding, and how it intends to go beyond the buzzwords in planning a sustainable future for fashion.

What are the biggest challenges for the fashion industry?

When we consider the future of humanity, there are a couple of fundamental things that need to change. The big thing is – as consumption will not decrease – dependence on natural resources will put a strain on how we can live on this planet. So to change that, we need to harness these traditionally seen as waste streams and turn them into new resources. So the upstream future will be all these textile materials that are in our closet. But it is not really easy today to throw away or recycle our old clothes.

We need to be able to have a low-friction way to throw away our garments and get them back in a circular system. If we can tell a transparent and traceable story to a person, then brands and retailers will start to care.

Why is it so difficult to recycle clothes these days?

So let’s talk about our clothing. They are blends of different fibers – polyester and cotton, as well as dyes, additives, zippers, labels and stains – when they are at the end of their life. We can’t really recycle those materials, because they are these complex and intimate blends. Recycling has really struggled as a business and also as a solution to waste, because it is not possible to create a high quality product from those materials once they reach the end of their life cycle.

How is Ambercycle different from other recycling processes?

Most of the recycling processes are shredding or very simple mechanical processes. You can turn a t-shirt into a pillow in a similar way to how you can turn the paper into a kind of gray newspaper and then recycle it; The same thing happens with fabrics.

The holy grail is really being able to turn an old t-shirt into a new t-shirt. So, over the past five years, we’ve developed a technology that takes these blends of materials that have dyes and additives, puts them through a process, and creates the basic raw materials needed to make those same yarns. This is in line with what is traditionally known today as a circular economy where materials can be reused, over and over.

Will Ambercycle always focus on clothing?

Right now our focus is on clothing.

We have a couple of luxury clients who are genuinely interested in making the switch to circular systems. In the next two years we will be able to talk about it, but the main message we want to help shed light is that every year over 120 billion garments end up in landfills. We must, as a fashion industry, move to a circular system. IS [not] just one or two companies that can do things; All together must adopt a new ecosystem, where things are reused over and over again in supply chains. It is very important that this transition involves all verticals of the supply chain. The demand for these materials is already so high. So people already care. I think we are just trying to understand the logistics of the company right now.

There are many possibilities when you think about it. You can imagine this transforming into a system that can accept other materials as well. I think we’re excited about the possibilities in the future, but today I’m really focused on the stories from textiles to textiles.

What do you plan to do with your recent funding?

We are looking to increase the number of projects we are doing with various apparel companies that will require a lot of manpower or manpower. This is a key gap that we need to fill. A technology like ours that uses some sort of molecular separation technology, which advanced materials science requires some sort of scale before you can really begin to see these contracts fulfilled.

It’s very easy to make a couple of shirts, but it’s very difficult to make millions and millions and millions of kilograms of stuff. Today we will expand the production of one of our main materials, Cycora. Requests are already skyrocketing. I felt that now was the right time to raise outside capital to accelerate that plan.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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