Greenwashing Oversimplifies Highly Technical Issues and Is Pervasive

Natural Fiber Welding— the name says much about NFW’s vision for a world that will be material-rich and plastic-free. The people behind it claim to be “obsessed with leaving the world better than we found it” and so they are on a mission to invent and “manufacture shockingly sustainable materials” from plants. The CEO & Founder of NFW Luke Haverhals tells texfash.com how he is leading his company “a moonshot systems-level shift away” from petroleum-derived products and toxic chemistries.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • NFW has put four families of materials into market that are all plastic-free. It can produce these materials from a variety of different plants.
  • NFW now has performance textiles, leather-alternatives, foams, 3D molded composites that are enabling nutrient footwear – without plastics.
  • Using green-chemistry principles and closed-loop processes, NFW engineers performance textiles from virgin and recycled natural fibres.
Natural Fiber Welding
Steady Drum Roll The Natural Fiber Welding production is highly efficient (e.g., closed loop) and roll-to-roll (e.g., massive output). This year there will be the steady drum beat of product launch after product launch across a wide range of market verticals. Later this year, it will also announce additional funding for scale. Scale that is necessary, because behind the scenes NFW is signing a couple of new, huge brands. Natural Fiber Welding

You have been critical of the SAC/Higg. The criticism of SAC/Higg has been mounting. Is there going to be a post-Higg world? How do you see the discourse shaping up in the coming days? Will it be about who is able to drive the narrative?
Higg MSI is like teaching a child the following algorithm to cross the street: “Hey kid, look left...and if there is no traffic run across the street.”  Promoters of Higg MSI say that it is “better than nothing”.  The algorithm above is also “better than nothing”. (e.g., Better than just telling a child to run into traffic).
 
Higg MSI has now been proven in a court of law to essentially “look in one direction” while failing to look in other critical directions.  For example, Higg MSI fails to look at nano and microplastic pollution, fails to acknowledge overuse of toxic PFAS plastics, wilfully ignores methane leaks and water usage associated with extracting resources to product plastics, et cetera.
 
If humanity is going to make progress, then we need deeply informed technical discussions about what the correct problems to solve are. The reason the fashion industry is worse off today is because greenwashing that oversimplifies highly technical issues is pervasive. Moreover, oversimplification is exactly what has gotten Higg MSI and those that use Higg MSI into lawsuits.
 
Industry news is flooded with announcements about new fibre innovations/developments. Do you think there are far too many different fibres in the market, with each claiming this or that? Do you think there is so much of a clutter that both apparel makers as well as end-consumers stand confused?
There are people in the world who claim ‘mushrooms’ (mycelium) is going to do everything.  It is a really nice, tidy story. The problem is that most of the story is marketing hype and lacks technical rigour. The observable evidence is that individual companies have now spent hundreds of millions of dollars each over the course of many years and gotten essentially nowhere. Supply chain is full of stories about how the marketing is about mycelium/mushrooms but behind the scenes there is use of “mushrooms + plastics”. 

When the very first product came out (100 small bags), did you read how the media went overboard? It was a Stella McCartney handbag made with Mycelium leather from Bolt Threads, and though touted as a pioneering vegan alternative to animal leather, no one bothered to check that that material was coated with PU! The ‘blue sky’ story has not changed, but actual delivery of scale and market-relevant products is still hovering at zero. Behind the scenes, brands and supply chain are noting that this is a colossal failure.
 
In the meantime, brands do not want to take poor performing materials that use plastic to market.  
 
Let's talk about NFW itself. You worked on all-natural alternatives to petroleum-derived plastics. How did the idea of producing textiles develop over the years? Did you see the whole problem of the fashion industry essentially being a problem of fibres?
With regard to NextGen materials, NFW is completely unique with a categorically new approach to making materials. NFW uses biomimicry in a number of award-winning ways. 

Firstly, we let a variety of plants use sequestered carbon and solar energy to produce nutrients like cellulose, lignocellulose, vegetable oils, gum, proteins, and other primary ingredients at massive scale. Instead of being reliant on one type of ingredient, NFW combines these ingredients directly and efficiently in clever ways. This allows NFW to tune and engineer the attributes of materials to perform for many different industries, while avoiding plastics completely. There is a major award that NFW is winning and will be announced in a few weeks, and this because NFW’s unique approach to zero-plastic is so profoundly transformative.
 
NFW now has performance textiles, leather-alternatives, foams, 3D molded composites that are enabling nutrient footwear – without plastics.

NFW has developed an ecosystem of biobased, 100% plastic-free materials for footwear uppers, outsoles, and foams. With this first-in-kind suite of material solutions, brands are delivering game-changing, sustainable products at the price, scale, and performance level their customers expect.

Many footwear brands have set bold sustainability targets only to discover that the material supply chain is poorly equipped with cost-effective, performance-ready, truly sustainable materials to support their goals. We’ve changed that. In fact, we’re changing the entire game. With NFW, the impossible shoe is no longer impossible.

No other company on the planet has built technologies like NFW. NFW has put four families of materials into market that are all plastic-free.  We can produce these materials from a variety of different plants.  This makes our production system incredibly robust and that is why NFW is scaling up capital so efficiently.

If humanity is going to make progress, then we need deeply informed technical discussions about what the correct problems to solve are. The reason the fashion industry is worse off today is because greenwashing that oversimplifies highly technical issues is pervasive. Moreover, oversimplification is exactly what has gotten Higg MSI and those that use Higg MSI into lawsuits.

Luke Haverhals
Luke Haverhals / CEO & Founder / Natural Fiber Welding

How long does it take to produce a, say, particular lot of the products compared to say other fibres like cotton or polyester? Also, how expensive is it going to be, now that you can scale up with overall cost of production going down? Do we see Clarus/Mirum in the premium range, or mass range?
Our patented Clarus technologies enable natural materials like cotton, hemp and wool to compete at the highest levels of performance apparel. Using green-chemistry principles and closed-loop processes we engineer performance textiles from virgin and recycled natural fibres.

Mirum is a categorically new, plant-based material that is perfect for footwear, fashion, automotive, and accessories. Its miraculous customisability means it can look like leather or carbon fibre. Mirum is a high-performance solution for designers and brands looking to shrink their footprint and expand their creative palettes. At the end of its life, Mirum can be recycled into new Mirum or ground up and returned to the earth: At last, a climate-friendly, plastic-free option.

Mirum is being used with brands like Bellroy, Pangaia, Camper, Nooch, and Allbirds. Even more, see why BMW invested in NFW and how BMW says NFW’s Mirum compares with other materials. NFW has been launching product after product across the world’s largest markets. It has formulated a unique process to incorporate various plant matter into a ‘dough’ which can then be shaped, tuned, and processed into a 100% natural and fully recyclable alternative material to leather, textiles, and foams. This fundraise will enable the company to scale up production from batch processing to roll-to-roll commercial capacity. BMW says that its investment reinforces its commitment to purpose-driven entrepreneurs and underscores their efforts to advance the decarbonisation of the automotive industry.

Our new families of materials: Pliant molded materials (e.g., for shoe soles) and Tunera foam materials (e.g., for shoe insoles) are coming to market with a major announcement yet this year.

Huge brands – as in the biggest ones in the world – are right now working with NFW on ramping production for their product lines.  There are more than 500 brands in our customer pipeline... nothing in the “next gen” space comes even close.
 
What is your outlook going to be for the next few years? How much would you need to expand? With two cutting-edge products already in the market, what is the R&D work now going to be like? Will we see different varieties of both Clarus and Mirum? Or maybe something new altogether?
NFW production is highly efficient (e.g., closed loop) and roll-to-roll (e.g., massive output). This is why we can engage hundreds of brands already. This year there will be the steady drum beat of product launch after product launch across a wide range of market verticals. Later this year, we will announce additional funding for scale. Scale that is necessary, because behind the scenes NFW is signing a couple of new, huge brands.
 
In 2023 people around the world will come to know the NFW story in much larger ways because brand partners will be in market with so many Clarus, Mirum, Pliant, Tunera products. NFW will be a major global growth story and with a focus on doing good...and not settling for being a little less bad!

There are people in the world who claim ‘mushrooms’ (mycelium) is going to do everything. It is a really nice, tidy story. The problem is that most of the story is marketing hype and lacks technical rigour. The observable evidence is that individual companies have now spent hundreds of millions of dollars each over the course of many years and gotten essentially nowhere. Supply chain is full of stories about how the marketing is about mycelium/mushrooms but behind the scenes there is use of “mushrooms + plastics”.

Richa Bansal

RICHA BANSAL has more than 30 years of media industry experience, of which the last 20 years have been with leading fashion magazines in both B2B and B2C domains. Her most recent position was at the helm of editoral affairs at Fibre2Fashion

 
 
 
  • Dated posted: 11 October 2022
  • Last modified: 11 October 2022