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Why we could all be wearing seaweed one day

Would you wear a dress made out of seaweed? As the fashion industry ramps up its efforts to reduce its impact on the planet, algae is emerging as a more sustainable alternative to the likes of cotton and polyester, thanks to its ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, a 2019 study found that it can absorb up to 20 times the amount of CO2 as plants.

“Seaweed grows abundantly in its natural habitat, and ours is harvested through a gentle, regenerative process, leaving its ecological value retained,” Dr Amanda Parkes, chief innovation officer at Pangaia – which first introduced seaweed into its collections back in 2019 – tells Vogue. “The resulting fibre is completely biodegradable.“

It’s not just brands like Pangaia that are recognising the benefits of seaweed. Scarlett Yang, a Central Saint Martins graduate and winner of LVMH’s Maison/0 Green Trail Award, combines algae with other ocean-based materials to create her 3D-printed bio-based fabrications. “The natural qualities and characteristics of algae and other bio materials allow us to design with the life cycle of the material in mind,” the designer explains. “It’s a very versatile material; we can fabricate intricate designs on shapes, textures and colours with our digital creative processes.”

Still, it remains a challenge to use seaweed at scale – both when it comes to sourcing, and the technological prowess needed to turn algae into textiles. Currently, Pangaia is blending its seaweed fibre with cotton until it achieves its aim of creating a 100 per cent-seaweed fibre. Meanwhile, companies like Living Ink Technologies, which produces ink and pigments for colouring textiles, are still at an early stage.

Beyond fashion, seaweed is becoming increasingly popular in the beauty industry, too. Haeckels’s skincare range is based on kelp, bladderwrack and dulse that’s harvested by hand locally in Margate. “Seaweed is renowned for its antioxidant and healing properties, making it the perfect star skincare ingredient,” Charlie Vickery, the brand’s managing director, explains. “Seaweed has been used in bathing rituals for centuries, and our principal has been to harness this power and turn it into progressive skincare remedies.”

To help scale up the use of seaweed across multiple industries, Karen Scofield-Seal, along with co-founder Dr Charlie Bavington, set up Oceanium in 2018. “We’ve developed a green technology that transforms farmed seaweed into natural ingredients for beauty, food and material products,” Scofield-Seal, who recently won Veuve Clicquot’s Bold Future Award, explains. “This technology maximises the value of the seaweed – the sum of the parts is greater than the whole – allowing Oceanium to pay a good price for farmed seaweed, enabling farmers to scale up.”

With seaweed also being used to develop bio-based packaging, it’s clear just how versatile algae can be – with the benefits felt by both people and the planet. “We’re only just beginning to unlock its true potential,” Vickery says. “Its potential is truly limitless.”

This article was originally published on Vogue UK.

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