Indian-American start-up aims to lead sustainable fashion industry through new chemical recycling process

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Akshay “Shay” Sethi, co-founder of Moral Fiber, a startup that uses chemical processes to recycle cloth and produce yarn. (Photo: LinkedIn)

“Waste No More” proclaims the website of Moral Fiber, an Indian-American startup based in Los Angeles, which uses “science to make fashion everlasting.”

The company, previously named Ambercycle, was started in 2015, by co-founders Akshay “Shay” Sethi, a biochemistry and molecular biology graduate from University of California, Davis, and his classmate Moby Ahmed.

“All clothing made with Moral Fiber can be infinitely recycled,” Sethi is quoted saying in a Jan. 1, article in unenvironment.org, the online publication of the United Nations Environmental Program. “When it comes to product life cycles, we must return to infinity. It is the only way,” Sethi added. The founders say theirs is the world’s first textile product made entirely from old clothing. But they plan to expand to do more for the oceans and rivers.

While at University, the two youth worked with microbes to break down polyesters, and discovered during the process the three-step chemical process, which Sethi describes as “very elegant.”

The three-step process is being tested in a pilot plant in Los Angeles. The plant is powered by incinerating the material that is left over in the processing, basically forming a sustainable cycle. The founders expect to switch to solar power to run the machinery in the future.But by 2020, Sethi and Ahmed hope to begin sending the shipping container size “box” to countries which have a growing and large middle-class with high consumption levels.

Colors of the yarn that Moral Fiber produces through a three-step recycling process. (Photo: unenvironment.org)

“We take a mixed material, which has some cotton and polyester, and extract the polyester at the molecular level to produce a new yarn,” he is quoted telling UNEP in the Jan. 1 article. Sethi said the process they have developed could be used for recycling other plastics as well.

Sethi sees the process being able to turn other materials in the near future.

“We’ll start with fabric but it can process packaging, bottles, containers, films, multilayer packaging. We see this box as the box that is tailor-made for textiles but in the future, we want to make a box for packaging, a box for carpets and for all sorts of different materials,” he said.

Some big names in the fashion industry and traditional venture capitalists whose names are not made public by Sethi, are betting on Moral Fiber, the UNEP article indicated.

A Moral Fiber model jumping. (Photo: mrlfbr.com)

Currently, the pilot process gets clothing scraps from local outlets and process about 100 kgs a day, as Sethi and his team work through the kinks to launch the first Moral Fiber collection with a major brand, UNEP said.

Sethi told UNEP he wants to battle marine plastic pollution and keep polyester out of rivers and streams as well. “What we’ve seen so far is you can make a polyester fibre that doesn’t shed. You can do it, it’s just a question of making it in such a way that it’s scalable,” he is quoted saying. “We are working on ways to do that right now. You can’t have materials that go into the oceans and biodegrade there and turn into microfibres.”

Moral Fiber has some support from the global initiative Fabric of Change which supports innovators in the fashion industry, as well as from Ashoka, a global network of leading social entrepreneurs. The Indian-American founded company is also a member of Fashion for Good, a program that supports start-ups for a year and a half to build networks with industry entities, the UNEP article noted.

Moral Fiber sells itself as a “Zero Waste” “Transparent” and “Conservation” focused startup — a company “Where consumption and production of fashion is 100% circular and 100% infinite.” A company “Where we know who is making our clothes, and where they come from,” and finally, “Where our natural environment remains vibrant for future generations.”

 

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