LONDON, United Kingdom – Chanel has taken a minority stake in a green chemistry firm that's exploring ways silk could replace chemicals used in clothing manufacturing – the latest move in a growing emphasis on tackling fashion’s climate issues at the French luxury brand.
Boston-based Evolved by Nature has developed a natural, silk based alternative to the harsh and toxic chemicals currently used to create many high-performing textiles. The company’s technology allows it to manipulate liquefied silk protein to achieve similar effects. Its patented activated silk can reduce the pilling in cashmere, or enhance the performance characteristics of nylon and polyester.
“We are discovering right now different molecular configurations of the silk protein,” said Evolved by Nature CEO Greg Altman. The company’s ambition is to “completely replace the need for many undisclosed synthetic chemicals.”
The investment is a sign of change at Chanel. The company is known for extravagant shows, famously trucking in an iceberg from Sweden in 2010. It’s also made use of raw materials that had become increasingly controversial, from fur to exotic reptile skins.
Last year, the company published a report on its environmental efforts for the first time and banned the use of exotic skins.
“At a time of unprecedented social, economic, and environmental transformation, we think we have to continue to step up our ambitions and commitments,” Chanel said in its report to society published last year. “We can be a positive force for change in the world and contribute to transforming lives and societies.”
A Chanel spokesperson said the shows are a key part of the luxury player’s DNA, but that the company is working to “intensify the reduction of their environmental footprint.”
Last year, the maker of Boy handbags and No. 5 perfume invested in Finnish start-up Sulapac, which has developed a plastic-like material that is fully biodegradable and can be used in packaging. A Chanel spokesperson said the move reflected a broader interest in green investments, but that it is too early to comment on other projects.
The company did not disclose the size of its investment in Sulapac or Evolved by Nature.
Chanel and Evolved by Nature said the luxury company’s investment would be used to explore new ways to manipulate silk molecules to enhance the performance, look and handfeel of materials. The biomaterials company is also in conversation with a number of other luxury and performance-focused brands around further partnerships. It is planning to commercialise its activated silk treatments for materials within the next twelve months.
“There is tremendous interest across the board from almost every segment, from luxury to performance, to home goods,” Altman said.
Editor’s Note: This article was revised on June 11, 2019. A previous version of this article referred to Chanel as Chanel SA. This is incorrect. The company's legal name is Chanel.