Lite-1 & Roya Aghighi On How The Fashion Industry Must Move From Talk to Action on Sustainability

by Tom White

The fashion industry has made big public commitments to sustainability in recent years. Major brands have announced ambitious goals around reducing environmental impacts and improving social ethics. However, there remains a sizable gap between these lofty ambitions and actual progress.

According to a recent report from the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, while 72% of fashion companies have pledged to cut emissions, only 21% have taken concrete actions to activate those goals. And research from the nonprofit organization Fashion for Good found that only 12% of the industry currently implements sustainability measures into product design.

Many leading apparel and textile companies like H&M, Nike and Adidas have set aggressive targets to dramatically reduce waste, pollution, and climate impact by 2030 or even achieve net zero status. But momentum has stalled on enacting the initiatives needed to reach these aims. Most brands continue to struggle to move the needle on sustainability in any measurable way.

Two Primary Barriers

There are two primary obstacles holding back fashion brands from bringing sustainability initiatives to life. The first is the lack of scalable solutions that can be implemented at commercial volumes and costs. Many novel technologies remain stuck in the lab or limited small-batch production. Transforming massive global supply chains built up over decades presents a monumental challenge.

However, the industry’s lack of collective support through adequate funding for innovation cannot serve as a justification for the absence of development in scalable solutions. Despite lofty announcements, most fashion companies have not matched words with investment into the technologies needed to meet their own sustainability targets.

The second barrier is being accountable to these prior words and taking action as well as prioritization from fashion leaders. Brands frequently cite worries over how much extra consumers are willing to pay for eco-friendly materials and manufacturing. But survey data shows today’s consumers, especially younger generations, are in fact willing to pay more for sustainable fashion.

Rather than placing the onus on consumers, brands need to demonstrate leadership by making sustainability an investment priority, not a cost center. Shareholders and executives must recognize that long-term profitability requires investing now in innovating processes and materials for the future. This initiative will create the push for manufacturers to join the sustainability movement, simultaneously reducing their impact in real substantiality. Additionally, it will serve as a means to educate the public about sustainability.

The Critical Role of Biotech

This is where emerging biotechnology startups could provide a viable bridge. A new breed of companies like Lite-1 are pioneering novel dyeing, finishing, and material technologies using the power of biofabrication at the intersection of science, design, and nature.

Lite-1 leverages the capabilities of microbes to develop low waste, non-toxic colourants that both meet the demand of the industry at scale and perform at the desired quality standards. As Lite-1 CEO Roya Aghighi explains, “We aim to learn from nature’s zero waste systems and bring those solutions to today’s complex sustainability challenges. Our novel innovation allows naturally derived colourants to be created sustainably and economically at scale.”

Specifically, Lite-1 engineers microbes that act as renewable colour “factories”. These organisms can be fed ingredients like waste to produce a precise color outcome sustainably, closing the loop on the typically wasteful dyeing process.

As Aghighi explains, “Looking to nature provides design inspiration for colorants that add durability, have other added benefits in a non-toxic way.”

Lite-1’s impact on the technological landscape is nothing short of massive, sparking a disruptive wave in the industry. Its impact is immense, primarily owing to a unique business model that caters to an extensive addressable market. This distinctiveness sets it apart from other industrial biomanufacturing processes, demonstrating unparalleled capital efficiency in scaling. Moreover, it successfully avoids the capital-intensive nature often associated with similar innovations, rendering it an appealing choice that has piqued considerable interest from industry players.

As highlighted by Aghighi, biofabrication opens new doors for enacting true sustainability that other scientific disciplines cannot. “It offers limitless possibilities for developing safer, non-toxic processes that don’t rely on oil or synthetic chemicals,” she says. “The power of biomanufacturing helps reduce industry’s dependence on conventional polluting methods.”

Paul Richards, senior corporate advisor at Invest Nova Scotia, emphasizes:
“The imperative for a radical transformation in the manufacturing systems of the industry is unmistakable. It is evident that the existing processes are in need of a significant overhaul. In this context, biomanufacturing emerges as the most promising solution, presenting a paradigm shift towards more sustainable and efficient production methods. To truly facilitate this transition, there is a pressing need for substantial support and investment in cleantech initiatives. Embracing and fostering cleantech advancements will not only align with environmental sustainability goals but will also propel the industry toward a more innovative and resilient future.”

Scaling Solutions Requires Industry Collaboration

But Lite-1 Chief Innovation Officer Sarah Graham emphasizes that to shift an entire industry, these cutting-edge biotech innovations need influential early adopters. “Moving our technologies to a commercial scale and making them cost-competitive will require a collaborative approach with forward-thinking brands to collectively tackle this complex issue,” she explains.

Partnerships between innovators like Lite-1 and fashion giants could be a tipping point for driving material progress on everyone’s sustainability goals. “It’s crucial we collectively take the leap and integrate new innovations like biofabrication into supply chains today to meet ambitious environmental promises tomorrow,” urges Graham.

According to Aghighi, now is the critical window of time for innovative startups and leaders in the industry to join forces. “We urgently need brands to move from talk to action by adopting novel solutions, from the early stage to fully scale up,” she says. “Together, we can work to overcome initial hurdles and boost these technologies to the point of transforming manufacturing.”

Rod Badcock, Executive Director at Nova Scotia Innovation Hub, affirms:
“Scaling breakthroughs like biotech dyeing from lab to global supply chains is an overcomable challenge. Partnerships between industry leaders and innovation ecosystems like ours can accelerate the adoption of solutions to enact real change. Collective action is crucial to meet zero-emission targets. At the Nova Scotia Innovation Hub, our commitment lies in championing promising solutions such as Lite-1, ensuring their accelerated growth to effectively meet and exceed industry targets.”

Mobilizing Collective Action

Fashion brands have the platform and influence to accelerate the adoption of sustainability-enabling innovations like Lite-1 to actually make an impact at scale.

But it will take more than just the fashion industry to drive change. Graham explains, “We also need to push venture capitalists and investors to help close the gap between early stage innovations and fully matured ones by supporting early stage startups pursuing sustainability.

“Venture firms talk about how the future is all around sustainability, clean technology and climate solutions but they aren’t yet taking enough action in funding high potential innovations just because they aren’t fully matured,” Graham says. “There needs to be collective momentum among all sectors – government, investors, industry and innovators – to truly make progress happen.”

Collaboration between biotech innovators and fashion leaders has the potential to rapidly advance solutions that are moving slowly on their own. Partnerships mixing cutting-edge science with on-the-ground industry resources and market expertise can drive accelerated development and deployment of technologies that benefit people and the planet.

The time for the fashion industry to embrace new innovations is now. With collective urgency from all stakeholders, a more sustainable future for fashion can finally materialize.

Lite-1 is revolutionizing the color industry, turning what was once among the most pollutive sectors into a beacon of cleanliness and humanity. Harnessing the power of microbes as the factories of the future, Lite-1 is spearheading a transformative journey towards sustainable and ethical production practices. With remarkable progress on their path to innovation, Lite-1 has strategically forged partnerships that catalyze their rapid development and pave the way for unparalleled success. The synergy of cutting-edge technology and purposeful collaborations positions Lite-1 at the forefront of a paradigm shift, symbolizing the convergence of environmental responsibility and industrial excellence.

Presented by APG

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