Health and Healthcare Systems

This company is using plants to make handbags, shoes and clothes

A photo of NFW's woven, sustainable fibres/fabrics.

Durable material made from natural polymers is being used in handbags, clothing, footwear and car interiors. Image: NFW

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Illinois start-up Natural Fiber Welding says making clothes, shoes and furniture from plants is the future.
  • New fibre ‘welding’ techniques can make natural fibres as strong and durable as synthetic alternatives.
  • NFW is one of 17 companies in The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021.

Your next handbag or pair of shoes could have a lot more in common with your garden or local park in the future thanks to new fabrics being created using the power of plants.

An Illinois-based start-up is using new techniques and natural fibers to create durable and sustainable materials that can be used in everything from handbags, clothing, and footwear to car interiors.

Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) is using plants to create sustainable materials and yarns such as plant leather. Its aim is to move the materials industry away from petroleum-derived products and a single-use approach.

Illinois startup Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) uses plants to develop sustainable materials and yarns, including its plastic-free plant leather, MIRUM. Image: NFW

The company has also developed a process to strengthen recycled cotton by ‘welding’ short fibers into longer fibers using natural molecular bonding. This reduces damage to the fabric and means garments last longer.

“Making our clothes, shoes, furniture, and automobiles from plants grown by regenerative agriculture is the future,” said NFW founder and chief executive Dr Luke Haverhals.

Using natural molecular bonding to strengthen recycled cotton, NFW has created its own branded fabric, CLARUS.
Image: NFW

Plastic-free

The fashion and fabric industries have typically relied on plastic-based synthetic materials to create long-lasting goods. For example, many leather alternatives currently available use synthetics and oil-based products like polyurethane.

NFW says its technology enables natural fibers like cotton, flax, silk, wool, and other renewable resources to deliver the same performance from 100% natural sources.

Have you read?

The business is one of 17 companies in The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021, an initiative to help circular economy entrepreneurs scale their innovations.

The six-month remote programme, led by Accenture in collaboration with the World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform, Anglo American, Ecolab and Schneider Electric, includes expert circular economy workshops, coaching modules, mentoring, networking opportunities, investor engagement and accelerator team support.

Making clothes, shoes, furniture and auto interiors from plants is the future, says company says NFW CEO and founder Dr Luke Haverhals. Image: NFW

From linear to circular

NFW’s processes also support a more circular approach in the materials sector, which can typically be wasteful.

The circular economy is about moving from a linear “take-make-waste” use of the world’s resources to a more circular and sustainable “reduce-redesign-reuse” approach. This involves designing out waste and pollution, keeping materials in productive use and allowing the earth’s resources to recover.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about the circular economy?

Around 50% of the world’s current greenhouse gas emissions result from the extraction and processing of natural resources, with demand for raw materials under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario predicted to double by 2050.

UpLink is a crowdsourcing platform for innovations launched by the World Economic Forum at Davos 2020 in partnership with Deloitte and Salesforce.

The platform hopes to elevate solutions that accelerate the delivery of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include achieving good health and wellbeing for all, sustainable cities and communities and zero hunger by 2030.

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