This company has a way to replace plastic in clothing

Luke Haverhals wants to to change the way yoga pants are made. Most fabrics used in sportswear, such as Spandex, are made of synthetic fibers – essentially plastic. Those plastics are problematic people and the environment. Haverhals Company, Welding of natural fibers, offers an alternative to synthetic fabrics.

NFW produces cotton textiles called Clarus that can be used for clothing. The fabric is made of cotton that has been treated to partially break down organic material and make it stronger and denser. The result is cotton yarn that behaves more like synthetic fibers.

Asked whether his company is a technology or textile company, Haverhals answered without hesitation. “We are a technology company … but our first focus is textiles.”

Haverhals received his doctorate in chemistry and began his career as a lecturer at the Naval Academy in 2008. While there, he worked with a team of chemists and materials scientists who researched ionic liquids, which are essentially dissolved salts. These salts usually remain liquid at room temperature and can be used as solvents to break down biomass, things like cotton and cellulose. In 2009, with funding from the Office of Aviation Scientific Research, the team made significant progress in strengthening natural fibers using ionic liquids.

The team asked what could happen if they partially break the natural fibers and then weld or join them together. The result is a type of monofilament cotton. While the original fibers can be only a few inches long, partially dissolved and fused fibers can be much longer. This creates a stronger yarn that mimics the performance characteristics of synthetic fibers.

In 2016, Haverhals left the Naval Academy and founded the NFW with a grant from the Ministry of Defense and an Air Force license to produce yarn and textiles using a process that became known as “fiber welding”. The company has issued eight patents worldwide, and has 90 pending.

Haverhals and the NFW have received praise from critics of plastics – and marketing campaigns that claim to have eliminated them. There is growing concern around plastic microfibers synthetic materials such as polyester with each turn of the washing machine. “I think he (Luke) is the real thing, and I think there are very few people who are real,” says Sian Sutherland, founder Plastic planet, a non-profit organization that aims to eliminate the use of plastics. “This is not just about eradicating fossil fuels in the textile industry, but above and beyond, it’s about toxins.”

The NFW has attracted several major investors, including Ralph Lauren, BMW‘s iVentures, and Allbirds. The company announced in July that it had collected $ 15 million from private investors, bringing the total to $ 45 million. Part of that money went to expand his factory in Peoria, Illinois, where he is now working to increase production to hundreds of thousands of square meters of Clarus per month. In September, the NFW announced a partnership with Patagonia introduce Clarus fiber to some of the brand’s new products. Haverhals says that hundreds of brands are in line to buy textile companies for their own products. He says NFW will provide standardized products to manufacturers and work with brands in hopes of developing specialized textile products.

Mirum, NFW’s second product line, is an alternative to herbal skin. It is made of things like coconut shell, natural rubber or cork and hardens, or improves durability, using patented chemicals without petrochemical additives. This distinguishes Mirum from other synthetic products that rely on harsh chemical treatments to achieve the desired consistency or feel. The company presents it as a substitute for leather in products such as car interiors and shoes. Allbirds plans to start selling shoes soon made with Mirum.

Kasper Sage, executive partner in BMW’s venture capital branch iVentures, says NFW is promising because its products are high quality and sustainable, and the technology is scalable, which is important for car manufacturers. “This is the only company we’ve found … trying to tackle this problem, which has the potential to really succeed in serious car production,” says Sage.

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