Chanel Invests in Boston Startup Making Sustainable Silk

French multinational Chanel clothing and beauty products
HONG KONG - 2019/05/15: French multinational Chanel clothing and beauty products brand store is seen in Hong Kong. (Photo by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Budrul Chukrut—SOPA Images LightRocket via Getty Images

Chanel Inc. is the latest retail giant to make a public nod toward environmentally conscious products, investing in an eco-friendly chemistry company as part of an effort to make luxury items less damaging to the planet.

Both the apparel and cosmetics industries are major sources of waste, and chemicals often used to make fabrics and skincare products, such as microplastics, ingredient stabilizers, and textile finishers. Startups like Evolved by Nature, to which Chanel will pay an undisclosed sum for a minority stake, seek to replace these harsh synthetic additives with sustainable alternatives.

Evolved by Nature’s trademarked Activated Silk is derived from actual silkworm cocoons, which can be used in fabrics, cosmetics, and medical products, according to the company. Someday, the eco-friendly silk might even find its way into one of Chanel’s $475 scarves.

While people can debate whether planet-friendly proclamations by corporations are a substantive shift or window dressing, the fashion, health, and beauty sectors have been making their interest clear. Brands have sought to market themselves as friends of the Earth, and the bigger players are beginning to move that way, too.

As for Chanel, this isn’t the first time the French luxury house has sought to establish its green bona fides.

It made another sustainability investment late last year with Finnish biodegradable plastic packaging alternative Sulapac. The fashion house made earlier moves within the existing silk industry, too: In 2016, the label acquired four high-end French silk companies to shore up its supply chain. And last year, Chanel published a report on how it addresses sustainability issues, a first for the 100-year-old, privately held retailer.

Evolved by Nature, based in Boston, was started by biomedical engineer Rebecca Lacouture and chemist Gregory Altman in 2013. Their product is pure silk in liquid form, a regenerative technology made from discarded silkworm cocoons. The company has patented dozens of molecular combinations of the natural silk protein since filing its first application in 2014.

Existing backers include Kraft Group, Jeff Vinik, and Roy P. Disney. The company declined to say how much total funding it has raised.

Evolved by Nature said it will use the fresh funding to “explore innovative material, mechanical and optical enhancements of different fabrics.” It’s unclear how the technology will be specifically integrated into Chanel’s products, which range from handbags to haute couture. Altman said the Chanel link-up is still in the research-and-development stage.

“For them to believe in us enough to make a financial investment says we’re certainly doing the right thing,” said Altman.

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