7 Startups Innovating in Nano Clothing Technologies
We recently took a look at the smart apparel market where we learned that there is more to cutting edge fashion than 3D-printed clothes that make us look like avant-garde statues. Smart, or connected clothing is not just for elite athletes who need every competitive edge, but also your weekend marathon runner who wants to check the degree of overpronation of their feet while running. Aside from connected clothes, there is also lots of progress being made in using nanotechnology to develop new textiles with superior properties. While 14 years ago we just had Nanotex, today nano clothing is becoming an area where researchers and fashionistas can meet and party like it’s 1999.
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at a scale of less than 100 nanometers. The unique nature of nanoparticles and nanofibers allow for the design of textiles with excellent mechanical strength, chemical resistance, water repellency, antibacterial properties and a number of other qualities unattainable by other means. These benefits have both created entirely new markets and disrupted existing ones. Just look at how many different types of nanomaterials there are today:
We decided to take a look at some of the players out there who are delivering tomorrow’s futuristic nano clothing today.
Founded in 2009, Emeryville, California startup Bolt Threads has taken in a whopping $213 million in funding so far to create synthetic spider silk using genetically modified yeast cultures. Spider silk is much stronger than steel, but soft, making it perfect for spinning into yarn and creating durable clothing. Since our 2016 coverage of the company, they received additional funding of $123 million from names like Fidelity, Baillie Gifford, Temasek Holdings and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund. The biggest news for Bolt Threads in 2017 was when they purchased Best Made Company, a New Yawk outdoor apparel company that according to Fortune sells clothing, custom-made axes, and “artisanal camping gear”, whatever the fcuk that is. The first thing they did was collaborate on a $198 beanie in case you’re in the market for a hat that costs more than a top of the line camping stove:
Over the course of 2017, Bolt Threads also collaborated with some major names in the industry like Mountain Meadow, and Stella McCartney, who brought their spider silk to the Paris runway and the New York Museum of Modern Art. Just a few weeks ago, The Mercury News interviewed David Breslauer, co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Bolt Threads, who said that they’re “not exclusively a luxury company” and “as with any new technology, it starts at a higher price point”. After 8 years of development, this company now needs to step beyond selling limited edition $314 neckties, and progress to selling something with a price point that’s accessible to us commoners.
Founded in 2007, Japanese startup Spiber has taken in $148 million in funding to develop a technology that allows for the use of DNA coding in proteins to manufacture basic industrial materials such as textiles, metal or plastics. The company is currently producing synthetic spider silk and is a direct competitor to Bolt Threads. What sets these two companies apart though is that Spiber’s manufacturing process built on molecular design and gene synthesis will allow for the creation of a diverse range of substances. Spiber’s target markets are the apparel and automotive sectors. In the long run, they plan to expand into healthcare, construction, aerospace, robotics, and more.
Since we covered Spiber a year ago, their prototype Moon Parka still hasn’t hit the shelves yet, and is being validated and tested in Goldwin Tech labs. Like Bolt Threads, we need to see some progress that shows this technology is ready for mainstream, otherwise investors will never see a return on the massive amounts of money they’ve been pouring into it.
Founded in 2011, New York startup Modern Meadow has taken in $53.5 million in funding from names such as Sequoia Capital and Temasek Holdings. The team is using DNA sequencing to grow collagen in a laboratory. (Collagen is a protein found in your skin.) The traditional process of leather making is to remove everything from an animal’s hide that isn’t collagen. This technology has huge benefits for fashion design since clients will be able to choose the qualities of the “leather”, such as its size and thickness, and can even incorporate their brand into the genomes themselves.
The synthetic collagen is created in liquid form and can be used as spray-paint to create clothes without any seams, like the t-shirt above that will be exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art next to Stella McCartney’s spider silk dress. Another benefit of the material is the sustainability of its production. Producing leather in the traditional way hurts animals, the environment, and the workers who manufacture it. Let’s hope they show their investors better returns than Organovo has.
Founded in 2008, Switzerland startup Osmotex has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to create an electronically controlled active membrane called HYDRO_BOT that transports moisture very effectively. Sports, work, and protective clothing that utilize the technology can release moisture at the same rate that humans sweat, even under challenging conditions or during intensive activity.
Prototype testing was successful and Osmotex is working with textile producer Schoeller and premium sportwear provider KJUS to bring HYDRO_BOT to market starting in the 2018-19 ski season. We’re not entirely convinced about the value proposition on offer here though. Have these folks ever tried Merino wool?
Founded in 2013, Israeli startup Nano Textile has taken in $15 million in funding from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). The team came up with a process to counteract hospital-acquired infections, which affect 511 million patients globally and cost $12 billion per year in Europe alone. Nano Textile developed a single step nano coating process that coats textiles or glass with Zinc Oxide (ZnO), giving materials permanent antibacterial properties.
The process is cost effective, scalable, and environmentally friendly. The treatment can be applied to any fabric type (synthetic, cotton, silk, mix) and does not damage the fabric or alter its color. The process allows magnetic, conductive or hydrophobic coatings to be applied to different surfaces as well, in addition to the permanent antibacterial properties.
Founded in 2009, New Jersey startup PurThread has taken in $9 million in funding to develop a textile treatment that destroys microorganisms. Their treatment is based on silver salts, which kill germs and fight body odor when embedded into textile fibers. Silver kills germs by interrupting the germ cell’s ability to form chemical bonds necessary for its survival. When the bacteria come in contact with silver particles, they fall apart and die. According to their website “PurThread embeds the silver salts into fibers in a molten stage, making the antimicrobial protection intrinsic to every thread. Unlike antimicrobial dips and coatings, PurThread’s protection is consistent throughout the fabric and has been proven never to weaken, wear off, or wash away”.
This technology is being applied in healthcare, military, and athletics. PurThread is available to retail consumers as well, including in these Kleen pillowcases and socks and AirSanity face masks and plane seat covers you can order through Amazon. (Nothing says “this passenger is going to be annoying” like someone who brings their own airplane seat cover. Just saying.)
Founded in 2013, Estonian startup GoGoNano has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to become the IKEA of nano coating, providing DIY nano coating sprays for textiles, cars, and electronics. The textile and leather solution makes clothes, shoes and carpets superhydrophobic (i.e. extremely water repellent) and bacteria resistant as well.
GoGoNano products are available through the company website, with the textile coating spray selling for around $31 a can.
Manipulation of matter at a nano scale is becoming so cheap that you can go to Amazon and buy sheets which will always stay fresh, or even dress yourself in spider silk – if you have stacks of cash lying around. These companies are the first examples of the potential disruption that nano textiles will cause in the apparel and textile industries. At least that’s what we’ve been hearing now for over a decade. It’s also possible that some of these technologies will be assimilated into larger companies, like 3M (NYSE:MMM), who will release products with superior attributes under brand names that don’t necessarily reflect the name “nano”. (Full disclosure: We hold a meaningful amount of shares in 3M, mainly because they’ve increased dividends yearly for 56 years running.)
As always, this isn’t a comprehensive list of nano textile startups. If you know of other interesting nano clothing technologies out there, drop them in the comments section below. No OTC companies please.
Are you paying too much in transaction fees to your broker? Check out a brokerage firm called Zacks Trade that's offering $1 trades on U.S. stocks and options for an entire year. After that, you'll pay just $3 a trade or a penny a share, whichever is greater. It's one of the cheapest brokers out there and we use them to trade stocks on over 90 foreign stock exchanges. Open an account today and get $1 trades for a year.