In an attempt to diversify fabrics, we believe in the role of research and development to innovate alternative and new fabrics, ones that don’t rely on the fossil industry and that don’t deplete natural resources. South Africa is the source of wool, mohair, cotton and wood pulp for viscose production. We believe kelp (a seaweed) fabric could be added to this list of fabrics responsibly sourced from nature. While there are a number of organisations developing seaweed fabrics, to the best of our knowledge there is no development in South Africa. This project will develop a fabric that works in tandem with the material flow of the kelp ecosystem. In other words, what waste is 'naturally' bioavailable for this fabric?

“Kelp is the largest and fastest-growing marine algae or seaweed, and belongs to the brown algae group known as Phaeophyta - so although kelp may resemble an underwater plant, it is in fact a protist, the same family of organisms as moulds and amoebas” - Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation

This project will develop a bio material from kelp (a seaweed that grows abundantly in the Cape) that can be used as a fabric to create a prototype garment. The IP will be open source. This garment will be designed by Robyn Agalhus, creative director of Sinchui and winner of the Innovative Design and Materials category of the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards 2023. This kelp garment will be exhibited at the Twyg Awards 2024.

In the landscape of sustainable and circular materials and products currently being explored in South Africa, much of the emphasis often looks to the end of the value chain. While many of our waste challenges, especially discarded plastic, are urgent and need attention they come with their own set of baggage. Life cycle assessments, the leaching of microplastics, and end-of-life management leave a question mark over many of these materials and products. Further, it means that there is currently a gap in research and innovation of designing out waste from the system and stimulating engagement with the future of materials.

That is where seaweed comes into play. In this material there is an opportunity to explore a renewable and regenerative fabric that relies on and supports local kelp ecosystems while fleshing out possibilities for investment across value chains and industries. These miraculous carbon-sequesters clean our air, purify our water, and are home to an abundance of sea life. When pulled out of the ocean, unprocessed kelp is said to have historically been used to protect skin - a habit attributed to its anti-inflammatory properties. As a fabric, it is said to be breathable and flexible, thus lending to its application as an apparel feedstock.

The end goal of this project is to develop a replicable product made from seaweed that can be showcased at the Twyg Awards in November 2024. This will be achieved through four work packages as indicated below. Each work package will be punctuated by knowledge or skills transfer workshops with identified stakeholders to facilitate buy-in and capacitation across the field. Development of each work package is adaptable depending on the outcome of the prior one. This project aims to:

  • Develop a prototype that can be replicated
  • Explore the potential of seaweed for the South African fashion industry
  • Make use of a wildly abundant natural resource