Seaweed Clothes Can Save the Planet

A New York designer has created a sleek, transparent, carbon-negative raincoat made from algae bioplastic.
April 29, 2021, 4:30pm

Charlotte McCurdy wants you to consider draping yourself in seaweed. The idea is a lot less slimy than it sounds—the New York designer has created a sleek, transparent, carbon-negative raincoat made from algae bioplastic. McCurdy started working with algae as a student and first developed the coat as a prototype to show how clothes could be made in ways that help alleviate our mounting climate crisis. 

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Glamorous as it might seem, fashion is a pretty dirty business. More than half the clothing produced is made from petroleum-based plastic fibers that eventually pile up in landfills and pollute vital waterways. And the problem goes far beyond the pollution we can see—clothing production accounts for at least 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

McCurdy uses a naturally occurring biopolymer in red marine macroalgae—a type of seaweed—to make her bioplastic. Creating and disposing of the plastic generates no emissions, and the material is biodegradable. Plus, cultivating the seaweed pulls carbon from the air and water, making the coat a model for how fashion manufacturing could one day go carbon-negative. She chose a raincoat as a symbol of how biomaterials could eventually help shield us from climate change itself.

Though she currently has no plans to commercialize the plastic or raincoat, MCurdy is joined by other startups and scientists racing to create yarns, dyes, and fibers using the organisms. For now, McCurdy is experimenting with a range of materials, and recently crafted biodegradable sequins for a dress by designer Philip Lim.

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