Black Algae T Shirt
We’re using nature to rethink how clothes and even colour are made.
- Printed with black algae ink
- Soft and highly breathable
- Extreme four way stretch
The colour black is everywhere. From our phones to our cars to the ink in our pens. But black has a dark side. Every black thing you own is likely to contain carbon black – a pigment derived from petroleum. The way carbon black is made isn’t sustainable. Vast tracts of land called tar sands are stripped of all life and vegetation to extract the heavy petroleum, while the production process creates significant greenhouse gases.
So we’re on a search for the new black. Our aim is to reinvent the way in which the colour itself is made. And it all starts with a t shirt made with black algae. You don’t have to dig up the earth to find black algae. It grows in ponds using sunlight and carbon dioxide. Not only does algae generate more than half the oxygen on Earth, but once it becomes part of this t shirt, it captures and stores the carbon it used as its fuel for the next 100 years.
In 2021 we released the first Black Algae T Shirt with the base of the t shirt built from pulped eucalyptus. Version 2 is built with one of the most misunderstood yet futuristic materials on the planet – hemp.
What is carbon black?
With the Black Algae T Shirt we’re going back to the very start of the supply chain to take on a harmful and pervasive pigment known as carbon black. Unless you’ve spent your life on a desert island with no clothes and no possessions, you’ll run into carbon black every day. It’s in the ink in your black pen, your black phone case, and the tyres on your car. Carbon black is the pigment that’s used to make black things black. But we don’t question where it comes from because very few people know it’s even there.
Making the colour black hasn’t changed for 100 years
The way carbon black is made hasn’t really changed for over a century. At mass scale the process begins with a fossil fuel like heavy petroleum which is fed into an industrial furnace and allowed to partially combust. This creates a black powder that looks a bit like soot. And this is carbon black. It’s then used to colour everything from inks, to plastics, to rubber, and you’ll find it everywhere on the planet.
Why we’re looking for alternatives to carbon black
There are lots of problems associated with carbon black. The manufacturing process creates greenhouse gases which are released into the atmosphere. And the heavy petroleum needed to make it comes from places known as oil sands, or tar sands. These are barren areas of our planet that are stripped of all vegetation so that oil can be extracted from the ground. And as ecosystems are eroded more carbon is emitted.
We’re working with a US biomaterials startup
With the help of US biomaterials company Living Ink, we’ve found a method of making our t shirt without using any carbon black. After their founders Scott and Steve discovered that an algae cell is almost identical in size to a carbon black pigment, and can create the same colour, they’ve been on a mission to replace carbon black ink with a black ink made from black algae waste.
Our algae is grown in giant ponds
The algae we use starts life in huge open-air ponds where it grows by feeding on sunlight, carbon dioxide, water and nutrients. These ponds contain vast quantities of spirulina algae which absorb carbon dioxide and pump oxygen back out into the atmosphere. While the majority of the algae is used to make natural food colourings, the rest of the algae is harvested and used as the base for black algae ink.
A thermo treatment turns the algae into ink
After it’s harvested, the algae by-product is heat treated to concentrate it into a black powder which we use as pigment. This treatment seals in carbon dioxide which has been absorbed by the algae during its lifespan, preventing it from making its way back into the atmosphere. The black powder is then purified and mixed with a water-based binder to create black algae ink.
Printed with black algae ink
To make a normal black t shirt you dye the fibres black. But black algae dye hasn’t been invented yet. So we print the entire outer surface of the t shirt with black algae ink – turning the t shirt a dark grey. The ink has been engineered to be UV resistant so it holds its colour for years. But as it’s bio-based and printed on hemp it won’t behave exactly like a petroleum-based ink. Over time the black colour will brighten around the edges next to the seams as it ages.
Built with carbon capture technology
Once the t shirt has been built and printed, the black algae ink continues to lock in the carbon dioxide that it absorbed when it was alive. And it will do this for over 100 years. So the t shirt you’re wearing is storing carbon emissions. This is known as carbon capture technology and it means that rather than producing emissions, the Black Algae T Shirt does the exact opposite.
We’ve combined black algae with hemp
While our first Black Algae T Shirt in 2021 was built with pulped eucalyptus and beech from sustainably managed forests, we’ve built version two from one of the most extraordinary plants on Earth – hemp. Over the last 80 years hemp has been one of the most misunderstood and badly treated materials on the planet. It’s been banned by governments, had war declared against it, and been accused of bringing down modern society. But its ancient past shows it could have a very different future.
Hemp is incredibly strong
50,000 years ago early man understood the power of hemp and used it to spin the first ever fibre. With 4x the durability and 8x the tensile strength of cotton, the Egyptians then used it to haul rocks around when they were building the pyramids. The Vikings relied on hemp ropes, sails, and nets for their voyages. Chinese warlords built their armour from it. Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World in 1492 was made possible thanks to the strength of his hemp sails – in fact he was so concerned about getting stranded in whatever distant land they reached, he loaded his ships with hemp seeds in the case they needed to grow more sails.
Seven US presidents smoked it
At one time, hemp was the solution to almost any problem. Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa on hemp canvas – the word canvas comes from cannabis. Early presidential letters indicate that at least 7 presidents, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, smoked it. And one of Henry Ford’s most cutting-edge cars was almost entirely built out of hemp and ran on hemp fuel, leading Mechanical Engineering magazine to call hemp “the most profitable and desirable crop that can be grown”.
Today hemp is a plant with a PR problem
But then things went sideways. The petrochemical, pulp-paper and nylon industries – who all stood to lose billions of dollars if the commercial potential of hemp was realised – campaigned against it. Propaganda, conspiracy theories and drug hysteria kicked in soon after, and hemp’s position as the wonder plant of the future took a beating with headlines like “Marihuana: The Assassin of Youth” and “Sex-Crazing Drug Menace.”
War was declared on hemp
In 1937 Roosevelt passed the Marihuana Tax Act effectively making hemp pointless to grow because it was so expensive. And by the 1970s the DEA’s war on drugs was funding a program to crop dust fields of hemp with paraquat, a chemical herbicide known to cause irreversible kidney damage, respiratory failure, and death.
Hemp is on a comeback
By the mid 80s the only two hemp products you could buy legally in the US were Hungarian twine and sterilised bird seed. But conservationists lobbied for its return, citing its huge economic and environmental benefits. The UK and Germany resumed commercial production in the 1990s. In 2013, farmers in Colorado harvested several acres of hemp, bringing the first hemp crop to the US in over 50 years. And today at least 47 US states have enacted legislation to establish hemp production programs or allow for hemp research.
Hemp is a high-performance material
With advances in man-made materials, and the myth and misconception that surrounds everything associated with cannabis, hemp’s unique properties could easily be forgotten. But they shouldn’t be. From an environmental perspective every tonne of hemp produced removes 1.6 tonnes of CO2 from the air. It kills weeds, purifies soil, grows super-fast and will thrive almost anywhere in the world. It requires zero pesticides and very little water to cultivate. And it’s so smart scientists now use it to clean up soil, water and air contaminated with radioactive isotopes after nuclear meltdowns.
Sourced from the Himalayas
We source our hemp from the high mountain pastures of the Himalayas in northern India, from a cooperative of 500 farmers aiming to create a sustainable industry in sustainable fabric – so it’s the opposite of fast-fashion sweatshops. The Himalayan mountains supply the region with 8.6 million litres of water a year, which means that pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fertilisers and other chemicals have been banned by law for decades. It makes the water amongst the purest in the world, leading to a stronger and smoother hemp plant. And that leads to a stronger and smoother t shirt.
Our hemp is incredibly soft yet strong
As for clothing, a single hemp fibre can grow to over 4 metres which makes it incredibly soft yet really strong – as there are fewer joints to act as weak points. New developments in the way we process the fibres mean it can be used to create some of the most soothing natural fabrics around, but without compromising on strength and durability. Hemp keeps its shape and won’t go saggy. It resists pilling and softens over time, meaning it gets more comfortable the more you wear it. As the saying goes, “hemp doesn’t wear out, it wears in.” It’s also breathable, water repellent, antibacterial and UV resistant.
What it feels like
The Black Algae T Shirt is really soft and smooth on your skin. The fabric’s fibres are hollow – just like you get with other natural fibres like Merino – so it traps pockets of air to keep you warmer in winter, but it also allows the t shirt to breathe easily in summer. We’ve blended our organic hemp with organic cotton grown in the same mountainous region to make it even softer. And we’ve also added a small amount of elastane, so it can stretch in any direction. And it’s this mix that makes the t shirt so comfortable.
You can wear it all day long
Because hemp fibre is porous, it’s naturally highly breathable and moisture-wicking, so it’s easy to wear all day. It can absorb up to 20% of its own weight while still feeling dry. It’s also antibacterial, so if you want to smell good all day long, hemp is the perfect choice. It blocks UV-A and UV-B rays. And thanks to its high resistance to ultraviolet light, it won’t disintegrate from sunlight like other natural fabrics.
Size + Fit
The Black Algae T Shirt is designed with a regular fit.
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