Big surf brand dives into seaweed textiles

Seaweed startup Uluu has attracted a surf fashion heavyweight to further its plastic-free mission.

Big surf brand dives into seaweed textiles
Source: Uluu

Bioplastics startup Uluu has created a natural replacement for plastic that’s made from seaweed and has also inked its first commercial deal with surf brand Quiksilver.

The news follows two years of research by Uluu to develop a process to transform farmed seaweed into a material to help solve the world’s plastics crisis.

The startup raised $8 million in seed funding from the CSIRO’s Main Sequence to develop its manufacturing process which involves a fermentation process similar to brewing beer.

To mark the start of the collaboration, Uluu has manufactured a limited-edition ‘Made with Uluu’ wax comb for use on surfboards that’s made of seaweed. The combs are included as a gift with the purchase of Quiksilver boardshorts – but seaweed polymer surf apparel is the next project on the drawing board for the pair.

While the wax comb may be physically small, Uluu says its significance is large given it represents the company’s first consumer product and also kickstarts a multi-year agreement between the two brands to develop and commercialise apparel that performs as well as plastic textiles.

"We’re now focused on working alongside Quiksilver to develop and commercialise ‘Made with Uluu’ apparel that’s natural and good for the environment."

To this end, Uluu has been working with Deakin University to turn its polymers into fabric that could help the fashion industry to reduce reliance on plastic fibres like polyester, with a prototype due out this year.

Uluu says its range of polymers are capable of replacing plastics at scale, and because they’re made from farmed seaweed, will remove carbon dioxide from the air and absorb pollution from the ocean and create sustainable jobs for coastal communities.  

Uluu co-founder and co-chief executive Dr Julia Reisser described the wax combs as “small, limited items, yet super meaningful”.

Circular potential

"Having a plastic-like natural material that’s durable, yet recyclable and compostable, is incredibly exciting. It opens up a range of new possibilities in circular business models across many industries.”

Uluu co-founder and co-chief executive Michael Kingsbury says the release celebrated a multi-year agreement with an iconic Australian brand.

“We’re now focused on working alongside Quiksilver to develop and commercialise ‘Made with Uluu’ apparel that’s natural and good for the environment, yet performs just as well as plastic textiles made from fossil fuels.”

Quiksilver brand director Andy Norling says Uluu aims to replace polyester clothing without compromising on performance.  

“It’s inspiring work towards ending the outdoor industry’s reliance on fossil fuels,” he says. “It’s stopping the release of persistent microplastics while apparel is being used and, ultimately, at the end of its life.”  

The tech
Uluu creates its natural polymers known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) using a fermentation process similar to the brewing of beer. These polymers, which are created from a combination of seaweed sugars, seawater, and saltwater microbes, promise to offer the same levels of durability of their plastic counterparts, while also being biodegradable, compostable and fossil fuel-free.