EXCLUSIVE: Keel Labs Unveils First T-shirt From Seaweed-Based Kelsun Fiber

Kelsun is seeing the light of day.

North Carolina-based Keel Labs is launching its very first T-shirt made from the company’s seaweed-based Kelsun fiber.

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Developed with climate activist and sustainable fashion influencer Aditi Mayer, the sample pocket T is designed to demonstrate the first full garment made with the fiber on existing, industry-standard machines at an independent factory.

The T-shirt is “a massive milestone,” said chief executive officer Tessa Callaghan. The company began developing the fiber six years ago and has concentrated on scalability for two. It’s now at a “plug-and-play” level that brands can use on existing machinery.

This will help further commercialize the product so that it can be integrated into a brand’s existing supply chains.

The shirt is a jersey knit made out of 70 percent Kelsun seaweed-based yarn and 30 percent cotton, and the logo is printed using algae-based Living Ink.

“One of the biggest intentions for this piece is to really understand that when you talk about fibers, it can be really challenging to conceptualize. It’s a small component, even yarns alone, both for designers and for the general public,” said Callaghan. “Being able to really portray what that looks like, and how that integrates on a holistic systems level, is a really big step for us in being able to address some of the larger problems that are facing the mass market industries as well.”

Keel Labs launched its first partnership with Stella McCartney last fall, with the Kelsun fiber being used in her spring ‘24 collection.

The T-shirt demonstrates that it can be used outside of the luxury industry, which often seems unattainable to the average consumer, and is about a basic solution that applies to almost every wardrobe.

“When we think about the future of collabs and Kelsun, really what we want to be focusing on is impact and that impact is only created through mass scale and accessibility…solutions can be simple, applications can be simple, and it’s for everyone, not just industry insiders,” she said.

She sees working with the mass market as a complement to Keel Labs’ work with luxury brands.

“[The mass market] is erased from the conversation as a whole and continues to further this idea that fashion is high end, fashion is luxury. But really, fashion is the most fundamental component of our daily lives,” said Callaghan. “Even though it’s so far removed from the runway, that’s really where your impact is coming from.”

To that end, the company has several collaborations in the works. Those products will be designed to fit into existing lines to create the most impact industry-wide. If the fashion industry is to create structural change, it needs to have solutions at all price points in the market and value chain, Mayer highlighted.

“With a brand’s material choices alone being responsible for over half its total emissions, there’s a dire need for the industry to revisit its chosen fibers. As someone who has long challenged the presence of fossil fuels in fashion and has opted for nature-based solutions instead, Kelsun’s ability to create an option that integrates a renewable source, addresses fashion’s plastics problem, while also eliminating pesticide use and agricultural land use is incredibly promising,” said Mayer.

Keel Labs’ focus for the past two years has been working to get the fiber to this plug-and-play level as a solution for existing factories; the next step will be to get these items into a commercial setting as quickly as possible, Callaghan said.

The company closed a $13 million series A funding round in June 2022, which included H&M Group’s Co:Lab among other venture capital players.

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