Simplifyber secures $3.5 million seed funding to bring 3D printed cellulose garments to market

3D printing newcomer Simplifyber has raised $3.5 million in seed funding to bring its biodegradable 3D printed cellulose-based garments to market.

The firm’s novel approach centers around its additive manufacturing system and proprietary cellulose formula, which it leverages to produce fully biodegradable products ranging from T-shirts to shoe uppers.

The start-up is led by fashion designer Maria Intscher-Owrang, whose tenure at leading fashion houses such as Vera Wang, Calvin Klein, and Alexander McQueen spans more than two decades.

“I saw how additive manufacturing was disrupting nearly every other industry, but not in fashion,” she said. “I set out to find the people that could make this a reality.”

Cellulose-based 3D printing

Cellulose’s potential as a natural, sustainable, and versatile replacement for a wide variety of synthetic materials has granted it much attention within the 3D printing sector. 

For instance, the material has been utilized to form more sustainable 3D printing feedstocks, and to 3D print components for use in the automotive, marine, and electrical insulation sectors. Cellulose has also been explored for 4D printed applications to produce structures that transform in response to water.

As such, Simplifyber is not the only start-up eyeing up cellulose’s benefits within the fashion sector. Last month, UK-based biomaterials start-up Modern Synthesis closed its own seed funding round, raising $4.1 million, as it looks to further develop its microbial weaving textile platform. The technology works by creating a customizable cellulose-based biomaterial from bacteria, sugar, and agricultural waste which can be grown to produce textiles of a desired shape and size.

A shoe upper fabricated via the microbial weaving process. Photo via Tom Mannion/Modern Synthesis.
A shoe upper fabricated via Modern Synthesis’ microbial weaving process. Photo via Tom Mannion/Modern Synthesis.

Improving fashion sustainability

Simplifyber’s novel approach to clothing and accessory manufacturing aims to remove traditional spinning, weaving, cutting, and sewing processes and replace them with a more sustainable, less resource-intensive alternative. 

Leveraging its additive manufacturing system and proprietary fully-biodegradable material formula, the firm can reportedly cut out 60% of the steps and reduce 35% of materials in the fashion supply chain that currently ends up as waste.

The company’s cellulose-based formula is “100% natural”, derived from a combination of wood pulp and other plant-based materials and non-toxic additives. Garments and accessories made from this material are fully biodegradable, and can be easily returned to nature and recycled as paper or other forms of clothing, the firm claims. 

“We discovered a way to create clothing using soft plant fibers,” Intscher-Owrang said. “We start with liquid cellulose – made in a lab, not in a mill – which is then poured on specially-designed molds and dried, eliminating fabric waste altogether and allowing on-demand, stock-free service.”

Simplifyber is aiming to replace wovens and knits, which together make up a $25 billion global market, with its cellulose-based material and 3D printing technology. 

Simplifyber's soft, fabric-like shoe uppers are created from a cellulose-based liquid, and are fully biodegradable and recyclable. Photo via Simplifyber.
Simplifyber’s soft, fabric-like shoe uppers are created from a cellulose-based liquid, and are fully biodegradable and recyclable. Photo via Simplifyber.

Securing $3.5 million

The company is now one step closer to realizing its vision with the closing of a $3.5 million seed funding round. The financing was led by At One Ventures and saw participation from Techstars, Heritage Group Ventures, The Helm, W Fund, Jetstream Ventures, Plug & Play Ventures, REFASHIOND Ventures, CapitalX Ventures, and Keeler Investments Group.

In addition to the funding round, Simplifyber also revealed a pilot project with 3D printer OEM HP to create molded shoe uppers from a custom formula derived from natural fibers.

“With its single-step process for clothing making, Simplifyber has the potential to beat the unit economics of polyester, becoming an economically and environmentally viable solution against plastic waste,” said Laurie Menoud, Partner at At One Ventures. “We’re looking forward to partnering with the team to bring this solution to scale.

“We believe Simplifyber could be the apparel of the future: They are not only beautifully designed but have a low carbon footprint and are price-accessible, which is a significant differentiation from other sustainable clothing brands.”

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Featured image shows Simplifyber’s soft, fabric-like shoe uppers are created from a cellulose-based liquid, and are fully biodegradable and recyclable. Photo via Simplifyber.