Sustainable entrepreneurs in the fashion world are turning their lived experiences into ways to fix the industry for the better.
And material innovation is where some of the biggest strides are made. They’ve been a ripe opportunity for a reduced carbon footprint where the more natural your origins, the more renewable your feedstock and the more earnest your drive — the better.
That’s where kelp — and more specifically, Brooklyn-based material-maker AlgiKnit — comes into play.
The company recently announced a new innovation hub in North Carolina after four years of development and has teased brand partnerships for 2022. AlgiKnit’s origin story begins with the ingenuity of cofounders Tessa Callaghan and Aleks Gosiewski, alumni from the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Aaron Nesser, a Pratt Institute alum.
Each boasts strong roots in nature, whether from growing up in the Long Island Sound, the woods of Minnesota or the bountiful farms in Poland.
Here, the cofounders (who recently earned placement on Forbes “30 Under 30”) share their sustainability advice and vision with WWD.
WWD: Congrats on your team’s placement on Forbes “30 Under 30” — what were your initial reactions to this feat?
Aleks Gosiewski: I am so endlessly proud of the incredible work that the AlgiKnit team has accomplished thus far, and being recognized by Forbes was an absolute cherry on top.
Tessa Callaghan: I was, and continue to be, delighted and honored. It has been a dream come true to represent AlgiKnit among the long list of current and previous honorees who are building better futures for generations to come. This year, in particular, validates the importance and legitimacy of sustainability, equality and innovation in all industries, and I am grateful that our team is among those to be recognized for that.
WWD: Do you feel like fashion is finally paying more attention to bio-materials, and if so, why should AlgiKnit be the first pick for brands?
Aaron Nesser: Little bits at a time, fashion is positioning sustainability as a necessary feature in products. It’s the combination of customer demand paired with long-awaited materials that can now deliver. We’ve been a sustainability-driven company from the beginning, and so have been able to boost sustainability performance at every step of the journey, and also every step of the product life cycle.
T.C.: Sustainability is no longer a luxury, it is a requirement, and we can see this shift in understanding and direct action taking a foothold within the industry. As a uniquely sustainable and accessible material, AlgiKnit provides novel solutions for one of the world’s largest polluters, allowing them to both meet their climate commitments and continue to deliver the products their customers so loyally rely upon.
Despite all of the challenges and hardships we have all faced over the last two years, we are nonetheless encouraged, excited and more optimistic than ever about the future. As a team, we are eagerly anticipating the next exciting chapter of our journey in 2022 and looking forward to sharing and growing with our community.
A.G.: Fashion has kept up with the material innovations that have been coming out. We’ve seen brands at every tier from mass market to luxury integrate these materials – the issue has been access. That is one of the many things that AlgiKnit is addressing and it should make us an easy choice for brands.
WWD: What is it about the way you each grew up that may have laid the groundwork for your innovations?
T.C.: At an early age, I was taught to reuse and rebuild instead of buying new. Further, my roots on the Long Island Sound and in Bermuda afforded me a deep respect and understanding of the ocean’s vitality and its core connection to the communities that rely on it.
A.N.: My childhood in Minnesota emphasized the ecological connectivity found in the woods and wild places. My life and career has been focused on ecological health, and earth positive objects and products are one of the root challenges to the long-term success of civilization. I didn’t grow up around the ocean, but the ocean is just one part of earth that needs our help.
A.G.: I spent bountiful summers on my grandparents’ farm in Poland, learning the importance of healthy soil, regenerative agriculture and the intricate balance between fostering and harnessing nature’s offerings.
It’s really interesting because when you learn more about each of our respective roots, it’s clear that we had quite varied, though strongly aligned experiences with nature while growing up. To circle back to the original question, the ocean’s natural systems of maintenance and sustainability were a huge inspiration for us and our product. As a whole, though, we try to think of the holistic state of the planet, and the ocean is one very powerful part of that.
WWD: What did you each aspire to when you first entered art school in New York City, and how did that ideal change by the time AlgiKnit came to be?
T.C.: We were young innovators with a love for design and entered art schools excited about the possibilities of working in the creative industries we had long aspired to become a part of. But after working in fashion, we found that the resources and processes being used were too harmful for us to reconcile. Textiles’ unethical supply chains and hefty carbon emissions seemed ubiquitous and unavoidable. We wondered if there was another way, a more environmentally conscious way, to create the products we wanted to see more of.
A.N.: When I started my master’s program [at Pratt Institute], I was working in the recycling industry. It had become clear to me that recycling was flawed, that products and systems needed to be different, and I thought design was the tool to solve this. I found, though, that even the best intentioned designer couldn’t change the one thing that mattered most: materials. Materials make up the largest portion of a products’ carbon footprint, and it is textiles, more than any other material, that are the key for sustainable fashion and sustainable products.
WWD: Are there any sustainable habits that you swear by?
T.C.: I like to make “better practices” a bit of a game with the overarching theme of avoiding as many additional resources as possible. With food, I try to buy all of my groceries without packaging or labels, which helps me leave the market with both healthier options (mainly veggies) and no plastic.
When it comes to home goods and clothes, the challenge is to buy nothing new, I would like to say I’m Craigslist’s number-one fan. Additionally, committing to mend and make with what I have has been a great way to reconnect with the materials I surround myself with, and learn some useful new skills.
A.G.: Buying less is one thing I live by. I like to be intentional with my purchases and keep things simple. Buying secondhand is my favorite way to shop — I’ve furnished my apartment and closet secondhand. There are so many secondhand platforms making it easy to find exactly what you are looking for. If I buy something new, I like to do my research ahead of time and try to stick to locally sourced goods.
A.N.: Biking to work. I think it’s the best way to get around in New York. You get to be outside, and there is no getting stuck in traffic. Also ad-block online. It saves energy by not loading the online ads, keeps me from wanting stuff I don’t need, and also just makes the internet more pleasant.
WWD: You all spend a lot of time between Brooklyn, and now storied textile regions in N.C., where can we find you when not in the thick of innovation and fundraising?
A.N.: At home either building or taking something apart, biking around New York City or you may not find me — because I’m off hiking in some remote place.
T.C.: Skating — thanks to Manifest Skate Shop in Durham; Surfing at Rockaway Beach, rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders, biking, beach cleanups with RISE [Rockaway Initiative for Sustainability and Equity] and food distribution work to support NYC Community Fridges.
A.G.: I love finding ways to connect to the community in and outside of New York City. Creativity is such an important outlet for me. In my free time, you can find me connecting to the creative community through classes in drawing, painting and pottery. I also love to get my butt kicked in a workout class at Rumble or SoulCycle. Most importantly, though, I love time spent outside of the city where I get to reconnect with nature, be it in upstate New York, the beaches in California or anywhere else.