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How to get inspired by Nature, according to Innovators


Our last article looked at the balance between innovation and nature, and how the fashion industry tends to look for solutions around new technologies and inaccessible novelties, rather than seeing how nature has already provided us with solutions to the climate crisis. We just need to adapt to nature’s blueprint to our current needs. 

Beyond our research, we wanted to include the opinions of those directly involved with innovation in the fashion industry. We spoke to three different companies that blend innovation and nature from very different perspectives: Fibershed, Huue, and unspun

Huue is bioengineering the natural indigo molecule for the denim industry so that your favourite pair of jeans can finally be planet-friendly, too. Huue is using biotechnology to engineer microbes that mimic nature's process by using sugar to enzymatically generate dye. Bioengineered indigo has five times less toxicity potential compared to conventional synthetic indigo that is derived from petrochemical sources, and their dye is just as effective and easy for jeans makers to implement, seeing as it’s a one-to-one replacement!

“Huue started with the vision of CEO Michelle Zhu and Co-Founder Tammy Hsu. Tammy's PhD research at Berkeley focused on understanding how the Indigo plant produces blue color, as well as exploring the broader concept of natural colour creation. Leveraging bio-engineering and fermentation techniques, the team developed a groundbreaking solution for conventional indigo, laying the foundation for future innovations in dyes and pigments.” 

unspun is a US-based fashion company with technology in its veins. Their mission is to reduce global human carbon emissions by 1% through automated, localized, and intentional on-demand manufacturing for apparel. They have developed virtual sizing solutions and customizations features to make personalised jeans, and 3D weaving to reduce waste striving for a zero-waste model. 

“We took a step back and looked at the fashion industry as a whole, and saw overproduction and excess inventory as critical issues that needed addressing. A large percentage of what brands make doesn't sell, and excess inventory exists because cut-and-sew mass production doesn’t match up with supply and demand. We saw an opportunity to fundamentally change manufacturing by combining technology that already exists (weaving, body scanning) with new technology we could develop (fit algorithms, advanced 3D weaving to a form). These technologies and capabilities that we built shaped our business model. We initially launched our own denim brand as a way to bring these technologies to market - we knew we could test and learn faster if we utilized our own brand rather than relying on others.” 
Fibershed is a non-profit organization that develops regional fibre systems that build ecosystem and community health. Its work expands opportunities to implement climate-benefiting agriculture, rebuild regional manufacturing, and connect end-users to the source of fibre through education. 

“In 2011, Fibershed Executive Director Rebecca Burgess had a simple idea: wear clothing made only from materials grown, woven, and sewn in her local area of North Central California. As she connected with ranchers, farmers, and artisans, she discovered an abundance of raw materials right in her community, laying the foundation for a new regional textile economy focused on mitigating climate change and regenerating soil health. Today, more than 71 Fibershed Affiliates across the world are actively working on their own soil-to-soil textile model.” 


Basically, all three companies work with innovation, inspired by nature, but we were curious to see if they would define innovation in similar ways, given that they apply it in pretty different contexts. 

If you have read our past articles, you know that we love starting with definitions, so here are theirs! Can you guess who wrote which one? (Answers are at the bottom of the article)

Answer 1: Innovation is the process of creating new ideas, products, or methods that significantly improve upon existing solutions or address unmet needs in a unique way. A step further in my personal interpretation is finding ways to implement that innovation in a way that is just and universally scalable, something that creates a step function change, compared to the way things have been done before. That's not to say that incremental growth and improvement aren't necessary. I think they are. But when I think of innovation, and how to differentiate it from becoming just a buzzword from something really meaningful, I think of step function changes, big leaps. 

Answer 2: Innovation goes beyond incremental change. It surpasses doing things differently. Instead, it requires pausing, stepping back, and taking in the whole situation. It’s abstracting a final need to the point where you can remove your preconceived notions on how something should be done, and be able to get more creative about how you get to the destination. I love this about design. So often we work in our little boxes and, while it can lead to beautiful things, usually it’s quite constrained and not effective in achieving 180-degree change.

Have you noticed how similar they are? Innovation really is about big leaps, and thinking out of the box. 


As consumers, we are used to seeing innovation coming out to market very quickly, and it all looks easy and straightforward. Innovators, however, have spent years of research and struggle before anything is shared with the wider world, let alone being available to a large audience. 

A clear example is from unspun and their Vega technology: it took them 5 years to launch a 3D weaving product on the market. They had to invent the machine and then also start ideating and creating products with it to see what it was capable of producing. (Spoiler: it can do a lot!) 

According to them, the key to getting buy-in was building the technology and creating products to show what could be produced from the technology. “The products helped to build trust and inspire our partners by showcasing the quality of and variety in garments we were able to produce.” This is a lot of simultaneous work! 

For Huue, their innovation was born from Co-Founder Tammy Hsu’s PHD research at Berkeley and the company was established in May 2018. Despite the challenges posed by a pandemic, they’ve made strides over the past six years. Generating proof of concept alone (turning something blue in the lab) took time, trials, research, and resources. Once a solid technical foundation was born, the team was able to perform countless iterations and bring in specialists who could leverage bio-engineering and fermentation techniques to develop a groundbreaking solution for conventional indigo. 

“Our journey has involved extensive innovation in the lab, focusing on developing and refining our proprietary microbial strains and fermentation processes. Additionally, over the past year, we've been actively engaged in technology transfer and conducting industrial application trials with our mill partners. Collaborating closely with these mills and brands, we've successfully established repeatable quality performance standards, paving the way for the forthcoming commercialization of Huue™ in various commercial products.”

In October 2023, Huee showcased one of their developments in a B2B setting with AGI Denim at the Amsterdam Kingpins trade show. Additionally, they are working with large global lifestyle and luxury brands across the US, Europe, and Asia on new product developments for commercial readiness in the near future. 

In the case of Fibershed, however, it is quite different, because the invention is not about creating a new machine or products. However, their research has never stopped. Over the course of the past 10+ years, Fibershed has studied and analyzed the existing textile system, documenting its shortcomings, missed opportunities, and harms. Fibershed has propelled the development of a fiber system characterized by ecosystem health and a steadfast commitment to equity. 

The key shared experience is that change takes time and patience. 


Indigo Case Study

We love that two of our innovators are working around indigo from two different perspectives, and have translated Nature’s teachings in different ways. In 2017, Fibershed began working on an indigo processing system through the “True Blue” project. This initiative involved field research on climate beneficialTM farming practices, assessing current dye methods (both synthetic and natural), and conducting a detailed analysis of planting, harvesting, and pigment extraction from plant-based indigo sources. 

Huue is also working on indigo, and their science also begins with nature. When studying how colour naturally occurs, whether it be beet red or flamingo pink, they are using science to find ways to more efficiently replicate that in the lab. Being able to use traceable feedstocks and contain fermentation production shows us a strong future path in developing new colours and products in this way.

The results are two sustainable ways of dyeing, but with different approaches, both inspired by nature! 

Listening to Mama Nature’s way 

The one thing that all our interviewees have underlined is the importance of listening to Mother Nature, and how this has been key to them. Here are some of our favourite quotes from our chat that need no further explanation: 

unspun: We’re continually inspired by the planet around us and the systems that keep it flourishing. We want to set up our technology in a way that’s inspired by these natural systems that have fueled Earth for millions of years and make sure that they work together. At unspun, we’re always aware of our actions and how they influence and impact the planet. We need to make sure that we’re not just taking, but also that we’re putting back, and looking for options that are circular and renewable and don’t turn humans’ desire for consumption into a burden for the planet.  Nature only makes what’s necessary and its life cycles are never linear. We’re inspired by nature’s use of molecules, and how they are the building blocks of the systems, but they never lose their value in the biological system and they are rebuilt into new forms over and over again. We’d love for the yarn in people’s clothing to be treated in a similar way, and would love for our technology to be able to turn it into something new time and time again.

Fibershed: We look to the natural world to inform our process. Building relationships and creating networks of support are not linear processes; we are inspired by branching systems, webs of connection, and interwoven relationships. We observe our surroundings carefully to inform our engagement with the land. Healthy soil supports our world—it is the basis (literally and figuratively) on which life and civilization rest. The future of our world is ensured when we prioritize agricultural practices that build soil, instead of those that deplete soil and create commodities in surplus.


Innovative solutions like those of unspun, Huue, and FibreShed are essential to creating a sustainable future for fashion. Both unspun, Huue, and FibreShed use technology to inform innovation in different ways. They are future-oriented, looking towards a brighter future for fashion. But what is necessary to achieve this future? We asked these companies what new technology they think is needed in the industry to take a big step towards responsible production. 

For Huue, sustainable solutions encompass a multifaceted approach. “I believe there's immense potential in fostering hybrid approaches and collaborations that integrate new dyes, fibers, and manufacturing techniques. Such initiatives can effectively align with the sustainability objectives of brands and manufacturers, offering comprehensive solutions that address various environmental and social challenges”.

For unspun, responsible production needs supply and demand to be matched. For them, the best solution for matching 1:1 is on-demand technologies, but there’s an issue with consumer adoption. In order for these technologies to be better embraced, they believe we need to build trust with the consumers – help them see, touch, feel what they will receive since they are buying something that hasn't been built yet. 3D rendering technologies and customization tools are essential in this process.”

“If on-demand isn’t possible, then localized and automated production can help to reduce lead times as much as possible. Regardless of whether a garment is made on-demand or not, I’d like to see synthetics be removed from circulation because they’ve been harming both our production and the planet’s systems for decades. If synthetics are removed, then this would also lead to more biodegradable products, which is a good thing and would help to address some of the end-of-life issues that the fashion industry struggles with.”

In the case of Fibreshed, new technology is a tool to support the implementation of Climate Beneficial Agriculture, in California and Nationwide. In 2023, they worked with partners to develop administrative structures, outreach strategies, and new technology programs. Through their affiliate program, FibreShed partners with different FibreShed communities to revitalise regional textile economies. For example, Fibreshed Scotland and Central Appalachia Fibreshed are collaborating on the research and development of open-source technology micro-mill equipment to help small farmers add value to their natural fibres.

The common thread is that a system change is required, and collaboration is key to allow innovation to be implemented. 


Whether it's producing climate-friendly denim dyes in the case of Huue, reducing global human carbon emissions through localized, automated manufacturing with unspun, or building ecosystem and community health with Fibershed, the goal is the same – promoting a more sustainable future for fashion and the planet. What lessons can we take away from these innovative companies that we can apply to the rest of the industry? 

Huue: I think what's more important than new technologies is the mindset from the industry to adopt and see these solutions through. We need commitment from every single player, from upstream in the supply chain all the way through to even the final consumer, not just to make bigger businesses or more profitable businesses, but better businesses and a better industry.

For natural solutions to succeed, brands with leverage must partner with and invest in biotechnology companies to help scale natural solutions. As mentioned in our previous article, infrastructure and market adoption must evolve alongside innovation to generate change.

unspun represents what the future of fashion manufacturing could look like, solving fashion’s waste problem through innovation. Their perspective looks beyond business as usual, which is a massive waste, and makes us rethink the disposability of clothing by closing the loop on the garment supply chain from yarn to waste. 

“We are excited to continually bring our ethos and inspiration to our partners, and inspire them to look to nature as well, both in their material choices, but also in how they think about production.” 

Working in tune with the earth, FibreShed has been able to balance innovation and nature through carbon farming projects that promote healthy regional fibre systems that nurture soil health and safeguard our planet. FibreShed reminds us how nature provides us with the solutions we need to innovate fashion and that collaboration between textile communities along the textile supply chain can lead to innovation that pushes the industry towards a sustainable future.

We hope the stories of Huue, unspun, and FibreShed have demystified the innovation process and reinforced the necessary balance it must hold with nature. By listening to nature and collaborating with its natural processes, these companies have developed groundbreaking solutions that benefit both the industry and the planet. Moving forward, it's crucial for all stakeholders to commit to embracing new technologies and invest in solutions that improve the fashion supply chain. With this collective dedication, we can create a fashion industry that thrives while nurturing the world around us.

(And btw, about the question “What is innovation” answer 1 was from Huue, and answer 2 was from unspun, well guessed?) 


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