“Textile coatings and additives represent a small percentage of the garment’s weight and have a relatively small impact on carbon emissions,” says Martin Mulvihill, co-founder and partner at Safer, an early-stage venture capital fund that invests in companies that remove hazardous chemicals from consumer products. “But they do drive the health impact.”
In the case of carbon black, it is not the impact his health that’s the problem. The negative effects of carbon black are felt primarily by workers in dry cleaners and printing plants, and workers in the chemical plants that produce it. But Palmer says you’ll often find a warning label on products that contain black pigment because California’s Proposition 65 legislation, which requires brands to put warning labels on consumer products with hazardous substances, requires such a label for products that contain black pigment. They contain PAHs such as benzene. PAHs are also regulated in consumer products in the European Union.
“I would advise a customer which chemicals to test on black pigmented items; PAHs will be pretty much at the top of the list,” he says. Phil PattersonCEO of UK-based textile consultancy Color Connections.
And then the question arises of what type of carbon black Nature Coatings is altering. Textiles and packaging were a natural first choice for Nature Coatings, as the company’s process creates a liquid ideal for use as a printing ink. But liquid ink for textiles and packaging represents only 9 percent of the carbon black market. The largest and possibly most problematic user of carbon black is the tire industry, which purchases carbon black in powder form to use as filler along with natural rubber and synthetic polymers. TO California Academic Study 2022 published in Environmental pollution showed that air pollution from tire and brake particles has exceeded tailpipe emissions.
So why would brands opt for BioBlack if making the switch doesn’t materially improve their climate or safety metrics?
“Brands like marketing stories,” Palmer says. While brands have emissions reduction goals (let’s be honest, totally voluntary) and don’t like putting California-mandated toxic labels on their products, she says, “brands also like it because of the history of waste recovery. It is something easy to visualize and understand.”
Brands, in the end, not only sell a physical product, but also a narrative and an identity. To make a real impact, BioBlack will have to fit into the story the fashion industry wants to tell about itself.