A wood pulp T-shirt printed with algae

The wood pulp T-shirt is printed using ink made from algae. When you finally dispose of your T-shirt it decomposes entirely in three months.

Algae T-shirt rots extremely quickly

The British start-up Vollebak has only been active in the textile industry for about three years. Founded by twin brothers Nick and Steve Tidball, the company focusing on outdoor clothes has already designed and brought to market a lot of high-tech garments. One of its latest attractions is a sustainable T-shirt made from renewable raw materials and which can decompose entirely in 12 weeks if you bury it.

The plant and algae shirt is produced from cellulose originating from sustainably managed forests, FSC– and PEFC-certificated eucalyptus trees, beeches and spruces. This provides the material for the fibres from which the yarn is spun and then woven into fabric. The wood is processed in an environment-friendly and closed loop production process. More than 99 percent of the water solvent used to convert the cellulose into textile fibres is recycled and then reused.

The completed undyed T-shirt then receives its algae finish on the front. The printing ink is produced using a classical filtering process by passing water containing algae through a cotton filter. The paste this leaves behind is dried to create a fine powder which is then mixed with a water-based binder to make algae ink.

The algae ink is used to print the front of the T-shirt and the washing instructions inside. The green dye is created using spirulina algae which change colour over time, gradually growing more and more yellow before fading completely. The natural pigments of the algae are very sensitive and lose their colour intensity when they come into contact with air and water, i.e. every time the T-shirt is washed, it will change colour.

The Vollebak team markets this tendency to fade as a charming natural attribute rather than seeing it as a product flaw. They explicitly mention the fact that the naturally made and printed Plant and Algae T-shirt changes the way it looks from the very first day, looking different from week to week, until it finally fades completely. Although they do recommend hand-washing the T-shirt in cold water with as little detergent as possible to make the algae dye last for as long as possible.

Once you decide to “retire” your T-shirt, Vollebak asks you to bury it in your garden. There it will decompose completely after approx. 12 weeks, decomposing to humus as depicted in the video:

Have we managed to whet your appetite? You can buy the T-shirt here. If you are interested in sustainable textiles but not yet ready to invest € 105 in the Plant and Algae T-shirt, we recommend you visit the PromoTex Expo lecture programme instead. There will be plenty to see on the Forum 13 stage relating to environment-friendly manufactured textiles on all three days of the fair. You will be able to experience examples of best practice at first hand while meeting experts and innovative labels presenting their business models. As usual, the PromoTex Expo programme is free for fair visitors and exhibitors alike.

Images: Vollebak/ Sun Lee