We at ShareTex are committed to recycling textile waste to promote circular fashion
Number of employees: 2
Stage: MVP development
Funding raised: We’ve raised 7 million SEK in private equity funding and approximately 5 million SEK through grants.
Revenue (2022): no revenue so far
Who are you and how come that you founded ShareTex?
Hi, I am Miguel, CEO of ShareTex. I have a background in chemical engineering with a PhD from Lund University. During my doctoral studies, I was working mainly on waste valorization of biomass like lignocellulosic materials. However, due to funding issues, my project was cancelled, and I needed to find a new direction. At that time, serial entrepreneur Lars Stigsson approached me and asked if I could use my expertise to create a process for recycling textile waste. Since I had been working on cellulose which is not just the most abundant polymer in nature but also a common component in waste textiles, I accepted the challenge.
By applying my knowledge, I could generate first promising results and Lars provided the necessary funding and business expertise to start ShareTex.
So ShareTex was funded by Lars Stigsson, who unfortunately passed away in early 2022. Besides the emotional stress of losing a key team member, this also creates a lot of uncertainty with regards to the future of the company. How did you manage this unusually difficult situation?
During this difficult time, I received important support and clear signals that our company would continue. Although it was a turbulent period, I did not consider quitting and instead I focused on finding ways to manage the situation. It was a challenging experience but having a sense of certainty motivated me to carry on. I am very grateful for the support that we received during that time.
Coming back to the company. Which problem is ShareTex addressing and can you give us a sense of how big this problem is?
At ShareTex, we’re tackling the problem of textile waste that is created by the fashion industry. Estimations suggest that fashion accounts for approximately 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions. In 2019, 5.5 million tons of textile products were introduced into the European market alone and volumes are predicted to increase to 8.5 million tons per year by 2030.
Unfortunately, nearly 80% of these textiles will end up as landfill or be incinerated once they become waste. This ever-growing problem of unsustainable handling of textile waste is where ShareTex comes in.
Our vision is to offer process technologies to handle textile waste in a more sustainable way by valorising it instead of using incineration and landfill.
So what is your solution to recycle textile waste?
At ShareTex, we’ve developed a versatile and multifaceted recycling process that utilizes different technologies or processing lines. This approach enables us to divert waste textiles to different pathways and we can choose the most appropriate one based on the properties of the obtained fibers. We recycle fibers that are less damaged by retaining them in the fiber value chain.
On the other hand, we can also convert fibers that are too damaged to be used in textile manufacturing into smaller molecules for alternative use. Our technology is designed to recycle as much material as possible, and it’s flexible enough to handle various feedstocks.
Since the scale of textile waste is massive, we need solutions that can address the scale of this problem. At what scale can your technology be realised?
Our current pilot scale production handles batches of one to five kilos of actual post-consumer waste textiles.
Scaling up is definitely a priority for us, and we’re currently considering building a demonstration plant with a capacity of 1 ton per year.
Eventually, we aim to have a commercial plant with a capacity of hundreds of thousands of tons per year. We recognize that going big is necessary to make a significant impact and achieve our goals of using textile waste more sustainably.
What are the biggest challenges on our journey forward?
In terms of scaling up our recycling process for waste textiles, one of the biggest challenges we are facing is securing sufficient funding. Translating a lab-scale process to demo and then production scale will require significant investments and raising funding for building industrial processes can be extremely difficult.
Another challenge is the complexity of the value chain, as textile waste is very heterogeneous and contains besides different materials also finishing agents and dyes that are not even stated on the label. Therefore, we need to adapt our process to be compatible with this heterogeneity. Additionally, the enormous size of the fashion industry means that it can be challenging to test our process at a large enough scale to build trust with customers. Overall, these challenges require us to be creative and adaptable in order to scale up our recycling process and have a meaningful impact on the environment.
Recycling in general and recycling of textile waste in particular is kind of a “hot topic” that different companies are trying to tackle. What is your approach to solve this problem.
Instead of trying to apply a specific technology to textile waste, we started by trying to understand waste as a feedstock first with all its complexity. This allowed us to develop a robust process that works well with a range of textile waste. We believe that feedstock like biomass and waste streams are becoming less defined, meaning that we need to rethink the way we design process technologies to create a more sustainable future.
We talked a bit about your process, but what could be a product that comes out of your process?
Using our recycling process, we can create two main products. The first is a cellulose pulp made from recycled waste textiles. This pulp can be used to produce new textile fibers, such as man-made cellulose fibers through processes like the lyocell or viscose process.
Our second product is a sugar solution that can serve as renewable replacement for fossil-fuel derived compounds needed in the chemical industry in fermentation processes or to produce various biochemicals. We have been working with various applications such as cosmetics, surfactants, and fibers. We create these sugars by breaking down textile fibers that are too damaged to be used in the textile value chain.
Using this two-sided approach, we can minimize the amount of waste textiles going to landfills and incinerators and instead transform them into valuable products.
Scaling new process usually takes a long time. What is your projected timeline for the widespread application of your technology within the recycling industry?
I believe that in the best-case scenario, it might take about 8 years before our process is implemented at industrial scale.
While there will be smaller volumes handled by our demonstration plant, a commercial plant will take significant time to plan and build. It is important to note that waste materials have unique properties that require adaptation in the recycling process, making scaling up and commercialization very challenging. However, when reaching commercial production, we will greatly increase the circularity within the textile industry.
Form your journey, can you give us your 3 key learnings for founders or executives of early-stage deep tech-centred companies?
Firstly, I think you need to focus on what works and is good enough. As a researcher, it’s easy to fall into the trap of always wanting to improve things until they’re perfect. But in the commercial sector, it’s important to find a minimum viable product that works and that you can test on the market, rather than delaying testing in the pursuit of perfection.
Secondly, it’s crucial to surround yourself with the right people, both in the direct team as well as with committed investors. Companies are made up of people, and having a supportive team and dedicated investors who share your vision makes a significant difference.
Lastly, when facing challenges, it’s important to be adaptable and resilient. Building a company is a difficult journey, and there will inevitably be setbacks and failures along the way. But it’s essential to stay positive, learn from mistakes, and keep moving forward towards your goal.
Thank you very much Miguel and good luck on your journey!