Interview with Uyen Tran
We are developing a nonwoven, 100 per cent biofabric
Founded in 2020, with operations based in Brooklyn, NY, TomTex Co looks to increase its work across industry boundaries to provide a bio-based, nonwoven fabric that leaves a positive impact on the planet. The company works in partnership with nature to develop textiles that represent the future of sustainable and regenerative materials. Using green chemistry, TomTex diverts food waste to create a fabric that centres on fair labour practices, environmental sustainability, and aesthetic quality. In a chat with Shilpi Panjabi, TomTex Founder & CEO Uyen Tran explains the use of Chitosan and further research in the development of the fabric.
TT: How did you come up with the idea of fabrics from waste? What is your background and what drove you to start TomTex?
Growing up in Da Nang, Vietnam, I was deeply impacted by the overflowing textile waste landfills that polluted my hometown. Later in my life, in answer to this problem, I developed a completely biodegradable and plastic-free biofabric made from Chitosan – a biopolymer from seashell waste or mushroom, that would have otherwise gone straight into landfills.
As a coastal city, Da Nang exports a lot of seafood. TomTex estimates that the food industry generates 6-8 million tons of shell food waste every year. I wondered if this huge amount of waste could be a resolution to the harm of leather. I believe the way we humans deal with waste is clumsy and disorganised. Nature, on the other hand, feeds waste back into the ecosystem, regenerating new life from organic materials that people would ordinarily discard. I worked to replicate this natural pattern. I contacted companies in Vietnam that gather seafood waste to extract chitin, a fibrous polymer found in the carapaces and exoskeletons of marine life.
TT: What kind of materials have been developed by TomTex?
We are developing a nonwoven, 100 per cent biofabric made from seashell waste or mushroom, which can replace leather and beyond.
TT: How much time and research did it take to develop the first prototype?
It took me one year and more than 150 experiments to create the first prototype at Parsons Lab. Our CSO Ross McBee, PhD, joined the company last year to develop the material.
TT: Are these fabrics still in the research stage or in the production stage?
We are still in the R&D phase. Our team is working with some brands in the US and Europe to bring the first TomTex product to market. The production will be scaled up next year.
TT: With which brands are you collaborating with?
Our first collaboration with Peter Do’s SS23 collection was shown at NYFW last September. Additionally, we’re working with brands in the fashion, interior, and automobile industries.
TT: What new innovations and applications are you currently working on?
We focus on innovative material in fashion at this stage. We have some exciting projects upcoming. It is confidential at this point, and we will share more information soon.
TT: When can we expect to see TomTex products in stores?
Our goal is to bring TomTex material into our stores by the end of 2023.