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Seaweed Drives Biopolymer Innovation

A bevy of sustainability-focused consumer brands, including J.Crew and Stella McCartney, are testing films from the sea.

Kate Bertrand Connolly 1, Freelance Writer

June 19, 2024

4 Min Read
Tom Ford Innovation Accelerator focused on films from seaweed

At a Glance

  • The Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Accelerator prompts successful collaborations.
  • Sway, Notpla, and Zerocircle take individual approaches to seaweed-film technology.
  • The shared goal is to reduce oceanic thin-film plastic waste.

A robust group of environmentally conscious brands, together with a trio of seaweed-based-film producers, is making significant strides toward scaling up seaweed-based packaging for consumer goods such as swimwear, men’s wear, and surf boards.

The three film companies — Sway, Notpla, and Zerocircle — have been working on supply chain trials and consumer-facing pilots of their films in the past year as participants in the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Accelerator. The three won top honors in the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize last year.

The accelerator and innovation competition are part of Lonely Whale’s “Unwrap the Future” program, a three-phase, multiyear program that supports vetting and scaling marine-safe, biologically degradable alternatives to traditional plastic films. The Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize competition was phase one.

The accelerator “is phase two of Unwrap the Future. It was a one-year program aimed to advance awareness of traditional thin-film plastic and accelerate the market adoption of seaweed-based alternatives developed by the winners of the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize,” says Tim Silman, program director at Lonely Whale.

Seaweed-based film innovators.

The technology at California-based Sway, the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize competition’s first-place winner, focuses on seaweed-based, home-compostable materials that can be used to replace thin-film plastics. Packaging use cases for the regenerative materials include fashion products, home goods, cosmetics, and food.

Second-place winner Zerocircle, based in India, specializes in sustainable, compostable materials. Made from locally cultivated seaweed, Zerocircle’s materials are wildlife- and ocean-friendly, dissolving in ocean water if they end up there. Use cases include food packaging, shoe soles, textiles, medical products, and courier packaging.

London-based start-up Notpla, the third-place winner, is developing a range of biodegradable seaweed-based materials as alternatives to single-use packaging. In addition to film (shown below), Notpla has created seaweed-based paper, a coating for take-out food packaging, and an edible membrane package for liquids.


Through the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Accelerator, these three companies have been working with 19 early-adopter brands to replace conventional thin-film packaging with sustainable seaweed-based products. Below is a sampling of their successes to date.

J.Crew and MillerKnoll trial Sway.

In a supply chain trial, J.Crew tested Sway’s biopolymer packaging throughout its distribution center workflow. Packaged products ranged from denim to shoes, and testing included conveyor belt transportation, sorting via robotic systems, and manual handling.

The trial provided valuable insights, helping Sway understand how its technology performs in a supply chain and aiding J.Crew in planning the next steps in its poly-bag replacement process.

MillerKnoll, a brand collective that includes furniture brands Herman Miller and Knoll, is also engaged in a supply chain trial with Sway. MillerKnoll is currently conducting performance testing to assess Sway’s materials and identify potential use cases.


Sway and Zerocircle work with Burton.

Snowboard company Burton continues to test materials from Sway and Zerocircle, evaluating the films in the various temperature and humidity conditions that Burton’s products experience throughout the supply chain.

A high priority for Burton is replacing the plastic shrink film that protects boards during shipping and at retail locations. As a potential bonus, the biopolymer’s attributes may enable the company to replace not only the shrink film, but also an outer protective sleeve made of kraft paper.

Consumer pilots with Noah, Le Club, and Florence.

Sway is also involved in three consumer-facing pilots. Noah, an American men's clothing brand, trialed T-shirt packaging made from Sway’s film for a limited-edition T-shirt (shown below). It was launched in partnership with Nation Fishing Co. (Nation FC).


Noah’s seaweed-based packaging delivered dual benefits, highlighting the brand’s commitment to packaging sustainability as well as the company’s ongoing philanthropic commitment. Noah is a 1% for the Planet member, with sale proceeds benefitting Lonely Whale.

Using Sway’s film, Le Club became the first swimwear brand to use seaweed-based packaging. This pilot, conducted in partnership with packaging company EcoEnclose, used Sway’s material as a display window in a custom, 100% recycled fiber box. The packaging debuted in early 2024.

Florence, which sells apparel and gear for surfing and other sports, is also partnering with Sway. The brand owner is trialing Sway's seaweed-based Firstwave film packaging for limited-edition board shorts (shown in feature image above).

Notpla, fashion, and packaging.

The Stella McCartney luxury fashion brand has worked with a number of Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize finalists, including Notpla, with the goal of validating materials across global fashion supply chains and creating industry partnerships.

Separately, Notpla is working on a distribution partnership with Imperial Dade, a supplier of packaging, foodservice, and janitorial supplies.

At a recent salon celebrating the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Accelerator, attendees viewed the trailer for Seaweed Stories, a Lonely Whale documentary about the wonders and versatility of seaweed. The film features Julia Marsh, co-founder and CEO of Sway. A public screening series will be announced this month.

About the Author(s)

Kate Bertrand Connolly 1

Freelance Writer

Kate Bertrand Connolly has been covering innovations, trends, and technologies in packaging, branding, and business since 1981.

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