Bill Gates’ VC fund and Inditex just led a $30 million round into Circ, a startup that slashes emissions from fast fashion. Check out the 11-slide pitch deck it used to raise the funds.
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- Circ recycles and restores clothes to source materials to help decarbonize the fashion industry.
- The Patagonia-backed firm just raised a $30 million Series B from Bill Gates’ fund and Inditex.
- We got an exclusive look at the 11-slide pitch deck it used to lure investors.
A startup helping the fashion industry massively reduce its carbon footprint by restoring mixed fabric clothing to its source material just raised $30 million in a round led by Bill Gates’ VC firm and Zara-owner Inditex.
Virginia-based Circ, which was founded in 2011, has developed a hydrothermal process that uses water, pressure, and chemistry to recover materials in clothing, particularly in polycotton blends. Polycotton blends are a popular mixture of cotton and plastic used in everything from bedding and clothing to napkins.
The separated materials are then sold back to the supply chain, creating a circular sub-economy, ready to be made into another item. The fashion industry was responsible for 4% of global emissions in 2018 – equal to the combined emissions of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, according to McKinsey.
Peter Majeranowski, CEO of Circ, first became interested in alternative fuels while working in the US Navy. His job was to board ships smuggling oil out of Iraq, where there were UN sanctions at the time, and recover it. The first iteration of Circ, then named Tyton BioSciences, used the same hydrothermal process to extract sugars and oils from plants to make ethanol and biodiesel.
“We got really good at extracting things from plants,” Majeranowski said. However, the startup struggled to raise funds after it launched in the aftermath of the cleantech boom, which tapered off in 2011.
Circ puts shredded textiles into a reactor – not dissimilar from a pressure cooker – to restore materials. It then adds water, cranks up the temperature, and deploys a “little bit of responsible chemistry” to create three reactions.
First is depolymerization, which is the reverse reaction to what made the polyester in the first place. “We’re breaking it down to its building blocks, or monomers, and these are materials that traditionally come from oil and gas,” Majeranowski said. From there, separation happens as the monomers become liquid.
“You have a natural separation, where now the solid stream is pure cotton,” Majeranowski added. The cotton fibers can be then tuned depending on what the final product is, whether it will be spun into cotton or used to create other materials.
The separated materials are then sold back to the supply chain to be made into new items. Circ currently recycles four to five tons per day, but is not operating all the time, Majeranowski said. By 2030, it aims to have recycled 10 billion garments, representing 10% of annual production and saving 100 million trees.
The Series B round was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, founded by Bill Gates, and Inditex, the owner of high street fashion brands including Zara. Clothing company Patagonia, which is well known for having sustainability baked into its DNA, has also previously handed Circ a check.
Patagonia is also one of many partners that Circ sources fabric from, via its take-back policy where consumers recycle clothes in-store. Circ also takes advantage of high street returns, charity shop donations, and old bed covers from hotels – all otherwise destined for landfill.
Majeranowski added that Circ will launch garments with its partners. “If we don’t get circularity in every closet around the planet, we have failed as a company,” Majeranowski said.
The investment will be used to bolster its 28-strong team to 50, with roles available in engineering, research and development, and business development. It will also finish engineering on its large-scale facility.
The fresh cash brings the startup’s total raised to $45 million.
Check out the 11-slide redacted pitch deck the company used to raise the Series B.