The Mobius line of bags from Tentree uses foam made from algae. Credit: Tentree International, Inc.

Suzie Dundas writes for that Vancouver-based Tentree International, Inc. makes their Mobius line of backpacks, totes and travel bags out of recycled products. However, the foam for their bags, which provides padding for laptops and shoulder cushioning, among other purposes, is made from algae foam. Tentree CEO and Founder Derrick Emsley, 28, says that the inventive process actually makes the environment better than they found it.

“Not only is the end material more sustainable, but the process to harvest the algae and create the material is beneficial to the environment,” says Mr. Emsley. “The algae foam is created by harvesting the algae from polluted water and recirculating clean water back into the environment.”

Tentree sources from Bloom Foam and are the first company to make bags out of the materials. Before working with Tentree, only shoes and surfboards were made from the organic, naturally occurring substance. But after Tentree and the team from Bloom met at a product convention, Mr. Emsley became convinced that if the algae could work for shoe padding, it could work for backpack padding.

To make the foam, algae-filled water gets pumped into a filtration system. When the algae clump together, they float to the top and are scraped off while the filtered water goes back to the source. The algae mass is then dried before being expanded into the semi-spongy foam final product.

After water is collected, algae blooms are scraped off the top. Credit: Tentree International, Inc.

The Tentree team produced the sample at their factory and sent a designer to review the work and make additional changes. While considering options for the bag, they also sourced eco-friendly materials in addition to the algae foam, like buckles made from post-industrial waste.

They source the outer material for the bags from Repreve, which makes fibers and fabrics out of used plastic bottles that would otherwise end up in landfills. It takes about 31 bottles to make the material in one Mobius backpack.

Mr. Emsley says that using the materials increases the cost of the parts of the bags by nearly three times as much in some cases, but that he believes it’s worth the smaller profit margin to stick to the Tentree guiding principle of sustainability. Rather than introducing the bags straight to their inventory at a higher price point to reflect the manufacturing costs, they opted to instead crowdfund as a way to gauge consumer interest. “Launching it on Kickstarter proved that people cared about investing in a backpack that was this environmentally progressive,” said Mr. Emsley.

Tentree set a goal of $35,000 but raised $270,000 through the sale of more than 2,300 bags during the month-long campaign. Since making the bags commercially available, they’ve sold an additional 1,000 and expect to be entirely sold out of their first production run of 5,000 in the next month.

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