Benoît Illy

Co-founder & CEO-Fairbrics

“When we heard about Antwerp’s vision, we knew this was the perfect place for us to make our dream come true: producing sustainable fabric out of thin air.”

© Benoit Illy

Benoit Illy
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The story of Fairbrics’ revolutionary solution.

French scale-up Fairbrics is set to revolutionise the textile industry with its innovative process that transforms CO2 into polyester, a widely used fibre in textiles. Co-founder and CEO Benoit Illy shares insights into the company’s vision and strategic move to Antwerp to scale up operations.

Bio 

  • Benoît Illy
  • Co-founder & CEO of Fairbrics.
  • 44 years of age
  • Lives in Paris. 
  • Passionate about running. 
  • Motto: ‘We make sustainable fabric out of thin air.’ 

It’s an alarming situation: almost 5% of all man-made CO2 emissions in 2015 were generated by the fashion industry. And about 40% of all emissions produced by this sector arise from the manufacture of synthetic fibre. There has been no solution until now. Fairbrics is developing the first synthetic fibre with a net positive impact on climate change and, very importantly, capable of meeting market demand. 

Hello Benoît, your solution is to use CO2 to produce polyester fibres. How did you come up with this idea? 

“It was my business partner, Tawfiq Nasr Allah, who came up with it. He’s a scientist, and I met him during a start-up programme called ‘Entrepreneur First’ in Paris. I’m a materials expert, so we complement each other well. We decided to work together, and that’s how Fairbrics was born. The word is a contraction of ‘fabrics’ and ‘fair’. We have worked hard in a lab for five years to refine our concept.” 

Now, your eyes are on Antwerp. Why?

“It’s time for us to scale up our solution. And there are two reasons why Antwerp is the perfect location for us. First, it’s the largest chemical cluster in Europe, so the best location to find our clients, which are chemical companies with CO2 resources. Secondly, NextGen District’s concept inspired us. It’s a circular hotspot in the port, and their vision aligns seamlessly with what we want to do. One company’s waste becomes the next one's starting point. That kind of circular thinking is the change this world needs.”

 

What are your exact plans?

“We are building a pilot line in Antwerp. That will be the first time we’ll test our solution outside the confines of a lab. We’re also building a lab in BlueChem, an incubator for sustainable chemistry, to develop our solution further. It’s a fantastic place. Not the building itself and the people - I love working there - but also the lab space, the commodities, and most of all, the support you get, for instance, in financing and the presence of all major chemical companies. It’s so easy to make contact there. In BlueChem, as a scale-up, you find everything you need. Our lab is opening this December. If all goes well, the pilot line will be ready by the end of 2024.”

You will manufacture polyester out of CO2. What will happen with this fibre?

“It’s a key component for textile clothing. Today, we have an agreement with three fashion brands: H&M, Aigle, and ON, Roger Federer’s brand. Other negotiations are running. Yes, I learned that Antwerp is also a fashion capital. It would also be great to work with Antwerp brands in the future.”

 

Scaling up your business also means employing new people. How is that going?

“We are actively hiring, and that’s very exciting. Our first employee in Antwerp is Sergio, who will be the director. Our goal is to have seven employees within three months. Our Antwerp team will be very international. Our first three employees are from Mexico, Lebanon, and India.”

To conclude, what’s the impact of Fairbrics?

“Our solution is a huge game-changer as we have a net positive impact on the climate. Our clothing production doesn’t emit new CO2 into the air, and we offset emissions from other sources.”

Are you ready to make an impact on sustainable chemistry? Whatever your level of technology readiness, Antwerp’s ecosystem has an innovation hub to fit your needs.

Facts

  • Fairbrics is investing 20 million euros in a pilot line to produce polyester free of CO2.
  • The fashion industry is responsible for 5% of total CO2 emissions.
  • The pilot line aims to produce 100 kg of polyester daily in its first phase (enough for 1.000 T-shirts).
  • A future polyester plant could process 50 million tonnes of CO2 each year. 
  • The European Union and the Technology Upscaling Project, including partners such as the University of Antwerp, fund Fairbrics.

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