As CEO, founder and recent first-place winner of the 2024 Cartier Women’s Initiative “Forces For Good” Nameth is leading the commercialisation of Treekind, an innovative bio-based material crafted from inedible leaves, stems and agricultural residues.

Nameth’s entrepreneurial pursuit stemmed from the birth of her daughter Nora in 2013, which shifted her mindset toward wanting to be “part of” the sustainability “solution”.

“I wanted to work within sustainability,” Nameth explains. “That was a little bit of a winding journey, which led me to start to work on what was to become Treekind.”

Treekind: mainstreaming plant-based leather

Nameth’s vision is for Treekind to become a mainstream, high-performing alternative material across fashion, beauty, and luxury goods within the next five years.

“We want to look at displacing these carbon footprint intensive or water footprint intensive materials,” she says as “we think that we can do a lot better”.

Manufactured in Biophilica’s London facility, Treekind starts as a 100% bio-based slurry derived from fallen leaves. It’s then formed into flat sheets and dried through a process that shares similarities with plastic leathers like PVC – but without any plastic components.

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With two lifecycle analyses conducted on Biophilica’s materials, Nameth claims Treekind has lower carbon and water footprints compared to cowhide leather.

Prioritising minimal transportation footprints, Biophilica sources raw materials locally and internationally through partnerships with green waste collectors and agricultural firms across Europe.

Nameth envisions Treekind being adopted for footwear, apparel, accessories, luxury packaging, and more. She suggests it could displace leather and plastic alternatives at a projected scale of over 500,000 meters per year within three years.

Encouraging mass adoption in the fashion sector

Like any new and unfamiliar material, gaining traction with brands comes with obstacles. Nameth talks about how humans have been developing plastics for over a 100 years, making the material as advanced as it is now.

However, Biophilica has successfully commercialised Treekind through partnerships with sustainability-focused companies like Danish fashion retailer Bestseller, which it partnered with back in 2022.

Camilla Skjønning Jørgensen, Bestseller’s innovation manager said at the time: “Leather processing has a high climate impact, but we must also ensure that the alternatives don’t just create another environmental problem such as high plastic content or reduced quality and durability.”

Nameth has been working with several international brands for the last two years, and says: “We’ve gone from lab samples to batch samples to demo line samples to commercialise Treekind together with them.”

While unable to divulge proprietary details, Nameth shared that Biophilic developed a plant-based adhesive called Brightbond to laminate Treekind to backing textiles for products. The company is now exploring bio-based foam applications to complement Treekind.

Navigating the material innovations space

Nameth credits advisors, brands, and the funding network tied to winning the Cartier Women’s Initiative award as invaluable for propelling Biophilica’s growth.

“There are so many different and amazing people that really just want to support and help,” she shares.

The Cartier Women’s initiative shines a light on women impact entrepreneurs and provides them with the necessary financial, social and human capital support to grow their businesses and build their leadership skills. 

She emphasises the importance of industry-wide collaboration in levelling the playing field for female entrepreneurs, noting the glaring inequity in venture capital funding allocated to women-led start-ups.

“It’s good to look at organisations that specifically focus on women, just don’t give up. Find another way of doing it and I would also say if you know any men who are venture capitalists, you should try and influence them,” advises Nameth.

She claims that women-founded start-ups received 2% or less of venture capital funding in Europe and the US in 2023.

Nameth asserts that all genders need to rectify this imbalance and during a time when we’re always talking about inclusivity she believes it needs to be reflected in the statistics.

She concludes: “This number is not good enough, everyone needs to push it to be even.”