Saturday, May 30, 2020
Seaweed Sneakers-It’s a Wild Gift Thing
Aaron Nesser makes seaweed sneakers.
Thursday, October 3, 2019


Aaron Nesser wants to outfit your feet in seaweed.

This Wild Gift fellow wants to transform the apparel ecosystem with compostable kelp-derived yarn.

He’s creating a new textile component called bioyarn for use in environmentally friendly shoes, bags, tank tops and other apparel.

AlgiKnit’s sneakers are designed to provide all the durability you need in a sneaker but decompose rapidly when fed to a compost pile.

It’s durable and it doesn’t dissolve in water. That said, it is designed to be broken down by microorganisms, degrading in the fungi-rich environment of compost, when you’re done with it. Contrast that with conventional sneakers that won’t biodegrade for decades or even centuries—long after the shoes have worn out and can no longer be used.

The rapidly renewable kelp he uses is one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet and can be manufactured with minimal waste. Contrast that with cotton where it takes 2,000 gallons of water to grow enough for your jeans.

Bioyarn doesn’t rely on harmful fertilizers and pesticides, and it doesn’t use arable land or fresh water that can be used for drinking.

“The materials that make up clothing have a large impact,” said Nesser, the co-founder and CEO of AlgiKnit Inc, a biomaterials research group based in New York City. “I looked at a ton of different products that might be more sustainable and decided to try kelp. With it we also avoid using solvent, which historically has made the fashion industry a very polluting industry.

Anderson Barkow’s mini solar grid kits are easy to assemble.

Nesser is a 2019 Wild Gift Fellow, one of five fellows who will be mentored and given various kinds of support in a year-long program for young entrepreneurial leaders created by Ketchum resident Bob Jonas in 2002.

The Wild Gift fellows spent 17 days in August and September hiking up over the pass above Silver Lake and through the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness, learning tools for problem solving and resilience that may be helpful to them in their endeavors. They will return in summer 2020 for a river trip on the Salmon River.

“It was my first time in the mountains,” said the Brooklyn-based Nesser, who was enjoying the sunshine on KIC’s patio after taking his first shower in many days. “We had solo days where, at the end of the day as the sun went down, I cooked my dinner on a stove heated with small twigs. Watching those flames, creating a meal from scratch, built confidence because the wilderness can be a scary place, especially in the dark. It was a disconnect from the day-to-day world. Without the distractions, we were able to focus on the long term.”

Nesser actually started out in recycling, helping to build New York City’s composting program. But, he said, recycling didn’t address the problem so he changed careers in the belief that biology is the future of fashion. He followed up his Bachelor of Evolutionary Biology degree with a Master of Industrial Design degree at Pratt Institute, along with a Bachelor of evolutionary biology at Beloit College.

Alex Bailey works with kids of color from low income families.

He has gained experience working as a research fellow with Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator, a product designer at Final Frontier Design and at Science Sandbox, among others. His work has been exhibited around the world, including places like Dubai and Cape Town.

The other Wild Gift Fellows include:

  • Alex Bailey, who heads up a program called Black Outside. He hopes to introduce transformative outdoor experiences to 200 students of color in central Texas this year

    “My grandfather was a Navy Seal in World War II and he taught me to swim and love the outdoors. But there was no one else who looked like me,” he said. “African-Americans have the lowest participation rates in outdoor activities of any race. I’m trying to connect them to nature.”

    Nicole Chatterson is using education and policy intervention to change the culture concerning waste.

    The “wilderness” that Bailey takes the youngsters in his programs to is tame compared with that of the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness where he took part in a snowball fight 11,000 feet high in a field of scree and woke up to three mountain goats drinking from a creek.

    “There’s not many mountains around Texas and I found I derived energy from the mountains,” he said. “In the course of the day, everyone went through ups and downs but we helped each other get through. I also realized how you need to equip your body to go through what we did mentally, physically and spiritually. And, as social entrepreneurs, we need to keep in shape going forward.”

  • Anderson Barkow co-founded BoxPower, Inc., which manufactures and distributes portable solar mini-grid kits as alternatives to diesel generators. Each unit offsets 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide.

    Kits have been supplied to those recovering from the hurricane in Puerto Rico, to community microgrid projects in Alaska and to rural homes and farms in California.

    “It’s too expensive to build the grid in many places,” he said. “I grew up in Montana where I saw the poverty on Indian reservations and I realized there’s a need for something like this as-50,000 Native Americans in the United States lack access to electricity.”

  • Ki-Amber Thompson has thrown her weight behind the Bloom Project, which utilizes nature to address the impact on youth of color whose parents have been incarcerated.

    “As a young black woman, I’ve experienced over policing--my younger cousin was shot and killed by police this year. We offer summer camp, things like that to help youth heal.”

  • Nicole Chatterson, whose Zero Waste O’ahu seeks to cultivate a waste-free future in Hawaii through zero waste demonstration projects.

“We produce twice the amount of plastic pollution of anyone else in the United States,” she said. “I envision an island where waste no longer exists.”

Wild Gift has been run by an all-alum staff for the past few years but has been transitioning to a staff-run organization. It also wants to adapt its wilderness program to serve mission-aligned organizations, such as grad programs and businesses.

Past recipients send back glowing reports.

Lisa Curtis, one of the past recipients of the Wild Gift, now operates a thriving business based in Oakland, Calif., that hires Nigerian women to source moringa for her Kuli Kuli energy bars. She just launched her Kuli Kuli smoothie mixes and vegetable protein powder in 2,500 Walmart stores.

Raj Vable’s Young Mountain Tea, cultivated on the slopes of India, won the 2018 Best Sustainability Award from World Tea Awards. Sam Teicher, who designed an XPrize for saving coral reefs, was recognized as a 2018 Forbes 30 under 30 for Social Entrepreneurship and was named one of 22 Climate Trailblazers for the Global Climate Action Summit.

And Viraj Puri’s Gotham Greens now employs 160 full-time employees to man indoor greenhouse projects in Chicago, Baltimore and Providence, R.I. It’s now one of the largest greenhouse producers of leafy greens in North America.


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