Planet-positive entrepreneurship is second nature to Neeka Mashouf
Fujitsu / February 20, 2023
Pulling rabbits from hats has been stock-in-trade in magicians’ routines for centuries. And yet, it never fails to amaze audiences, even if they know that they are witnessing an illusion. What is more impressive, however, is truly producing something from nothing, while adding a twist of sustainability. Neeka Mashouf has set out to do just that, converting excess carbon in the atmosphere to textiles that can be turned into clothing. But this is neither magic nor an illusion, it’s a masterclass in passion, creativity and technology coming together to make the planet a better place.
In Episode 4(*) of our partnership with CNN International Commercial’s (CNNIC) brand studio Create exploring the Art of Sustainability Transformation, we’ll meet Neeka and discover how she’s heating up the fashion world by cooling the globe.
From observation to emulation
When most people look at a tree, they likely notice its main features, such as the trunk, branches and leaves. But for Neeka Mashouf, who earned degrees in engineering and business administration from the University of California, Berkeley, her observations go a little deeper. “All the materials of a tree were once air,” she notes.
As a keen student of the natural world, she understands the process by which CO2 is transformed into the structures that make a tree, a tree. And as a creative entrepreneur, she envisioned a way to reimagine and recreate that natural process to help reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, while producing a product that never goes out of style—clothing. This idea of making something out of what seems like nothing is at the core of Rubi Laboratories, the biotechnology company she and her twin sister, Leila, co-founded in 2020, that turns carbon emissions into textiles for use in the fashion industry.
This win-win-win scenario for business, fashion, and the environment is perhaps not a terribly surprising outcome for someone with such a balanced take on the carbon problem. She firmly believes that by harnessing the natural cycle that trees and other living things use to convert carbon into biological growth, we’ll “be able to live in harmony with the planet and create the thriving future that we hope for.” It’s the cyclical nature of this system that interests her, and by establishing Rubi Laboratories, she is a unique position to perfect the system in a planet-positive way.
Closing the loop, opening new possibilities
From an early age, the natural beauty of her home in Northern California inspired Neeka to learn about, and ultimately strive to protect, the environment that supports us all. How did she turn that inspiration into action? By embracing the tools she would need to produce textiles out of thin air. “We rely on computing advances in biotechnology, science, and infrastructure to be able to do what we do. And so, it's critical for us to stand on the shoulders of giants and move forward,” she says.
Without her willingness to collaborate with many experts in diverse fields and explore the technology that makes the mission of Rubi Laboratories possible, the world would still be without a technique to create carbon-negative, chemical-neutral, and biodegradable materials. This pioneering spirit of innovation is an encapsulation of her view on sustainability, which goes beyond the usual definition and moves into the territory of transforming the way we think about our processes.
When asked to elaborate on this view of sustainability, she responded that, “it moves away from linear systems that have a beginning and an end and towards creating circular symbiotic systems.” By helping close the loop on the production of textiles, she is one step closer to achieving that goal – and preserving the natural world that gave her the idea to pursue it in the first place.
Rubi Laboratories co-founders, Leila (left) and Neeka (right) Mashouf
Explore the Art of Sustainability Transformation
To learn more about how Neeka and Leila Mashouf started Rubi Laboratories, what else they have planned and why they chose to focus on textiles, be sure to check out the masterclass produced in collaboration with CNNIC. Also, don’t miss the episode of the Forward, Better podcast featuring Neeka and Leila in conversation with award-winning science presenter Hannah Fry. They share surprising information about their connection with the fashion industry and their mission to recycle over 99% of carbon from manufacturers’ waste streams.
And while you’re there, explore how other visionaries are promoting sustainability in a wide range of industries and disciplines. New masterclasses will be released periodically, giving you the chance to take away new ideas for your own Sustainability Transformation efforts. Stay tuned!