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Small Business

Natural Fiber Welding Brings Sustainable Fiber to Fashion

Ralph Lauren

A small Peoria, IL-based company has big things planned for fashion. Founded in 2015, Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) has made a name for itself as a premier destination for recycling and repurposing cotton, wool and hemp waste into different high-performance fabrics. In recent years, the company’s popularity has soared as consumers take a closer look at the origins of clothing materials. 

Ralph Lauren Partnership

Much of NFW’s success has come through its growing number of partnerships with major clothing brands like Ralph Lauren. In 2020, the clothing giant announced that it would be acquiring a minority stake in the company for $13 million. Nonprofit Central Illinois Angels and Prairie Crest Capital, a venture capital firm based in Des Moines, IA, rounded out the investment group.  

Ralph Lauren stands to benefit from research and development through this partnership. The cash influx gave NFW a boost toward developing newer sustainable fiber techniques. Eventually, Ralph Lauren will incorporate these improved production methods into its manufacturing operations to further its sustainability goals. In January 2022, Ralph Lauren launched a polo shirt line made using NFW’s Clarus polymer.

Photo Courtesy Natural Fiber Welding

For NFW, a large portion of the investment went to expanding its main facility on North Galena Road. This move increased the production capacity for the fiber developer in a significant way. Along with the upgrades came the need for workers, providing much-needed jobs for the local community. The main facility started with 47 full-time employees, with the expectation of tripling that number to keep up with the capacity increase. All in all, Peoria residents saw more than 100 jobs due to the expansion.

“Their strong team and very promising technology align quite well with our investment thesis,” said Jim Cote, spokesman for investor and nonprofit Central Illinois Angels. “The company’s continued dedication to growing the Central Illinois economy bodes well for our region.”

Continued Growth

Partnerships with companies like Allbirds, Porsche and Patagonia followed the investment by Ralph Lauren. Each one exemplified the company’s versatility. The Allbirds and Patagonia collaborations were born from the eco-friendly development of apparel and shoes. The Porsche partnership arose from the automotive manufacturer’s need to produce sustainable coverings for Taycan models. 

NFW’s popularity has expanded beyond fiber-related investors. Last July, the company announced another $15 million in funding with partners like Prairie Crest Capital, Ethos, For Good Ventures, Evolution VC Partners, and BMW i Ventures.

Interest has continued to pile up at an even stronger pace since then, with the company fielding a whopping additional $85 million following the success of 2021. This round of partners, announced in April 2022, included many returning investors and fresh faces like Tattarang, Lewis & Clark AgriFood, Collaborative Fund, and AiiM Partners. 

Photo Courtesy Natural Fiber Welding

The fact that the company not only started at the city’s Bradley University but also remained in Peoria while continuing to develop and court investors, is an inspiration for local government members. “Natural Fiber Welding’s continued growth and success demonstrates Illinois remains a desirable destination to start and grow a company for long-term success,” said Michael Negron, former acting director for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

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