Ambercycle’s CEO on Why Traditional Recycling Won’t Work, and What His Technology Does Instead

Camay Abraham
Camay Abraham is a journalist, researcher, and a freelance reporter for dot.LA. She covers fashion, tech and culture and has previously written for Glossy, i-D, Dazed and Screen Shot, among other outlets. She has an MA in fashion psychology from London College of Fashion and has been interviewed by Vice and ABC Australia for her work in fashion and well-being. Pronouns: she/her.
Ambercycle’s CEO on Why Traditional Recycling Won’t Work, and What His Technology Does Instead

Few industries are as tangled with buzzwords as the fashion industry. Clothing brands, rightly concerned about their tremendous effects on the environment, are eager to call their collections “green” or “sustainable.” But making tangible changes in how clothing is produced and distributed has been a struggle.

On Tuesday, L.A.-based startup Ambercycle announced it raised a $21.6 million Series A round to try to tackle the problem. The funding comes from fashion heavyweights including H&M (which has used its technology in recent collections) and online fashion and shoe retailer Zalando, among others. It will go to ramping up production of the company’s fiber regenerative technology, which it created and piloted in a manufacturing plant downtown.


Ambercycle co-founders Shay Sethi and Moby Ahmed are scientists and former UC Davis college roommates. The two see themselves as different from traditional fashion or manufacturing founders – and other research-based innovators.

“Traditionally, people have always thought, ‘here's an interesting technology, how do we craft a story around it?’” Instead, Sethi says, Ambercycle “start[s] with the products that we would really like to see and then work backwards into the technology. We develop, do research and engineering that way instead of starting in the lab.”

Ambercycle CEO and co-founder Shay Sethi

Ambercycle CEO and co-founder Shay Sethi

Their technology is able to break down the components of clothing to its basic polyester materials, separating its natural fibers and dyes, and creating a new material in the process, which they call cycora.

“We imagined a technology that could take an old t-shirt and turn it back into the yarns required to make that green t-shirt again,” he adds. “Anything that's in your closet today – like yoga pants or dress shirts – that's traditionally made of polyester can be made with cycora.”

Sethi and Ahmed started their company in San Francisco in 2015, then moved it to Los Angeles’ garment district two years later, looking for a manufacturing hub close to a center of innovation.

“We felt like this is a really good nexus for innovation, fashion – as well as material sciences,” Sethi says. “There is a very strong industry and a very strong familiarity with manufacturing so we felt it was a perfect blend. Also we grew up in California and didn't want to leave.”

We chatted with Ambercycle co-founder Shay Sethi about his company’s journey, its new funding and how it plans to get beyond buzzwords in planning a sustainable future for fashion.

What are the biggest challenges to the fashion industry?

When we consider the future of humanity, there's a couple key things that need to change. The big one is – given that consumption will not decrease – the reliance on natural resources will put a strain on the way in which we can live on this planet. So in order to change that, we need to take advantage of these traditionally viewed as waste streams and turn them back into new resources. So the future upstream will be all of these textile materials that are in our closet. But it's not really easy today to throw away or recycle our old garments.

We need to be able to have a low-friction way to throw away our garments and have them go back into a circular system. If we can tell a transparent and traceable story to a person, then brands and retailers will start to care.

Why is it so hard to recycle clothing currently?

So let's talk about our clothing. They are mixtures of different fibers – polyester and cotton, as well as dyes, additives, zippers, tags and stains – when they're at their end of life. We can't really recycle those materials, because they're these complex, intimate blends. Recycling has really struggled as a business, and also as a solution to waste, because you can't create a high quality product from those materials once they are at their end of life.

How is Ambercycle different from other recycling processes?

Most recycling processes are shredding or very simple mechanical processes. You can turn a t-shirt into pillow stuffing in a similar way that you can turn paper into a sort of grey newspaper and then downcycle it; The same thing happens with textiles.

The Holy Grail is really being able to turn an old t-shirt into a new t-shirt. So over the past five years, we’ve developed technology that takes these mixtures of materials that have dyes and additives, put them through a process, and make the base raw materials needed to make those same yarns. This goes in line with what's traditionally known today as circular economy where you can reuse materials, again and again.

Will Ambercycle always be focused on apparel?

Right now our focus is on apparel.

We have a couple of luxury clients that are really interested in transitioning to circular systems. Over the next couple of years, we're going to be able to talk about those, but the major message we want to help shed light on is that every year, over 120 billion garments go to landfill. We need to, as a fashion industry, transition to a circular system. It's [not] just one or two companies that can do things; Everyone as a whole needs to adopt a new ecosystem, where things are being reused in supply chains over and over again. It's very important for this transition to involve all verticals in the power supply chain. The demand for these materials is already so high. So people already care. I think we're just trying to figure out the logistics of the society right now.

There's a lot of possibilities when you think about it. You can imagine this being transformed into a system that can take other materials as well. I think we're excited about the possibilities in the future but I’m really focused on the textile-to-textile stories today.

What do you plan to do with your recent funding?

We’re trying to scale up the number of projects we're doing with different companies across the apparel industry that will require a lot of manpower or womanpower. That's a key gap we need to fill. A technology like ours that uses sort of molecular separation technologies, that advanced material science requires a sort of scale before you can really start to see the fulfillment of these contracts.

It's very easy to make a couple of t-shirts, but it's very hard to make millions and millions and millions of kilograms of stuff. We're going to be scaling up production of one of our main materials today, cycora. Demands are already way through the roof. I felt like right now was the right time to raise external capital to accelerate that plan.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

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🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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