Courtesy of Oco
July 31, 2023
Company co-founded by UCalgary alumna collaborates with Adidas on shoe pilot
Calgary-based carbon tech company, Oco, is collaborating with sports-apparel giant Adidas to produce 400,000 pairs of shoes for the Terrex footwear line using Oco’s innovative CO2-enhanced ink.
The pilot project, which will be released in the fall, will feature screen-printed ink produced with captured carbon emissions.
“We create carbon tech solutions, which is a very broad term,” says Oco co-founder and venture lead Madison Savilow, BA’19, BComm’19. “Our flagship low-carbon solutions are CO2-enhanced materials, and that is being used as pigments in the ink that Adidas will be putting on their shoes.”
A carbon ‘upcycling’ solution
Savilow says she is proud of Oco’s work to combat climate change within the consumer goods industry.
“Young and innovative companies like ours are important in addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation because we need every solution available to us, whether those are natural solutions or technological solutions,” says Savilow. “We need materials that are available for integration into today’s supply chains, as well as solutions that are going to be prominent in years to come. And technologies like ours are one part of that bigger transition.”
Confident in its product and low-carbon solution, Oco took a chance. ‘We just did a cold outreach to Adidas,” says Savilow. “[We] started engaging with them and educating them on what this material was and how it could impact their product lines without them having to completely reroute their supply chains. So, that’s how we started engaging with Adidas.”
Learning how to take a chance
It was during her time at UCalgary that Savilow learned of the determination and courage that would set her up for success.
Of the required entrepreneurship course that all Haskayne students attend, Savilow says: “I learned a lot about what it’s like to start an enterprise, the ideation phase, being judged by advisors and having your idea picked apart, which is a really important part of entrepreneurship — to make sure you’re addressing a problem and then going forward and developing a road map for co-development or development of a service or product.”
It is that exact spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that led to the co-founding of Oco in 2019. During Savilow’s final year at the University of Calgary, she started working for Oco’s parent company, Carbon Upcycling, which offers carbon-capture utilization solutions to industries with hard-to-abate emissions.
“I was looking for a very relaxed part-time job while I finished my degree, and that’s not at all what I found,” says Savilow. “I found an exciting startup that was pretty much full-time, and I was hooked immediately. I loved it.
“After I graduated, I joined the company full-time and, in 2019, started developing our consumer products line. So [Oco] was an initiative that started within Carbon Upcycling.”
Today, Oco is a consumer-facing brand engaging audiences around the world and educating them about carbon tech and how to integrate captured carbon emissions in their business strategy.
How carbon dioxide becomes ink
Headquartered in southeast Calgary, Oco takes industrial materials and upcycles them into low-carbon solutions.
On the process, Savilow says: “We take low purity flue gas, about four-per cent concentration CO2, and we combine that with inorganic solid powders for our consumer goods materials.
“We’re using two different materials that we sequester and store the CO2 into. Those are graphite powder and magnesium silicate. And essentially what we’re doing is combining those two ingredients. And, on the output, have a high-performance material that has CO2 sequestered and is higher-performing — increasing things like the tensile strength of materials or even their recyclability.”
When Oco first started producing low-carbon solutions for the consumer goods industry it wanted to produce a product that consumers could feel and touch — to give tangible meaning to the reality of carbon-captured solutions.
“One of our first initiatives was to engage an artist-in-residence,” explains Savilow. “Our first artist was Annalee Levin and she created screen-printing ink for us [using our pigments] that was able to go on shirts. That was a great project that we were able to take to consumer brands.”
Nada Hassanin, Advancement
For Savilow and her team, while this pilot is a great accomplishment, it’s just the starting point in their plans to build a circular and regenerative portfolio that will target the entire consumer goods industry.
For Oco, that means becoming “a solutions provider to decarbonize what has become a very carbon-intensive sector,” says Savilow. “Our aim is to continue, not just with our additives or CO2-enhanced materials, but to include even more regenerative materials down the line to be the portfolio solution with trusted low-carbon materials.”
And, with their captured carbon technology, the sky is the limit, Savilow says. The applications of the technology are plentiful with clear pathways to find footholds in the plastics and packaging industries, among others.
But, before Oco dominates the carbon tech space, Savilow and her team are happy to celebrate their first win, starting with the Terrex shoe line, coming to a store near you this fall.