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Ralph Lauren Corp. Leads New Investments In Peoria's Natural Fiber Welding

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Courtesy Natural Fiber Welding, Inc.
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Luke Haverhals, founder and CEO of Natural Fiber Welding, Inc.

Natural Fiber Welding Inc., a Peoria company developing plant-based alternatives to leather and plastics, has raised $13 million in new investments, with Ralph Lauren Corp. leading the latest round of financing.

Luke Haverhals, NFW founder and CEO, said the association with the Ralph Lauren brand provides a significant boost for the startup that launched in 2015.

“It's obviously just a huge validating point that the technology is meaningful,” said Haverhals. “It's not just that they're a validator, it's that they're working with NFW because they're going to be using the technology to make better products that are better for people and better for the planet at the same time.”

In its announcement, Ralph Lauren said it “will help scale NFW’s patented process” through development of “performance apparel made from natural, sustainable materials.”

“We have evolved and progressed our business for more than 50 years because we constantly push ourselves to think openly and differently about how to approach challenges,” David Lauren, vice chairman and chief innovation officer at Ralph Lauren, said in the news release.

“Today, sustainability is an area where this is especially important, and investing with partners to scale innovative solutions is a key part of our sustainability strategy.”

Lauren called NFW “a pioneer in the industry” and said his company is excited to provide financial support.

“Their technology has the power to not only advance our work at Ralph Lauren, but effect positive change across the entire industry,” he said.  

NFW said several Peoria-based business and investment leaders participated in the latest round of financing that increased the total amount of money raised by the company to $25 million.

“There’s quite a number of other partnerships and other products that are in the pipeline, where you’re going to see a higher cadence of announcements of partnerships,” said Haverhals, adding the latest investments will allow NFW to double its workforce over the next six months.

NFW currently has 47 employees working at its headquarters on Galena Road.   

“I think our region’s always been a center of innovation, from the founding of our community,” said Chris Setti, CEO of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council. “We know also that innovation is really our future, and we need to be able to support companies like Natural Fiber Welding.”

Earlier this year, NFW worked with Porsche to produce a door cover for the automaker’s Taycan model, using the company’s vegan leather substitute, Mirum.

“We’re at this great point where we know the major problems that people want to have solved,” said Haverhals. “We developed the technology specifically to address those problems. The unit economics and the solutions work in ways that don't break people's bank accounts.

“So, now what we have is partners coming forward and investors coming forward that say, ‘OK, let's make the world different by scaling the company up.’”

Michael Negron, acting director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, issued a statement heralding NFW's progress.

“Natural Fiber Welding's continued growth and success demonstrates Illinois remains a desirable destination to start and grow a company  for long-term success,” Negron said.

In addition to Mirum, NFW also holds a patent for Clarus–a fabric produced with yarn made from a combination of recycled and organic virgin cotton.

“It’s really exciting just to have the spotlight shone on a company that grew up here. They have aggressive growth plans and we think that means more jobs and more investment in the future,” said Setti. “So, we're really excited for them to take this next step.”

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