P | P | P feat. Radiant Matter

We caught up with Elissa Brunato, CEO & Founder of Radiant Matter as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Radiant Matter are a design-led biomaterial start-up developing sustainable material solutions for the fashion and textile industry. They are creating the world’s first BioSequin, made from cellulose.

The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Hi Elissa, it is really nice to meet you! Please can you introduce yourself, your business, the stage you are at currently and what makes Radiant Matter unique?

Elissa: Hi, my name is Elissa Brunato, and I am the CEO of Radiant Matter. Radiant Matter is a design-led biomaterial start-up developing the next generation of colour material solutions for a circular textile’s economy. We are working particularly with cellulose, engineering the most vibrant glittering structural colours to create a biodegradable material that reduces micro plastic pollution and the industry’s dependence on petroleum. Our first product in research and development is sequin embellishment for textiles.

Can you share the origin story of your BioSequins?

Elissa: I have a background in fashion and textiles, working for almost ten years within this industry. My expertise is in product development, production, sampling, and embroidery. I travelled to many countries where textile manufacturing is conducted, such as India, China, and Italy. I was working very closely with manufacturing units. I became aware of the disconnect between the product lifecycle and the environment. It opened my eyes to how textile manufacture affects local ecosystems, local communities and the amount of volume and waste that occurs. I wanted to find a space to research a better solution to the materials we use in textiles, particularly the huge volume of sequins used. During my Master in Material Futures at Central Saint Martins, I created the Bioiridescent Sequin, and this was the beginning of Radiant Matter.

Speaking of People, can you share some challenges you have faced or are anticipating when growing your team? Do you have any tips for businesses you think may experience the same issues?

Elissa: We are a young company, and we don’t have the resources yet to employ a large team. We are often multitasking and have to be agile. We rely a lot on our government programs and our network of mentors who offer their time because they believe in our mission. At the moment, we are making sure we have the right people to undertake R&D and build the brand. We are looking for people to join our team that are specialists but can also work well in this fast-paced, mission-driven environment. Later down the track, we will be looking to recruit people to help us scale and focus on the commercial growth of Radiant Matter.

It is amazing how overlooked sequins are, I had never considered the extent of the problem!

Elissa: Yeah, I think that’s the thing when I speak to the general public; they have overlooked sequins. Sequins are such a ubiquitous object and so small in size that they actually classify as microplastics, with many sequins commonly being around 2mm-5mm. In 2019 Oxfam reported that in 1 festive season (November/ December leading up to Christmas), 33 million sequin garments are bought in the UK alone and 7 million of these end up in landfills after five wears – this is in the UK alone. Once people understand the problem with sequins and similarly with glitter, they begin to see it everywhere. For example, the tiny glittery particles that occur in makeup, I mean, how overlooked are those, and people use them daily worldwide and wash them down the sink.

Moving to Product, what has been your approach to understanding and approaching market fit and sales cycles?

Elissa: We are a B2B business, so we are not targeting hobbyists or individual designers but rather embroidery and textile manufacturers that buy sequins in bulk. We are having many conversations with industry customers from a range of companies to try and understand details about their requirements. The primary approach is to continue this dialogue, mapping out customer pain points and needs and bringing our partners into our R&D process. Once we have finished the R&D phase, we will move towards commercialisation.

Can you share some barriers you have overcome to create a product with so much potential?

Elissa: We have overcome the main barrier of creating the initial prototype and engaging with our market. We are now in a further R&D phase with the material, which requires more funding. We are competing with a mass-manufactured product, so a barrier to overcome is that we have to compete with economies of scale while being in the early stages. Therefore, our BioSequins will be sold at a premium to begin with until we can achieve similar high volume manufacture quantities. While we have seen a huge demand from interested manufacturers, there is not much awareness on the scale of the sequin problem up to this day. We have to conduct a lot of market research and number crunching ourselves to work out the global statistics ourselves because the resources are not yet out there.

When you are looking to expand your product range, what do you think you would develop a sustainable alternative for next?

Elissa: For now, our focus is on the reflective/glittering particles used in textiles and apparel. We will look to expand into other markets where such materials are used, and customers seek a more sustainable solution.

Investment is often a challenge for start-ups and scale-ups. Do you have any words of wisdom for the best approach towards seeking investment?

Elissa: Most importantly, you need to be fully invested in your idea and be committed to seeing it through, because it will take resilience.  

Secondly you need to take investors onto your journey, laying out the problem and opportunity quickly and clearly is important. Investors may not come from the same career path as you, or they may not be the ones who are wearing sequins, but they have to understand the problem and be on the same page. Don’t jump into investment too fast and look for the right investor with a shared vision. Remember that you are doing this for a customer out there who needs this product! Keep customers in mind at each stage of the process and communicate continuously with them because people’s needs are constantly changing and developing.

Thank you for your time, Elissa!

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