humble bee
Photo by João Coelho CC4.0

Reverse-Engineered Bee Fibers Might Waterproof Your Next Tent

It’s no secret that the outdoor industry still uses toxic chemicals to make products repel water and muck. But one bee-focused biotech startup thinks insects could change that.

New Zealander Veronica Harwood-Stevenson founded Humble Bee to research a promising cellophane-like nesting material made by native Australian bees.

The solitary, yellow-faced Hylaeus bee, which resembles a wasp, collects pollen like most bees. But instead of constructing an independent hive, these bees build and store food in a protective cell lining inside natural cavities like dead twigs and plant stems.

Harwood-Stevenson is using prize money from the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency’s Bright Ideas Challenge as well as venture capital to fund her investigation in the bioplastic potential of this natural bee material.

humble bee
This humble Australian bee could hold some secrets to the future of bioplastics. Photo by João Coelho CC4.0

After studying the insect-made substance further, the Humble Bee team hopes to apply biomimicry to manufacturing. That means recreating the crafty bees’ sturdy, waterproof nest lining for human applications.

Bee Biomimicry and Outdoor Industry Applications

The early-phase concept could have numerous functions. Reverse engineering could replace or reduce harmful chemicals used to weatherproof products, for example.

The outdoor apparel industry is Harwood-Stevenson’s main target. From manufacturer and consumer perspectives, finding alternatives to petrochemicals makes sense.

“Outdoor apparel is definitely what we’re most interested in because of the chemicals being used and because chances are, if you like the environment, you don’t want the products you enjoy to be screwing up the environment,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald,

While it may be a while before you wear bee-inspired apparel, Humble Bee is now working with Victoria University’s Ferrier-Research Institute to study the bees. It secured $147,000 in its first investment round, a number it hopes to quadruple.

We’ll keep an eye on this brand’s unique approach to materials research for the latest buzz on the industry.

Julie Kailus

Associate editor Julie Kailus has spent a career covering people, places, and products in the outdoor industry. Julie can be found testing the latest and greatest in her favorite activities — trail running, mountain biking, swimming, snowboarding, and the underrated endurance sport of chasing two sons around the mountains.