This is not a post about a chair, this is about transforming our world with high-performance, carbon negative raw materials. But it starts with a chair.

Behind a garage door in a former bookbinding factory in the Mission district of San Francisco, Lingrove, Inc. is building furniture out of linen. The fabric, which is glued in layers on a mold to create nearly any shape, is as strong as steel, as light as carbon fiber, and nontoxic. The linen, woven from flax plant fiber, is carbon negative — the manufacture of this product, called Ekoa®, is low carbon today and soon will result in a net reduction in climate pollution. That’s a big deal. Deforestation, construction, and industrial production are the cause of at least half of global greenhouse gas pollution. Replacing wood, steel, concrete, and petroleum-based plastics with natural fiber-based fast growing plant materials is one of the few solutions available to reduce deforestation, displace extractive materials, and achieve sustainability.

Ancient fiber

In the ancient world natural fibers from rapidly renewable plants powered commerce. The oldest known linen fabric was woven from wild growing flax in the Caucuses on the Black Sea about 30,000 years ago. From the ancient world to today, farmers have grown local crops to meet their day-to-day needs. Mayans farmed agave to weave ayate cloth, Mesopotamians grew flax for linen, and hemp was domesticated as a crop plant in China about 5000 years ago. Here in California, Miwok, Yokuts and other Native American Nations used the Tule reed to build everything from boats to houses. Industrialization moved societies away from natural fibers to an extraction model based on wood, metals, concrete, stone and plastic. Like renewables and electric vehicles disrupting energy generation and transportation systems, plant fiber has the potential to transform products for a ‘cleaner’ world made regeneratively.

Ekoa® Surface being cut at a home installation. Photo by Kathleen Adams

From carbon fiber to natural fiber

I founded Blackbird Guitars in 2006 to replace the ‘exotic’ woods used in fine stringed instruments with materials that matched or outperformed wood for sound and stability. At first Blackbird used carbon fiber, a strong and lightweight material that makes great sounding instruments. But carbon fiber is also energy intensive and impossible to recycle. So while we grew Blackbird into a successful guitar company, I began looking for natural materials that could match carbon fiber on performance, and outmatch it on sustainability. In 2014, I launched Lingrove to promote the result of this search, a new product called Ekoa® made from linen and plant-based resin that is nearly as strong as carbon fiber, but with a low carbon footprint.


In 2013 Blackbird Guitars released our first Ekoa® product, the Clara ukulele, and Lingrove began supplying Ekoa® to other manufacturers who today use it to make furniture, fishing rods, paddles (all kinds), and bicycles. Ekoa® has the potential to drive a large-scale transformation of manufacturing and construction to sustainable, nontoxic fiber materials. The flax used to make Ekoa® can even be a waste product. Edible flax seed (linseed) is harvested from the top of the plant. In Canada each year 650,000 tons of stalks, where we get our fiber, are thrown away or burned. Or sold to Lingrove and made into Ekoa® which, when combined in layers, creates strong and lightweight natural wood-like material, only moldable.

Ekoa® in interior applications for furniture, wall covering, and lighting

Agriculture as a Climate Solution

Plant fiber can replace wood, steel, concrete and plastic. Returning to an agricultural supply for the raw material moves us away from extractive materials that are cut, mined, and drilled from the earth on an industrial scale. Plant waste is an inexpensive, yet valuable raw material, that closes the loop and creates a new revenue stream for farmers who now dispose of their non-food farm waste. Lingrove’s Ekoa® platform is a technology that allows for a variety of plant fiber inputs (so yes we can use hemp).

Ekoa® fibers in the workshop

Saving energy

Adoption of natural fiber materials would slash energy use. While Ekoa® does require heat to manufacture, it’s exponentially less than the 2,000 degrees needed to produce steel, or 1,400 degrees needed to produce concrete. At ¼” the weight of equivalent plywood (which itself is much lighter than metal and concrete), lightweight plant-based materials could drastically reduce the weight of products moved as cargo and even the vehicle moving that cargo.

High performance

Ekoa® looks like wood, but its advantages include higher strength and lighter weight than the wood, steel, and carbon fiber it can replace. Ekoa®’s stiffness-to-weight ratio surpasses aerospace fiberglass (E-glass). Ekoa® absorbs higher frequency vibration, enhancing product feel. Finally, Ekoa® can be designed for long-term stability in aerospace, auto, and heirloom applications (like a boutique guitar) or to biodegrade quickly for packaging or other single-use requirements.

Ekoa® in a bedroom furniture application

Transforming materials

Look around you. You’re likely surrounded by energy-intensive, extracted, often toxic, non-recyclable materials. Most or all of those materials could, and should, be replaced by natural fibers. Materials from fast growing plants can match the performance needed for everything from consumer products to construction to automotive and aerospace uses. That means safer, healthier, lighter, stronger products that have the potential to transform manufacturing and construction and slash climate pollution. That is why we created Ekoa®. 

We’re already helping our partners use Ekoa® as a direct replacement for wood, metal and carbon fiber in furniture and interior design materials, auto applications, sports equipment, and musical instruments. How can we help you transform the materials in your product to reach your sustainability goals?