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Uplift360: From Dolls to Defence

carbon literacy case study founder stories net-zero sustainability Sep 11, 2023

When Sam Staincliffe, Co-Founder and CTO of Uplift360, first embarked on her entrepreneurial journey, her aim was to create sustainable, stereotype-busting dolls for her daughter.

However, joining Inspiration Space and engaging in deep conversations with Pamela Iannotti, the Head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Inspiration Space, soon led her down a path of transformative thinking and the realization that she could make a more significant impact by focusing on sustainability in the defence and security sector.

Uplift360 is a materials circularity company that provides research and development on sustainability in the defence and security sector.

By employing the principles of the circular economy, Uplift360 redesigns, reuses, regenerates, and recycles highly complex materials used in the defence sector.

The company's unique approach is built on the understanding that a simple green credential, such as using organic cotton, is not enough when there is no recycling pathway.


From Dolls to Defence

The turning point in Sam's journey came when Pam questioned her initial idea of using organic cotton for dolls.

Pam's relentless probing into the environmental impact of Sam's choices led her to explore bio-fibres, bioplastics, and circular economic principles.

This pivot eventually led Sam to a place in the Antler program, focusing on replacing plastics in the toy industry.



Sam Staincliffe's story and journey took an unexpected turn when she met her now co-founder, Jamie Meighan.

Both with extensive experience in the defence industry and a deep understanding of the materials and people involved, they realised they could make a more significant impact by leveraging their backgrounds.

Exploring possibilities, Sam and Jamie realised focusing on defence was better than dolls. They joined forces to study technology options, and aimed to create materials with a larger market potential.


Addressing Waste Materials in the Defence Industry

One thing that kept coming up was the amount of waste materials in the chemical technology industry.

With their backgrounds in defence and materials, they had a solid understanding of the materials used in defence and the waste they produced.

Jamie's experience in the Royal Air Force and his strategic thinking led them to question what they could do with these existing defence materials.

This exploration brought them to Dr Debra Carr, a textile scientist working for the Defence and Security Accelerator.


Tackling the Body Armour Recycling Problem

Dr Carr suggested they look into body armour, which intrigued them.

Sam and Jamie learned that body armour has a shelf life of just five years and contains some of the world's most expensive advanced materials, making recycling impossible.

This opened the door to opportunities such as eliminating toxic air pollution from incineration, reducing energy and carbon emissions, and saving money for manufacturers.

Uplift360 have received Ministry of Defence research funding, which allowed them to take their project from Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 0 to 3, proving their concept.


The Impact of Waste Sources on Sustainability

By working with waste sources, they could eliminate the need to use virgin fossil fuels to create petrochemical-based materials like Kevlar, saving natural resources and increasing the resilience of the supply chain.

The opportunities in this space were vast, and it all started by asking "why" and exploring different possibilities.

With the help of incredible people at the right time, they were able to consider other options and make progress.


Reflecting on the Journey and the Role of Inspiration Space

Sam credits Inspiration Space and its exceptional support for her incredible journey, which has taken her from a doll-making enthusiast to a leader in biotechnology and material innovation.

The program has not only given her the tools and guidance to tackle real-world issues, but it has also broadened her perspective on sustainability and the importance of creating products that have a positive impact on the planet.

"The opportunities in this space are huge, and it all started with asking why and exploring different possibilities. It has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. And with the help of incredible people right when we needed it, we could consider other options and make progress. It's interesting to reflect on how it all began with a crowdfunding campaign to make a doll, which I wasn't even passionate about."


Advocating for Underrepresented Individuals in the Green Economy

As an advocate for underrepresented individuals in the green economy, Sam is passionate about giving back and encouraging more people to join Inspiration Space's New Beginnings and the Low Carbon Accelerator.

Sam believes that the future lies in sustainable solutions and that there's no better place to make a difference than with the support and guidance of Inspiration Space.


A Shining Example of Innovative Solutions

In a world where environmental challenges are becoming more pressing every day, Sam Staincliffe and Uplift360 serve as a shining example of how relentless questioning and exploration of possibilities can lead to innovative solutions that not only redefine industries but also help secure a better future for the planet.

Hear Sam's story in her own words in this conversation with Liana Fricker, Founder of Inspiration Space, as part of our 'Sustainability Reimagined' series...

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