How the material revolution is creating a positive change?

This article is jointly written by Nayoni Mall a final year student at NIFT-India, and Yasaman Salari, an alumnus of ESMOD- Paris and  a part of design team at Zadic&Voltaire in Paris and is edited by Saba Alvi, the founder of Fix That Shirt

This article takes you through the research & development in the field of new materials done by various companies and how one can follow sustainable practices in choosing fashion.

So, if you’re curious about what is the future of your garments could ‘feel’ like and what new kinds of materials you would expect to see on the runways and eventually in your fashion wardrobe, then this article is for you!

What is "material" revolution?

 Well, in simple terms, material revolution refers to making pivotal changes in the raw materials in terms of their procurement, development and potential recycling . “Fashion brands are exploring alternatives to today’s standard materials, with key players focused on more sustainable substitutes that include recently rediscovered and re-engineered old favorites as well as high-tech materials that deliver on aesthetics and function. 

 What is the need for material revolution?

It is no secret that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries of our times having severe impacts on both, our society and the environment. Just for our understanding, let’s consider the impact of manufacturing our beautiful fashion items on the water that all living beings need to survive.

In most garment manufacturing countries there is a growing shortage of drinking waters since the  untreated toxic waste often enters waters resulting in increased amounts of toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others making the water extremely harmful for the aquatic life and the health of millions of people. The same toxins later enter into seas and oceans and eventually spreads around the globe.

Water Cycle
Image: NASA
Dye waste in water
Image: Greenpeace Asia
 Another major source of water contamination is the use of fertilizers for cotton production, which  pollutes the runoff waters heavily and enters the water cycle.

The fashion industry is a major water consumer. Huge quantity of fresh water is used for the dyeing and finishing process for all of our clothes. Also, cotton needs A LOT of water to grow (and heat), but is usually cultivated in warm and dry areas. Up to 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce just 1kg of cotton. This generates tremendous pressure on this precious resource, already scarce, and has dramatic ecological consequences such as the desertification of the Aral Sea, where cotton production has nearly drained all the water.

Clothing has clearly become disposable. As a result, we generate more and more textile waste. Approximately one family throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year. Only 15% of which is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated.

Key factors accelerating material revolution…..

Consumers that are willing to pay more for products with less environmental impact and are also enthusiastic for their fashion choices to be a reflection of their digitally enhanced lifestyles and the law makers that are trying to verify that the fashion and textile industry is aligned with the consumers’ expectations.

Lidewij (Li) Edelkoort, a trend forecaster and dean of hybrid studies at Parsons School of Design in New York, claims the reinvention of ancient fibres as one of the most promising innovations. She mentions that Japan is working on a smaller scale with local producers at the development of nettle, ramie and mulberry paper yarns, in order to develop compostable clothes .There’s also a rising number of companies that are working in collaboration with startups or peers. Some notable mentions of young companies pushing traditional textiles into the mainstream textile industry include: MitiMeth, Samatoa and BlueHanded.

Mitimeth products
Achenyo Idachaba-Obaro, Founder of MitiMeth via cartierwomensinitiative.com

What are the notable material innovations?

It is estimated that the global smart-textile market would have a bright future since it would grow by five times by the year 2025 as a result of material revolution. These smart textiles range from bio-fabricated leather and biodegradable textiles to e-textiles and more. Here are a few examples:

bio-fabricated T-shirt from Modern Meadow
T-shirt Zoa by Modern Meadow (©Modern Meadow)

Modern Meadows

Based on the idea that the  principles of biofabrication could be used to make these animal products without the animal, Modern Meadow is a pioneer in bio-fabricated materials. They began looking at the starting point for the creation of these materials: proteins. They have been able to evolve their approach to create materials that support sustainability while balancing performance, aesthetics, and accessibility. 

 

“Behind each one of our products is a proprietary application platform leveraging the power of nature. These platforms will change the way we build and use materials in everything from handbags to car seats. Meet Bio-Alloy™.” While the technologies have evolved significantly since the beginning, the goal of achieving sustainability at scale has remained consistent.

Spiber collection
‘Atlas’ Couture Spring/Summer 2021 YUIMA NAKAZATO: https://www.spiber.inc/en/yuimanakazato/atlas/

Spiber

Brewed Protein™ from Spiber, refers to protein materials produced from plant-derived biomass using Spiber’s proprietary fermentation process. These materials can be processed into a variety of forms, with examples ranging from delicate filament fibers with a silky sheen to spun yarns that boast features such as cashmere-like softness or the renowned thermal and moisture-wicking properties of wool. (https://www.spiber.inc/en/)

Brewed Protein materials have a lot to offer ethically, too—Spiber’s in-house technology allows for the production of compelling animal-free fur and leather alternatives, and Brewed Proteins can also be processed into resins closely resembling tortoiseshell or animal horn. With potential uses ranging from medical applications to lightweight composite materials, the adaptability of Brewed Proteins means they are perfectly placed to support a wide variety of consumer needs. (https://www.spiber.inc/en/)

However, most of these new innovative startups, like Algiknitare still in the process of perfecting their new technologies and materials since it requires years of dedicated research and funding support, for i in terms quality, functionality or aesthetics and considering how deeply rooted tradition clothes-making is , and how little it has changed over the times. These developments can take an awful long time. With respect to the McKinsey analysis companies around the world are set to file eight times as many fibre innovation patent applications in 2019 as they did in 2013, we can stay hopeful that every year there will be more and more revolutionary innovations and that we would be closer to the ultimate substitutes that can deliver all the needs of the fashion industry

How to be a part of material revolution?

Choose clothes made in countries with stricter environmental regulations for factories. Support companies/ brands which choose more organic fibers and natural or semi-synthetic fibers that do not require chemicals to be produced and with low water consumption such as linen, recycled fibers, etc. Buy less, buy better quality and recycle “eco-friendly” fibers, which means that their production process has a low impact on the environment and meets at least half of the below criteria:

  • Low Water need
  • Low energy need
  • Made of WASTES
  • Made from Renewable Resources
  • Chemical control
  • Biodegradable
  • No Soil Erosion

“There are lot of ways how one can be sustainable without having a big budget,” says McCartney. “I know everyone says it, but the best way is to start by buying investment pieces over fast fashion. You can also reduce your personal impact by giving your old clothes to charity shops, to car-boot sales, to friends and family or by re-selling them, therefore keeping them out of landfill for as long as possible.”

‘The Need of Change’ that we are talking about is directly related to the how conscious we are as buyers. Lidewij Edelkoort a trend forecaster predicts “… clothes-making is a deep-rooted tradition and hasn’t changed much since the Bronze Age so developments can take an awful long time.” 

Talking about a revolutionary change here needs support of every individual and  together, we can!

 Like this article? Join us in creating a more ethical fashion ecosystem by spreading the word!  

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