Textile manufacturing is reported to be the second most polluting industry on the planet. 20% of our freshwater is used for dyeing and we are putting microfibres into our oceans that will remain for thousands of years. For the future, we need new innovative yarns and fabrics that are sustainable, biodegradable and even vegan. Textiles are now being made from new materials such as waste pineapple leaves, artificial spider-silk, algae and fungi. Biosynthetic's, such as artificial spider-silk, are mixing new polymers with existing renewable sources. There are many exciting new developments in the field, and here at J A we have chosen a few to highlight that may be the Leaders of the Textile Revolution.
Spiders produce silk that have incredible properties of strength, elasticity and softness, and although natural spider silk has been used before, this is not sustainable or suitable for mass production. An artificial spider-silk has now been developed by Bolt Threads that is vegan and produced with less environmental impact than traditional textiles. Microsilk™ can also biodegrade at its end of life. In 2017 came Bolt Threads first collaboration with Stella McCartney to produce a dress for MOMA. Later, the Californian based biotech worked alongside Adidas to create a fully biodegradable tennis dress in 2019.
How is it made? - Proteins from real spider silk were studied and then recreated in a lab using genetic engineering techniques. These were incorporated into yeast organisms and then fermented, using sugar and water, to mass-produce the proteins. This is made into yarn by extruding through a nozzle, mixed with cellulose yarn and woven into cloth.
Mycelium Mycelium is a fungus that threads through soil and plant bodies, breaking down organic matter and providing nutrients to plants and trees.
Bolt Threads have developed a fabric called Mylo™ via a consortium of partners. Soft and supple, it is a sustainable alternative to leather.
How is it made? - Spores of mycelium are farmed using sawdust and organic material to create a foam-like layer that is harvested after just a few days. This layer is then processed to make a sheet of Mylo, ready to be dyed and made into shoes, handbags or wallets. A full roll-out of Mylo is due in 2021.
Mycoflex™ is a mycelium based product designed by Ecovative Design to replace plastics and urethane foams and is 100% biological and biodegradable. New York based Ecovative Design has recently acquired a bigger facility in California and is in a licensing partnership with Bolt Threads. An effective insulator, Mycoflex is used as glove liners, and in support items such as straps and footwear. They also produce agricultural products and biodegradable packaging.
How is it made? - The mycelium is grown in bio-fabrication platforms, like trays, which shape and fine tune the structure of the mycelium for texture, porosity, strength, fibre orientation and resilience, to match the characteristics required for the finished material.
Algae are probably familiar to most of us as seaweeds. They are members of a group of aquatic photosynthesising organisms.
Algalife is a new company that creates dyes and fibres derived from algae, a renewable and biodegradable source, which contains proteins and antioxidants. The Berlin/Israel start-up is due to launch a range of second-skin underwear items in 2021.
How is it made? - Algae is grown in the desert in Israel, powered by solar energy using saltwater. Three fibres with differing properties are currently in development. Organic dyes are also produced.
Fabrics from waste
In recent years, there has been a growth in interest in yarns and fabrics made from materials that have traditionally been regarded as waste. This method of fabric production keeps materials out of landfill and incineration.
Piñatex® by Ananas-Anam is a vegan leather substitute. Founded by Spanish born Dr. Carmen Hijosa, a leather goods consultant, who was asked by the Design Centre Philippines to help devise a more sustainable future connecting people, environment and economy. Made from pineapple leaves, a by-product of existing agriculture which also creates an additional income for farming communities, Piñatex is currently being used by Hugo Boss, H&M, and also in upholstery.
How is it made? - After the fruit harvest, waste leaves are collected and long fibres extracted, washed and dried to remove impurities. These fluffy fibres are mixed with a corn-based polylactic acid and processed to make Piñafelt, then finished into Piñatex.
Infinited Fiber™ from Finland, use their patented technology to turn waste cellulose sources such as used textiles, cardboard and agricultural waste into new fibres, thereby reducing the need for virgin materials. Resulting textiles are made either from 100% Infinited Fiber or blends with organic cotton. Infinited Fiber hope to gain 8% of the man-made cellulosic fibre market by 2025. Investors include RGE and H&M Group, and have allowed Infinited Fiber to push ahead with plans for a new plant, including a customer training centre, in Southern Finland.
How is it made? - Waste material is shredded, the cellulose fibres separated, and colours and chemicals removed. The organic compound urea is compressed and heated with the cellulose to form carbamate - a stable powder. This powder is then dissolved via an alkaline solution to make a liquid cellulose which is filtered and squeezed through holes to form filaments, ready for making into yarn.
Whilst Infinited Fiber recycles cellulose waste, Renewcell™ from neighbouring Sweden concentrates on using waste textiles. Their recycling technology dissolves used cotton and other natural fibres into a biodegradable raw material called Circulose® pulp. After processing this is used as virgin quality viscose or lyocell, replacing cotton or wool. Renewcell is currently in a partnership with H&M, upscaling their production to match H&M’s commitment to becoming fully circular in 2030.
How is it made? - Made from 100% recycled textiles, the material is dissolved into a pulp, then forced through nozzles to make fibres which are spun into yarns for weaving.
There are many exciting developments happening in textile design today and here at J A we plan to be a part of the innovation and bring these sustainable textiles to our customers as soon as possible. Whether it’s through our collections or just letting you know they exist and where to find them. We’ll make sure to share it all with you.