For quite some time the sustainable fashion community has understood the importance of reducing cotton products and recreating fabrics in a new way. For hundreds of years, the cotton industry has become a lifeline for most nations worldwide. Like any major industry, it has produced positive and negative growth. Unfortunately, it has degraded our cultures and environments in certain areas of the world. For centuries, the cotton industry has been used as a tool to build countries, as well as destroy them. Current evidence of this destruction can be found in Uzbekistan, near the disappearing Aral Sea. Uzbekistan is one of the largest producers of cotton in the world. It has been speculated, over a million people are forced into the industry. Eventually, the crop will make its way into the manufacturers of the fast fashion industry, ending up on the racks of your local shopping mall. The good news is that there are innovators, collaborators, and sustainable fashion inventors creating new materials that make it possible for creatives to design incredible things.
Elpis Design Studio
A Thailand based sustainable fashion house,Elpis Design Studio, creates their own version of vegan leather, which is actually made from leaves. Their focus is creating products from biodegradable material. Not only are their products good for the environment, but healthy for you as well. Their core values hinge on facilitating “less is more” consumerism, reducing the negative impacts of the fast-paced fashion industry. Elpis Studio’s creations are simple, elegant, and ethical. And I might add, they have some of the cutest new clutch and handbag designs I’ve seen for quite some time.
Bionic Yarn, a sustainable start-up turning ocean plastic into fabric, creates some incredible high profile fashion apparel. In recent years, we’ve learned that the amount of plastic in the ocean is seemingly insurmountable. Yet, it’s start-ups just like Bionic Yarn, that give us hope. Almost all plastic is reusable, but rarely is. In the past few years, Bionic Yarn, led by musician Pharrell Williams, has repurposed over 7 million plastic bottles from the ocean. The raw material company has created fabric for all kinds of products, from sail boat covers to back packs. Next time you’re in the market for a windbreaker, check them out!
Focused on changing how the world works through design, Suzanne Lee is the Chief Creative Officer of Modern Meadow, a biotech start-up based in New York. Modern Meadow is pioneering animal free animal materials by combining design, engineering and biology.
They biofabricate leather materials by synthesizing collagen, the protein found in skin, and tanning the material like traditional leather.
A self-defined “bio-dressmaker”, Lee has not only grown apparel from bacteria, she has also created her own kombucha-based fabric for her unique designs. She coined the term Biocouture, after experimenting with microbial cellulose to invent new materials for fashion designers. While some of the material does look a little too much like human skin to wear comfortably at a dinner party, the idea of growing your own fabric is fascinating.
Neri Oxmansustaina, a designer and professor at MIT’s Media Lab, has suggested a new type of clothing we should all keep in mind. Oxman’s focus is on the future of interplanetary travel, and designing a biomorphic spacesuit. In Neri’s Wanderer’s project, she collaborates with 3D printers, computational designers, and Mediated Matter design students. While spacesuits may seem far off from our everyday loungewear, space tourism is not that far ahead. Which brings me to a very everyday question–what on Earth would we wear? Imagine dealing with no oxygen, light, or gravity. To travel in space, we may need to wear biosynthetic clothing, which intersects biological material and technological innovations.
Hemp, along with lyocell, bamboo, and flax, are all more sustainable alternatives to cotton. The fashion industry has known of these alternative materials for years. Yet we just cannot get enough of our cotton addiction. However, a lesser known plant, Stinging Nettle, is possibly the MOST sustainable around. Stinging Nettle produces a soft fibre, which is naturally fire resistant. Camira Fabrics has produced several interesting textiles featuring the fibre. As more sustainable fashion brands catch on to the idea, I’m curious to see what will grow out of these alternative fibres we already have.
In the last 10 years, we’ve seen an influx of fabric alternatives being researched and explored. Lauren Bowker, the fabric scientists behind The Unseen Emporium, has created color changing garments responsive to wind and heat. Emel + Aris has brought heat to our jackets for the coldest climates. Neemic has given us the ability to download our own outfits. Aside from the rapidly growing 3D printed space, there are many natural materials also being developed. Ecology may truly be at the heart of fashion innovation. The fusion of biology and technology has done incredible things for fashion, yet I’m convinced, the best is yet to come.