The type of materials we choose to wear are an important part of creating a more sustainable wardrobe. From mushroom root systems to coconut fibres and agricultural waste, there are many exciting developments in the future of biomaterials.
These emerging materials are often labelled as ‘Sustainably sourced’, ‘Organic’, ‘Vegan’ - but what do these terms really mean? Our Co-Founder Guusje sat down last week with Anne-Ro, Communications Director at Fashion for Good, to get a deeper understanding of the leading new innovations, and how important it is to READ THE LABEL.
Organic Cotton vs. Normal - What's the difference?
Cotton is one of the most common materials in the fashion industry. Though naturally-sourced unlike polyester, its production and manufacturing processes include many harmful chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides - not to mention the quantity of water it needs in order to grow. An emerging alternative is Organic Cotton. The term ‘organic’ deems the production process free from these chemicals, which in turn helps both the environment as well as the livelihoods of the manufacturers and farmers who work in close proximity with this material. “Less than 1% of all cotton is organic cotton, but using it is better for people and planet” said Anne-Ro.
Fashion for Good have recently partnered up with designer Reuben Selby and Infinited Fiber company, who created a new cotton-like alternative using 'Infinna' for Paris Fashion Week last year. With a feel similar to cotton and viscose, it uses recycled fabrics, paper and other cellulose-heavy materials to form a new thread - giving these materials a new life.
TIP: Look out for certifications regarding materials when choosing your products, such as the Global Organic Textile Standards Certification (GOTS).
What to look out for with Leather Alternatives
Leather raises many challenges around animal welfare and land management. Leather alternatives seem to be leading material innovations at the moment, with Stella McCartney releasing 'Mylo', her mushroom-based vegan leather alternative, earlier this year. The main issue with these alternatives is their durability, and only with more time and research will we be able to find something as strong and sturdy as normal leather.
A 'vegan' philosophy means using only animal-free alternatives. However, some 'vegan' leather alternatives may not be as perfect as we think. Brands often will use virgin plastics or ‘PVC’ as a “sustainable” vegan leather option. We know all about the waste that this can generate - especially when different plastic polymers and materials are mixed, as it prevents them from being recyclable.
Innovations include Ecovative’s ‘MycoFlex’, using mushroom root systems and agricultural waste to create a durable-enough material to wear, with growth also outside of the fashion industry. Mirum have also been working on a biomaterial using natural fibre welding technique, using coconut and cork to create a fully circular leather alternative.
TIP: When looking for sustainable options, don’t be afraid to contact the brand to ask what they mean by certain terms such as ‘vegan’ - if they have nothing to hide they will be happy to answer your questions!
How sustainable is Econyl?
We see many brands beginning to use a regenerated nylon material called 'Econyl'. It takes old waste from mainly fishing nets and fabrics, restructuring the nylon fibres into a new material. Vogue Business says that Econyl's process is half cleaner than regular/conventional nylon production, so the CO2 emissions are significantly less.
Speaking to Anne-Ro, she mentioned that it is important to note that even in this new form, nylon remains a plastic, and therefore is prone to fibre shedding. Her advice here is to use a laundry bag or a washing machine filter to catch the microplastics, and wash as little as possible.
TIP: Look out for Econyl mixed with other materials, as it is then less likely that it can be recycled again.
Check out some of these innovations at 'GROW' Exhibition at Fashion for Good Museum.
Visit both physically or virtually, and don't forget to check out the biodegradable glitter station! Book tickets here.