Introducing the 14 Fabrics of the Future
Updated: Jan 26
While in July I wrote a post about the less sustainable fabrics for us, the environment, and animals, today I want to share an interesting article on the fabrics of the future that I have been researching on.
It is not the first time I share that I don’t believe in organic cotton as a sustainable fabric. Of course, it is better than other fabrics, but at production levels, it is still the same thing. I’m a firm supporter of recycling and upcycling, and the thing I love the most is when companies are committed enough to sustainability to take these steps and improve their level of positive impact.
In the following text, you'll find information on the fabrics and textiles that have caught my attention. Hope you enjoy it!
Bionic Yarn, obtained from recycled plastic.
One of the most innovative materials is Bionic Yarn, an ecological and resistant thread derived from recycled plastic, created by two young New Yorkers. The plastic they use is recovered from marine and coastal environments, addressing sea pollution.
The used bottles are collected, melted together, and divided into fibers before being spun. The yarn is obtained through the union of recycled plastic together with synthetic or natural textile fibers. The fabric made with these fibers was launched in 2009 and has also been used by major fashion brands.
Orange Fiber, made from orange waste
This innovative project was conceived in 2014 by two girls of Sicilian origin, Milanese university students, who developed the idea of the orange fabric in collaboration with the Polytechnic of Milan, where they also filed the Orange Fiber patent. The fabric, made from what is called in jargon "orange paste", is very similar to cellulose acetate.
In the production process, cellulose is extracted from what remains of the oranges used to produce juices and is transformed into thread for clothes and accessories. It also has beneficial effects on the skin because microcapsules with citrus essential oils and vitamin C have been inserted into the fibers.
Soybean Protein Fiber
Soybean Protein Fiber is a textile fiber made from soy. The liquid extracted from the post-oiling soybean is first subjected to polymerization operations that modify its compositional structure and is then cooked to produce the wet yarn.
The material thus obtained is cut and thermoformed. The auxiliary polymerization substances of the base material are natural and the resulting scraps are used as feed, therefore it is 100% ecological and eco-sustainable. The fabric obtained has the luster of silk, dyes well, and is very soft and shiny; it is perfect for functional underwear and swimwear.
Ingeo, Corn Fiber
Corn Fiber is an ecological fiber obtained from corn sugar, created by Cargill, the food giant, as a project for alternative usage of its food waste. Thanks to a particular manufacturing process, polylactic acid, a polymer that produces fabrics resistant to humidity and heat, is obtained from corn. INGEO also has high transparency qualities with the only drawback being that the fabric is slightly rigid.
In addition, the processing residues are used to transform into fertilizers, therefore the fabric derived from corn is also 100% green. Thanks to its particular breathability it is also applied in the construction field. In clothing, it is used to stuff mattresses, cushions, and sofas.
Pellemela or Apple Eco-leather
After discovering that the leftovers of this vegetable can completely purify contaminated water, Alberto Volcan created after deeper research, first, the paper bag, and then a material able to perfectly replace the skin and the leather used in the production of fashion and furnishing items.
This is the "Pellemela" or Apple Eco-leather containing 76 percent of apple flour obtained from the powder of dried skins and cores mixed with water and natural glue having been compacted inside a typical machine for pulling pasta. Starting from this material, the “Pellemela Shopper” was born, a natural, resistant, and completely biodegradable bag.
The use of this vegetable leather obtained from the recovery of organic waste is an excellent solution to reduce the polluting emissions produced by incinerators during the waste disposal process. Moreover, it also represents a valid alternative to real skin by remedying ethical issues related to the killing and mistreatment of animals.
Muskin from mushrooms
We have talked about the ecological skin made from the scraps of oranges. In line with this we have Muskin, coming entirely from the hat of the Phellinus ellipsoideus, a species of inedible giant mushroom originating in the subtropical forests that draws nourishment from the trunk of the trees causing it a sort of white rot.
Muskin is 100 percent mushroom, unlike the fabrics obtained from mushrooms and then combined with other textile materials. Thanks to its natural composition, Muskin is an ideal resource for the production of shoes, hats, bags, inserts in clothing but also in furnishing products. Its touch is similar to suede with a consistency that varies from soft to stiff typical of cork.
This vegetable skin also acts as a thermal insulator that absorbs moisture and releases it quickly, limiting the proliferation of bacteria. It is breathable, water-repellent, and non-toxic. In essence, it can be safely applied in all those products that are used in direct contact with the epidermis because it does not cause any type of allergic reaction.
Atlantic leather from fish skin
A non-synthetic and sustainable leather created from a food by-product: fish skin. The idea came from an Icelandic startup called Atlantic Leather, which came to Rome to show her "exotic, luxury and eco-friendly" leathers at Maker Faire. To create the product they use waste that would otherwise end up in the garbage.
To color the hides, the hot water from geothermal sources is used, which is not lacking in Iceland, while the energy comes from a hydroelectric plant. To create the hides, the skin of various fish is used, each with its own characteristics: salmon skin, for example, is resistant and takes color well; perch skin is thick and rough, while cod skin is thin and flexible.
Desserto from cactus leaves
Cactus leather (or nopa leather) is made from the leaves of the Opuntia cactus plant. It has a lovely soft texture and can be used for purses, shoes, and even clothing. Two Mexican entrepreneurs came up with the idea for Desserto, which is the name of the leather.
On their ranch in Zacatecas, they harvest every 6 to 8 months to best leaves, which are dried for 3 days under the sun. Not only is this leather cruelty-free, but the process also uses less natural resources as no irrigation is needed. In fact, Opuntia cacti only need 200 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of product, whilst corn, for example, needs at least 1,000 liters.
Econyl from nylon waste
ECONYL is a transformation of nylon waste from landfills and oceans around the world. It is identical to brand new nylon and can be recycled endlessly. It is part of what we call a closed-loop regeneration process as it is made from waste, is infinitely recyclable, and unleashes infinite possibilities for creators and consumers.
As an illustration, for every 10,000 tons of ECONYL material made, it spares 57,100 tons of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere and 70,000 barrels of crude oil from being used. The fabric is commonly used for carpeting and apparel, especially in swimwear and activewear.
QMONOS synthetic spider silk
QMONOS has been created by the Japanese biotechnology company Spiber Inc, and this adaptable product is obtained through complex microbial fermentation. The vegan material can be used instead of petroleum-based fabrics like polyester and nylon, used frequently in the sportswear fashion industry with their known high environmental impact. Spider silk is known to be 340 times tougher than steel.
The brand has already partnered with the Japanese ski clothing label Goldwin to make a ski jacket with its product named the Moon Parka. It was nominated for the Beazley Designs of the Year Award, presented by the Design Museum in London.
MYLO fabric from mushrooms
Created by US-based biotechnology firm Bolth Threads, Mylo Faber is leather grown from mycelium, the root structure of a mushroom. Mylo looks and feels like hand-crafted leather, and because Bolt Threads can control the environment and process through which Mylo is grown, the company says it is able to manipulate the leather’s properties, such as durability, strength, and suppleness, making each product truly one-of-a-kind.
Mycelium is the branching underground structure of mushrooms and grows as tiny threads forming vast networks under the forest floor. These cells were developed into Mylo thread by engineering it into a supple yet durable material that can replace real and synthetic leather. As Mylo can be produced in days versus years, environmental impact is minimal.
In April 2018, Bolt Threads collaborated with designer Stella McCartney to create a prototype of her iconic Falabella bag, made with MyloTM. The bag premiered at the Fashioned from Nature exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Cebolla Veneer from onion skins
Using onion to create textile was an idea of Renuka Ramanujam, who graduated only in 2016 from the Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. She wanted to use this project to try and segway using our own waste/ compost into a disposable and biodegradable material and/or object.
From supermarket crates and household cooking waste, she collected red and white onion skins, they were boiled, bonded with a bio-based adhesive, and compressed. The water waste was separated and used both to dye textiles, and further vegetable waste such as leek heads, spring onion bulbs, and pepper stalks was added in order to create homemade vegetable stock.
Just through this process, there is a substantial reduction in the need for purchasing and using unnecessary forms of packaging. Appropriate usage so far (without backing) is packaging, but the qualities of the material are still being studied.
Tencel from wood cellulose
Commercialized as TENCEL fibers by the Austrian company Lenzing, it is through the closed-loop REFIBRA process which involves upcycling cotton scraps in addition to wood pulp, that the new virgin Tencel Lyocell fibers are obtained which are certified as compostable and biodegradable, and thus can fully revert back to nature.
These fibers are used to make fabrics and garments. These fibers thus originate from the renewable raw material wood, created by photosynthesis. Brands like The North Face, Wolford, Ted Baker, and Rituals are amongst their customers.
Biogarmentry from algae
Canadian-Iranian designer Roya Aghighi wants you to imagine that your shirt is alive. And she does so by inventing the living, biodegradable fabric named Biogarmentry with a group of scientists at the University of British Columbia (UBC). As it is made from algae, the bio fabricated textile photosynthesizes, purifying the air around the garment.
They have fashioned the material into a sheer, cloak-like garment. It is still early days, but if further developed, this fabric when stretched out in the sunlight and sprayed with water, would come to life through its single-cell Chlamydomonas reinhardtii algae.
Another designer using algae for fashion is Charlotte McCurdy, from Rhode Island School of Design. McCurdy, in her aim for carbon-negative fashion, has used algae to create a carbon-negative raincoat made from a plastic-like material made of marine algae and other biodegradable components. But Algal biotechnology goes beyond fashion. It's seen as an alternative for polyurethane plastics (common plastic) as well as in fabrics.
In short, textile innovation continues to surprise us. Sustainable fabrics represent the future of worldwide fashion, and it is for this reason that we should know them, promote them and reclaim them to brands. By doing that, we will be able to encourage other individuals to move together towards a more sustainable world.
Through my recently written book, From Trash To Runway, I really try to encourage people to embrace upcycling and change their wardrobe: in fact in one part of the book I focus on selecting unused items from the wardrobe and transforming them into new ones. . This happens through a process of creation, which is carefully explored, and where, for example, the differences between elastic and non-elastic fabrics and the different fabrics that make up a garment are superficially explained.
Do you know any other fabric that is worth to be mentioned? Do not hesitate to write it in the comments! :)