Innovative sustainable fabrics for the future
Every day, manufacturers and scientists are experimenting with new methods of creating new materials to find the ultimate innovative sustainable fabrics and apparel.
In the past few years, they have come up with all sorts of different methods of making sustainable alternatives to leather and other fabrics. They have tried using many fascinating items, from octopus and mushrooms to different fruit fibres and everything in between.
Of course, not all of these are affordable to create, and yet others aren’t sustainable in the long-term. So let’s look at some of the most sustainable fashion fabrics that have passed the test because their manufacture is technologically sound and they are eco friendly.
These fabrics are already gracing the runways in various Fashion Weeks around the world, used by savvy fashion designers whose aim is to save the planet.
Fashion designer Stella McCartney’s take on sustainable materials
One fashion designer who is at the frontline of sustainability is UK stalwart, Stella McCartney, known for her label’s use of eco-friendly practices. She refuses to use any materials that would harm animals, like leather, feathers, fur or skins in any of her designs.
This brand is well known in the industry as it uses organic cotton, which is a natural fabric. When it comes to synthetics, McCartney uses a fabric made out of recycled bottles, called Econyl. She also uses sustainable faux fur textiles.
Currently, she is exploring new ways to recreate silk. She has used one type of silk called Peace Silk. It's a combination of traditional silk and silk that she has made from silkworms. These worms turn into moths and emerge naturally from their cocoons.
Fabric makers only collect the silk once the moths have flown away. Unfortunately, this silk is not strong enough and the brand has found it difficult to find enough silk produced this way to create garments from.
Silk: more innovative fabrics from Stella McCartney
The luxury brand has joined forces with innovative biotechnology company Bolt Threads in California. Together they are changing the future of silk fabric industries. They are doing this by researching spiders.
They have used the spiders to made a vegan silk that is strong, long-wearing and soft, called Microsilk. The method they use to produce this silk is not harmful to the environment. They make the fabric out of yeast, sugar and spider DNA.
Why sustainable fabrics are becoming a necessity
Like Stella McCartney, there are many designers who are working together with innovative manufacturers towards more sustainable fabric production.
Globally, companies are experimenting with sustainable textile products and production methods that can reduce their business’ carbon footprint.
We manufacture sustainable cloth products in a way that reduces the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We produce these materials using methods that require no chemical treatment, or very little. They also require little or no water, less energy and no fertilisers or pesticides to grow.
To read more about our eco-friendly fabric, take a look at the guide we’ve compiled on Sustainability and fabrics UK businesses choose for their products. It reports custom research on the subject and gives insights trend reports and so on.
Popular green fashion fabric choices
Every day people create new and more unusual innovative fabrics to make the fashion industry more sustainable. We all know the common denominators that everybody is using – organic cotton, linen, hemp and recycled polyester.
All of these textiles have their place, but there are others that are extremely new and exciting that have taken the industry by storm.
Factories make a number of these textiles out of what we term ‘a waste product’, a by-product of a particular industry.
By creating fabrics out of these items, we are reducing waste as well as making them with more gentle manufacturing methods that don’t harm the environment. Perhaps manufacturing them requires less water, or chemicals than traditional fabrics, or releases less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Factories manufacture some s from recycled materials or other recycled products, while scientists in laboratories are making synthetic materials, too. No matter how we make them, they are definitely more sustainable than synthetic fabrics.
People have made a number of different fabrics to simulate leather. This particular fabric, made out of fiber from the pineapple leaf, is one of the most popular and is incredibly similar to leather fabric.
Pineapple leaves aren’t really useful; people think of them as agricultural waste products. However, because of new fabric technology, we are finally putting them to good use! Now, when workers harvest pineapples, those about to manufacture Piñatex are collecting the leaves and extracting their long fibres using special machines.
They then wash, dry and purify the leaves to eliminate any impurities. Before people started using these approximately 40,000 tons of leaves a year to make fabric, they left them to rot or burned them.
A fluffy fibre remains. Workers mix it with a corn-based polylactic acid. This transforms the fibre into a non-woven mesh we called Piñafelt. They dye this using GOTS-certified pigments and coat it with a special resin they create from polyurethane. This makes the fabric even more hard wearing and also makes it waterproof.
The process of making Piñatex
The entire process of making Piñatex is sustainable. It doesn’t require water or fertiliser to produce, or more land. And the 100% vegan leather-like material created is sustainable, strong, breathable, flexible and soft. It’s easy for people to print on it, sew and cut it. They use it to make a number of different fashion products.
Brands currently using Piñatex include Hugo Boss, a fashion brand that’s been around for almost a century but is extremely fashion-forward. The may their limited edition 100% vegan trainers using Piñatex. Fashion houses Zara and H&M are just two of the 800+ global brands using this fabric.
Mylo – mushroom leather
Fashion designer Stella McCartney premiered mushroom leather as one of her sustainable textile innovations in fabrics and apparel for her Spring/Summer 2022 collection in October 2021. She showcased a handbag made from Mylo mushroom leather, which was available this year. They styled the handbag on McCartney’s iconic Falabella handbag, one of her classic signature designs.
The same company that is now creating synthetic silk for McCartney – Bolt Threads – came up with Mylo. This material, also called mushroom leather, is a vegan alternative that people made as one of the sustainable materials that have minimal impact on the environment.
Manufacturers make it out of mycelium, threads taken from mushrooms’ root structure. They grow these mycelium cells on beds of organic substances in a farming facility powered by renewable energy.
The cells transform into an inter-connected 3-dimensional network. They then process, tan and dye this material so that it becomes a soft, supple, hard-wearing material similar to leather.
The first garments made out of mushroom leather were a pair of trousers and a bustier top for Stella McCartney. Other brands using this fabric include activewear brands Adidas and Lululemon.
This particular fabric isn’t new – people have used it since the 13th century. They create it from the stems and stalks of bananas, by-products that we have little use for and normally throw away as waste.
People use various methods to create fabric from these fibres – in fact, they also use fruit fibre such as mango and orange fibre to create fabric. Usually, they strip down the stems and stalks until they can see strands. They subsequently dry them and knot them together by twisting them, to create strong natural strands that are similar to natural bamboo.
We use banana fibre to make various different material of various weights and thickness. Over the centuries they have made ropes, mats and even hand-crafted paper out of banana fibre. Currently, they use the fibre to make vegan wallets, handbags and beads as well as paper.
It’s not that easy to make fabric from the banana fibres – one has to boil them in an alkaline solution to soften and separate them. Then one creates long threads by joining those threads which one spins while wet to ensure they don’t break. Then one can dye or weave them.
Stinging nettle fibre
The stinging nettle is a very easy plant to grow and needs less water and pesticides than cotton, making it more sustainable. We create the plant-based fabric from stinging nettle once we have removed the sting from its stalks. We harvest and dry these during the summer.
We then break the stalks into woody sections and cut them to remove the leaves. We separate the pieces and remove the strands, then we spin them. We then twist them so that they become durable.
Incidentally, people have utilised these fibers since the Bronze Age, but became this type of fibre became less popular once we discovered cotton. We have used this fibre to make ropes and fishing nets, and sometimes we mix it with cotton or wool to create clothing. We make some materials entirely out of nettle fibers; in fact, American clothing brand Pangaea has made an entire denim range out of nettle fabric.
We make sustainability a priority
We work daily to make our work more sustainable. It's our responsibility as entrepreneurs, as designers, as humans.
More than 10,300 small and medium businesses have worked with us at maake to introduce sustainable digital material printing into their brand. Many have become more visible as a result and have seen an increase in growth in their respective industries.
Read about our take on sustainable materials innovation on our website right away and find out how you can make a difference by using maake’s materials and saving on fabric waste. In fact, we have a fabulous waste production iniative called maakeLess fabric waste – check out all the details online.
While traditional textile printing uses vast amounts of water, energy and waste, we work daily to counteract the status quo and minimise our environmental impact during production. Our production processes use 95% less energy than traditional material printing. Our policy is to use only 100% renewable energy sources. We are proud to say we that we produce everything sustainably and we use virtually no water in our print processes.
maake less waste
Also part of our policy: we believe in safe materials. We ethically source all our fabrics and buy them from UK trusted mills wherever possible, where production is eco-friendly, helping the local economy and reducing our carbon footprint. Also, we work with mills that REACH has accredited. Many have also been accredited by SEDEX. Find out all about textile certifications here.
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