As the London Fashion Week unfolds, and as more designers start to move away from high impact materials, URBAG® dives into the world of textile innovations to discover new technologies and the revival of forgotten techniques.
Fashion is a complex business with long supply chains, from raw material, textile manufacturing, clothing construction, shipping, retail, use and ultimately disposal of the garment.
Innovations in textile design, upcycling techniques and raw materials sourcing will play a major role for a more sustainable future in fashion. We need to create clothes that don’t need extensive clothes aftercare, such as frequent washing and less dry-cleaning, and can be easily recycled. We need to preserve our natural habitats, and use resources carefully.
Are new fibres really more sustainable?
Engineers and designers are experimenting with different techniques to uncover the material that will provide a long-lasting solution to fashion pollution, without compromising on quality, elasticity and durability.
But are all these new yarns and fabrics really better for the environment? How are they
transformed? How much chemicals are involved?
Are these new textile biodegradable or easily recyclable? Or will they just end up clogging our landfill, or inundating our waterways?
“Regardless of what your background is, we can all agree on some really basic things—no one should die to make a T-shirt, and we shouldn’t be pouring toxins into our planet.”
— Whitney Bauck, Senior Sustainability Reporter at Fashionista.
1- Pineapple fibre
Pineapple fibres made from pineapple leaves were commonly used since the 17th century in the Philippines, until cotton took over. Lightweight and breezy, the nipis fabrics made from pineapple leaves looked very similar to lace, and were ideal in the hot tropical climate.
Fast forward to today, pineapple has finally regained its popularity, but the transformation from leaves to fabric took a different turn.
Recently developed by Dr Carmen Hijosa in London, Piñatex® is a non-biodegradable leather alternative made from cellulose fibres extracted from pineapple leaves, PLA (polylactic acid), a corn based polylactic acid, and petroleum-based resin.
Dr Carmen Hijosa created Ananas Anam, an inspiring for-profit company with a positive social impact and low environmental impact. and today's leader in transforming waste pineapple leaf fibre into an innovative natural textile.
Its cradle-to-cradle methodology, low environmental impact and high social impact make it a very popular animal-based leather substitute.
2- Coffee grounds fibre
Upcycling coffee ground from coffee vendors into cosmetics and fabric fibres has been very popular lately.
Taiwanese company, Singtex industries, is leading the way in transforming coffee ground into wearable textile-like yarn. This new fabric has excellent natural anti-door qualities, UV ray protection and quick drying time - 200 percent faster drying time compared to cotton. Source: Fashion United UK.
This makes it ideal for outdoor and sports performance, underwear and even bedding.
Coffee grounds are cleaned to extract the oils and ground down to a nano scale.
They are then mixed with nylon or polyester to create a technical yarn. In this case, the S.Café yarn is made from 5% upcycled coffee grounds and 95% recycled PET.
3- Grapes fibre
We discovered Italian Vegea in 2018 when they won the H&M Foundation Global Change Award.
They use grape skins, stalks and seeds discarded during wine production to make 100% vegetal leather, without the use of toxic solvents, heavy metals or dangerous substances in the production process. (Source: H&M Foundation )
This collaboration led to developing H&M’s women's shoes and bags collection ‘Conscious Exclusive’ at the end of March 2020.
4- Lotus fibre
Lotus fiber is a natural cellulose fiber isolated from lotus petiole, soft, light, especially breathable, with high strength properties and almost wrinkle free.
Lotus fibers are then woven into fabric, silk or transform into vegan leather.
Creating fabric from lotus fibers goes back centuries, and was widely spread in countries like Cambodia. Cambodian Samatoa Lotus Textiles are offering today 100% natural and biodegradable vegan leather and lotus woven textile.
5- Banana Fibre
Also known as SISAL or musa fibre, it is said to be one of the strongest and most sustainable fibres on our planet. And it is also biodegradable – meaning it can break down in landfills without any ill effects on the environment.
Banana fibre is made from the stem of the banana tree and is incredibly durable, which makes it a great material for creating all types of items from packaging to paper.
This is another old technology that was used as early as the 13th century in Japan, and then forgotten as cotton and silk were becoming popular.
More than a billion tonnes of banana tree stems are thrown away each year, as banana plants only fruit once in their lifetime before they die. The fibre material comes from the stalk or trunk portion called the “pseudo stem” of the banana plant. But extracting the banana fibre is a labour intensive process.
Banana paper is made from the extracted pulp fibres - banana yarn, or cloth is made by a slightly different process. The fibres are bleached and blended with jute fibre for diverse value-added fashionable textiles.
This is possibly one of the hottest new trends for textiles. Clothes made out of banana fibre pulp are incredibly soft and comfortable to wear, even compared to clothing made from cotton. They also have great moisture wicking properties. (Source : Textile Tuts). The appearance of banana fibre is similar to that of bamboo fibre and ramie fibre.
Banana fibres can easily blend with other natural fibres for enhanced performance and properties, such as with cotton.
Developed by Swiss bag brand QWSTION, in partnership with a Taiwan based yarn and weaving specialist, Bananatex is durable, and made purely from the naturally grown Abacá banana plants.
It can fully biodegrade at an industrial compost when being shredded at the end of its lifetime.
Qwstion has a website where you can shop bags made with Bananatex.
6- Agraloop™ BioFibre™
The Agraloop™ refines natural fibers derived from agricultural crops into textile-grade fiber called Agraloop™ BioFibre.
They process left-overs from various food and medicine crops including, oilseed hemp/flax, CBD hemp, banana, and pineapple.
Cellulose fiber from stems and leaves are purified into soft fiber bundles ready to spin into yarns.
They announced in December 2020 a collaboration with major brands, so we are waiting to hear more!
7- Orange Fibre
Italian Company Orange Fiber won the H&M Global Change Award in 2015.
Orange Fiber produces silk-like cellulose fabric from citrus juice by-products, create high quality fabrics for the fashion-luxury sector, and have already an impressive list of partners, such as Salvatore Ferragamo and H&M.
They are also involved in several initiatives to push the boundaries of sustainability in the food and textile supply chain, and have won countless accolades.
They claim a full supply chain traceability and transparency, but little is known about their processes and what chemicals, if any, is used,making difficult to know if their fabrics are easily recyclable or biodegradable.
Although still at an early stage of growth and development, we hope to be able to shop from brands using orange fiber soon.
8- Circulose® – the circular cellulose
The leader is textile waste recycling, Swedish based Renewcell has invented Circulose®, a pulp product mafe from 100% textile waste, such as worn-out jeans and production scraps.
Dissolving pulp cellulose is what the textile industry uses to make viscose, lyocell, modal, acetate other types of regenerated fibers (also called ‘man-made cellulosic fibers’).
The only difference with Circulose® is that it’s made from textile waste instead of wood.
You can now shop clothes made from Circulose® with Levi’s, from their Sustainable collection.
9- Hemp fibre
Along with bamboo, hemp is among the fastest growing plants on Earth. It was also one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 50,000 years ago. It can be refined into a variety of commercial items, including paper, rope, textiles, clothing, and more.
Importantly, hemp requires 80% less water than standard or conventional fibres and takes as little as 90 days to cultivate. While cotton requires approximately 10 000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton, hemp requires 300 to 500 litres, making hemp our first choice every time.
Hemp clothing is even said to have triple the tensile strength of cotton.
Clothes from from hemp are readily available nowadays with sustainable and ethical brands, ranging from Patagonia to We are Thought.
Technological change in practically all industries is accelerating, creating numerous opportunities to drive positive change.
Sustainable future for fashion will rely of the diversity of the fibres we can use to manufacture our clothes, instead of concentrating on an handful of solutions.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that it may be made of plants but it can be toxic and destructive. And not biodegradable, or poorly recyclable. The issue lies in the sustainable sourcing of raw material, the solvents and chemicals used in the transformation process, and the treatment of waste water. Unfortunately, this part of the process is currently still very obscure for the new entrants on the market.
The second issue is the clothes aftercare recommendations and the recyclability of the materials. Here again, innovations are recent and we haven't yet collected enough data to analyse the aftercare environmental impacts of these new fibres.
But the efforts to innovate and the use of by-product and waste to limit our reliance on new resources matter.
The fabrics you put on your body matter. So look for the ones you’ll feel good about wearing. Clothes made from natural fibres that will also last longer.
“A new industrial revolution powered by millions of sustainable innovations is essential…and is indeed already beginning…we will all share in the benefits…”
- Sir David Attenborough COP26