The materials that are changing the rules of the game
The fashion industry is famous for being innovative, thriving, a real avant-garde. Unfortunately it is also well known that the global fashion system is one of the main polluters in terms of exploitation of natural resources. During the last few years, following the massive changes affecting our environment, the concept of sustainability has adapted to common consciousness: from being a necessity to being considered as an opportunity. This is probably what put the spotlight on a few fashion players who distinguished themselves in the global scenario thanks to their innovative concepts, supply chains and, last but not least, materials.
Do we know what we wear? Sustainability and respect towards the environment we live in starts from basics, the yarn. The fabrics and, more in general, materials represent a point many companies decided to stress in order to raise consumers’ awareness in this era. Yes sir, organic cotton is old-fashioned and many new alternatives are being increasingly used in clothes manufacture.
For example for those of you who are lactose-intolerant and look down at milk why don’t you just… wear it? Milk fabric is one of the main still-niche products that are changing the future fashion forecast. Even though it may sound unexpected and completely innovative, the milk fabric production dates back to the 30s, when its manufacture involved heavy chemical processes. A few companies picked this idea up and changed the rules of the game turning this fabric into a 100% natural product avoiding any use of chemicals. An example is the Italian brand Duedilatte that made milk fabric its trademark. In an interview with TRT World the founder Antonella Bellina explained how the production works: milk is heated until it reaches 50°C and then citric acid is added to separate whey from casein, the protein this fabric is entirely made of. Casein is collected and turned into powder before being reprocessed and transformed into a very thin yarn. The fabric obtained from this production is completely natural and organic as no chemicals are involved. The milk fabric has furthermore special features: it is antibacterial, hypoallergenic and moisturizing. Even the colorings used to dye clothes are completely natural and obtained by the pigments of fruits and vegetables. Isn’t this enough to make you choose milk fabric? Let’s consider water consumption. In order to produce 1kg of milk fabric Duedilatte needs only 1 liter of water whereas cotton needs slightly more to obtain the same quantity.
Duedilatte is not the only company that took advantage of milk in the fashion industry. Another player is the German brand QMilk that was founded by Anke Domaske. She is a microbiologist and fashion designer who tested the milk-fabric production for many years before finding the perfect recipe. The entire process requires only wasted milk that is then turned into fashionable, soft and thermo-regulating garments.
Of course cotton represents a problem talking about sustainability because of its water footprint, one of the highest in the sector, but it is not the only bad guy in fashion. What about silk? Only a few people know the process necessary to get the soft and prestigious silk. Not many ingredients are needed: silkworms and hot water. After the small animals have produced their silky cocoon they are thrown into hot water to start the manufacture of the fabric. This means that unfortunately the life of the small silk-warms ends when the production begins. An alternative to this may be Peace Silk. With this term we mean organic silk that begins its production process right after the warms, turned into butterflies, leave the cocoon. This alternative is not widely used as the yarn appears not to be strong enough. So what needs to be done to produce sustainable vegan silk? The Italian brand Orange Fiber came up with an innovative silk made from oranges. Yes, orange silk. Starting from the parts of orange left after the industrial squeezing they collect the material and extract the cellulose from it. This process is key in order to obtain a polymer from which the yarn will be created. The fabric obtained from oranges is extremely light and soft, a great vegan alternative to the common harmful silk.
CORN, LOTUS, BAMBOO
Moving out of Europe another fashion player worth to be mentioned is the Delhi-based Indian brand Dhuri. The founder Madhurima Singh has always been particularly interested both in fashion and in the environment: this is why she decided to launch her sustainable fashion label which displays a wide choice of clothes and materials ranging from milk to corn, lotus and many more. The concept laying behind her business idea is the one of slow fashion combined with sustainable fashion production and organic 100% natural fabrics. In an interview with Down To Earth Mrs Singh shows and explains the different fabrics. The unconventional materials include those made from milk, eucalyptus (temperature-regulating fabric), corn (antibacterial, anti UV and great against bad smell and sweat), bamboo (antibacterial and light), lotus (very breathable, good for skin) and banana (very resistant with great absorption).
Talking about sustainable and ethical fashion production leather represents a real challenge nowadays as in the past. Dr Carmen Hijosa, Spain, came up with an innovative vegan natural material which is able to replace leather completely and that is being used by many brands worldwide such as Grey Whale, Svala and Hugo Boss. I am talking about the famous Piñatex. For those of you who never heard about it, Piñatex is a state-of-the-art material derived from pineapple, in particular from pineapple leaves, with interesting properties. Thanks to its lightness combined with strength it is ideal for shoe, bag and even furnishing manufacture. What’s more? It is also 100% compostable.
PLASTIC & FISHING NETS
Are you feeling upset as none of the above-mentioned brands is one of the most known worldwide? You shouldn’t be as also the biggest names in fashion are increasingly coming up with astonishing innovations. An example to this can be considered Adidas x Parley, the collaboration between the well-known sportswear brand Adidas and Parley Ocean Plastic that was launched in order to raise awareness and step forward in the field of sustainable fashion production. But what is it about? This partnership produces sportswear and shoes made from plastic and fishing nets: plastic trash and fishing nets are collected from the ocean and then sent to Parley, where they are processed in order to obtain the polyester thread necessary for the manufacture of the garments. This can be considered a great move towards a more aware and sustainable purchasing behavior, that should be influenced not by the quantity but by the quality and the added value of the product.
The statement “from threat into thread” of the Adidas x Parley collection is probably the best heading for the hard work fashion labels are doing today, in order to fight the old-fashioned pollution, exploitation and waste.