Bio-materials - The Future of Fashion?

Key Takeaways

  • Innovation and creativity are giving room for different disciplines to work together

  • Are biomaterial alternatives really less damaging than the originals

Image Source: WWD

Bridging the gap between science and fashion, biomaterials are set to revolutionise the textile industry with little to no environmental impact. They have countless uses, and offer new ways to traditional textile production. In an industry that has survived mainly on 10 fabrics that were developed hundreds of years ago, these new innovative solutions offer an alternative to the future of fashion.

Fabrics spun from spiders' silk, fabric dyed by bacteria, synthetic leather made from mushroom roots and even nylon processed from castor oil - the reimagining of materials brings together textile designers, biologists, material scientists and physicists. Innovation and creativity are birthing answers that would benefit the fashion industry across the board. Bio-materials draw on the biology of organically created organisms which are replicated in a lab, right down to the molecular structure.

The fashion industry produces an estimated 92 million tonnes of textile waste and 20 per cent of water waste with 10 per cent of carbon emissions worldwide. Bio-materials may be the beginning solution to reduce these numbers as it has been shown that the journey of some of these new materials, from crop to fibre is far more efficient than traditionally processed materials.

Many brands have taken a step into the ever-involving sector with H&M launching their initial Conscious Collection created from unconventional materials by collaborating with the Italian company Orange Fibre that uses citrus fruit waste to make fabrics. Whilst the North Face has been working on the development of a ski jacket made from the synthetic version of spider silk – one of the strongest and most flexible natural fibres and which will revolutionise genetically altered bacteria produced fibres.

However, the manufacturing from crop to fibre of bio-materials is far more complex than explained. Heavy chemical processing is required at times and sometimes the bio-material may have to be blended with other fibres in order for it to become a complete fabric. Such manufacturing means to an extent it falls short on actually been sustainable. This isn't just it though, the main concern is the end life of a product made from bio-materials.

Bio-materials are in-fact complicated just as much as traditionally processed fibres. It must be made clear, how much bio-materials are actually been used, where are the materials coming from and that recycling them is challenging – such honestly will enable consumers to make informed decisions on whether to buy or not. Many of the capsule collections of brands delving into the use of bio-materials seem like just another are marketing and PR ploy that do not reflect a real change in production, consumption and disposal of clothes.

Despite the exciting prospects of what could be created, things are not as simple as they seem. Even if bio-materials are not the complete answer to the industries multiple issues, it is a sign that steps and investment is being made in the right direction. A lot of work still needs to be done in mainstreaming bio-materials before they can be considered as a replacement method of production. One of the main challenges is scaling up prototype processes into industrial production which is vital for accessibility and affordability.

In the meantime, the industry must embrace a circular mindset, one that assess’ every aspect of the supply chain.

We as consumers must not simply focus on materials but look at the bigger picture. We must place quality over quantity, increased traceability to know and understand more about the clothes were actually wear and the environmental impact they have. We cannot just call on brands in the industry to change and look for alternatives when we must first change our wants and how we buy.

For an industry that is so big, there is not going to be one answer – bio-materials may very likely be the future, but do note that the best loved fabrics of fashion like silk, cotton are wool are actually bio-based too. However, the process of obtaining them, is not always sustainable which calls for brands to look at every detail of each stage of a product’s life cycle from raw material to manufacturing, transport and disposal. These new ideas however, are promising coupled with detailed analysis and clear understanding it can move the industry into a more responsible and sustainable future.


I encourage you to read the following articles on how designers are changing the face of fabrics in fashion at:

Author: Mayward Martindale

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