This week we’re going to focus on fibers. Innovative, proprietary fibers, to be specific.
We know fiber production causes a huge environmental and social strain on the fashion industry. We’re heard of the vast amounts of water needed to produce one cotton t-shirt, or the microplastics seeping into our oceans as synthetic fibers break down.
That’s why scientists and entrepreneurs are racing to design novel fibers - ones that are miraculously grown in a lab, recycled from plastic waste, or created from exotic plant fibers, such as pineapple and cactus. Innovative fibers are in hot demand from brands and designers looking for alternative products that reduce their ecological footprint. So what are the 9 most innovative fibers on the market today?
Lyocell is an ecological fiber that is made from wood pulp using an innovative spinning process. TENCEL™ is a company that porduces a type of lyocell. There are many types of lyocell in the world, but Tencel is said to be one of the most innovative types and is certainly one of the more revered companies in the fiber production scene.
So how does it work exactly? Well natural raw wood is harvested, turned into pulp, dissolved with a chemical solvent and forced through an extruder to create the fibers. This is an environmentally sustainable process from start to finish.
- Fibers are ultra soft.
- Tencel has good moisture absorption qualities (they’re 70% more absorbent than cotton).
- Since they’re more breathable and naturally anti-bacterial, making them the perfect fabric for sleep.
- The process is energy intensive.
Viscose, rayon and modal are produced from specially processed wood pulp and have a similar feeling to silk and cotton. Lenzing's EcoVero is made using sustainable wood from controlled sources.
- Made from sustainable wood.
- More than 60% of the trees used to produce EcoVero fibers come from Austria and Bavaria to ensure lower emissions.
- 50% less emissions and takes up half as much energy and water than conventional viscose.
- Pulp bleaching is 100% chlorine-free.
- Viscose is still a semi-synthetic, chemical fiber, which negatively impacts the earth. A lot of highly toxic chemicals are used during the production of these textiles, which has led to a number of worker poisonings.
Each year, thousands of gallons of milk are wasted - sometimes because the milk is spoiled, other times because it’s fast approaching its used-by date. Milk fabric was created to improve this problem. Incredible that someone thought to transform old milk into soft, high-quality fashion textiles (and managed to do it!).
- Produced with old, spoiled or milk that wasn’t sold, which contributes to the waste problem.
- QMILK fibers are 100% natural, soft and smooth as silk and it can be dyed easily.
- QMILK is the only natural fiber which has thermo-bonding properties. Thus, other natural fibers can also be combined without conventional plastics or phenolic resins.
- Light-weight constructions remain 100% and can be composted.
- Qmilch aims to be responsible with water consumption in comparison with other materials. They limit water usage to no more than two litres per five minutes of processing, while also maintaining a zero-waste policy. The fact that the material is produced at low temperatures also conserves vital energy in addition to water.
- The dairy industry faces a lot of criticism surrounding animal welfare, and even though QMilk is only made with wasted milk, it isn’t vegan.
- There is still not significant demand from designers and customers, and it is expensive to make.
The creators of Biocouture wanted to make living organisms like bacteria that produce fibers, instead of cultivating textiles the conventional way.
They started growing materials, at first in a garage and later in a bathroom. Ten years down the track, Biocouture was born. Based in London, the company works with scientists to bring living, bio-based materials to fashion.
- The textile is biodegradable.
- The product is still the development phase - one to watch!
Muskin is very similar to leather and it is handled the same way, but it has the advantage that the process is free of toxic chemicals and the material is completely natural.
Muskin is extracted from the upper part of the mushroom, which is specifically cultivated for this. It is processed in a similar way to animal leather but without chemicals. According to the company, the absence of chemicals makes the material non-toxic, which is ideal for the manufacturing parts that come into direct contact with the skin. It is also easy to produce mushrooms sustainably and requires much less water and energy than animal leather, not to mention questions surrounding animal welfare.
- 100% natural and free of toxic chemicals.
- Sustainable, biodegradable, and eco-friendly.
- Unique, irregular texture that resembles animal leather.
- Not widely produced and tet to be tested for true longevity.
- Limited colors.
AlgiKnit is a biomaterials research company that has created a biodegradable fiber from kelp, seaweed or algae via the readily abundant biopolymer ‘alginate’.
From kelp, AlgiKnit extracts alginate and combines it with other renewable biopolymers to produce the fiber. It is strong and stretchy enough to be knitted by hand or by machine to be used in textile manufacturing. Another benefit is that it absorbs natural pigments, which makes it easy to dye in a more environmentally-friendly fashion.
Cactus material, also called “nopal” leather, is a vegan material made from the cactus plant. It has a soft texture and complies with some of the most strict quality and environmental standards.
Desserto is the first company to produce cactus leather.
- One of the most important characteristics of cactus leather is its breathability. The skin of the cactus plant is very porous; so by nature, it is more breathable than other varieties of leather.
- Cactus leather is very soft compared to most animal leathers.
- Desserto cactus leather is up to 50 percent biodegradable and organic, according to the company’s co-founder, Adrian Lopex Velarde.
- Not 100% biodegradable.
Filipino pineapple farmers pick up pineapple leaves and put them through a decortication process to remove the fibers. Leftovers aren’t wasted - they’re put to good use as fertilizers or biofuel. The fibers are transformed into a non-woven mesh and sent to a company in Spain for finishing. There they are given a “special finish” to give the product a natural leather appearance.
- Made from waste organic matter from pineapple harvesting, reducing consumption.
- Unique texture that can be designed in any color.
- Becoming more accessible, used by brands such as Puma and Hugo Boss.
- Currently requires a polyurethane treatment.
- Yet to be tested for true longevity.
- Cannot be produced with a completely smooth texture.
Created by the textile company Singtex in Taiwan, S.Café is a fiber made from coffee grounds which offers natural anti-odor qualities, dries fast and protects from UV rays. Their proprietary technology combines a custom polymer along with the processed coffee grounds. This is processed into batches before eventually being spun into yarn.
The coffee grounds used to create the fabric are recycled from a lot of different coffee vendors, such as Starbucks. Not only do designers benefit from using a natural, innovative fiber - they are also harnessing a circular system of coffee ground waste.
- Controls smells.
- Made from recycled wasted coffee grounds.