The environment is the biggest talking point in fashion right now, as designers and brands wake up to the fact that they can no longer afford to operate in an unsustainable way. An important part of that shift includes the sourcing of eco-friendly alternatives to the virgin materials they’ve been guzzling up, or the synthetic fabrics that are releasing microfibres into our water supply and damaging the ecosystem.
From Stella McCartney to H&M Group (which aims to use only recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030), a whole wave of brands are turning to start-ups using cutting-edge processes to transform industrial and agricultural waste into eco-friendly textiles.
“We’ve seen year-on-year increases in new products containing recycled polyester (+176 percent), organic cotton (+63 percent), Econyl (+111 percent), and countless others as the industry diversifies its fabric options,” says Francesca Muston, director of fashion at trend forecasting agency WGSN.
From faux leathers made from fruit and vegetable fibres to regenerated nylon made from fishing nets, industrial waste has never been so on trend. Here are seven exciting new sustainable fabrics soon to be in your wardrobe.
Burberry detachable hood Econyl trench, £790, burberry.com
Created in 2011 by Italian textile manufacturer Aquafil, Econyl was initially favoured by swim and sportswear brands like Speedo and Adidas. It is now being embraced by luxury fashion houses though, thanks to its likeness to traditional nylon in both quality and appearance. Made from discarded fishing nets and scraps of fabric destined for landfill, Econyl is made using a chemical recycling process in which plastic waste is broken down into polymers, before being turned into a nylon yarn that can be recycled over and over again without ever losing its quality. Prada released a line of nylon bags in Econyl last June and plans to substitute all its nylon products with Econyl by 2021, while Burberry launched Econyl trench coats in August, and luxury hosiery label Wolford sells fishnet tights and socks made from the material.
Silk isn’t the most damaging textile, but the chemicals used in traditional production can be a low-level pollutant if released into the environment untreated. Orange Fiber aims to provide a better alternative though. Founded by Italian fashion graduates Adriana Santanocito and Enrica Arena, the start-up manufactures the world’s first fabric made entirely from citrus waste. Made by extracting citrus cellulose from peel by-products and turning it into a silky yarn, the fabric has been used by Salvatore Ferragamo as well as in H&M’s Conscious Exclusive range.
A soft and durable leather substitute developed in the Philippines by Dr Carmen Hijosa, Piñatex is made from pineapple leaves. Fibres are extracted from leaves, which are normally discarded during the pineapple harvest, and turned into a mesh that can be manipulated to resemble leather. H&M, Hugo Boss and Paris-based vegan shoe brand Mats Rombaut have all used the material in footwear collections, while Chanel created a gold boater hat made entirely from felt and Pinatex for its Egyptian-themed 2018/19 Metiers d’Art collection.
Developed by San Francisco-based bioengineering company Bolt Threads, Mylo is another faux leather made from the mycelium cells found in mushrooms. The mycelium grows in a tray with additional nutrients until it becomes spongy and is then compressed, dyed and tanned to give it its leather-like finish. Stella McCartney has already worked with Mylo on a prototype of her Falabella bag, which was displayed at the V&A’s Fashioned from Nature exhibition.
Another creation from Bolt Threads, Microsilk is a lab-grown silk inspired by the silk produced by spiders to weave their webs. The synthetic silk is made by mimicking the proteins of spider silk, inserting the DNA into yeast, sugar and water in a fermentation process. Stella McCartney has already used the material to create a gold knit cocktail dress that she exhibited at MoMA in 2017 and is working with the company on future collections.
Zilver apple leather jacket, £790, zilver.com
Working with apple orchards in the Italian Alps, Italian company Frumat turns apple waste into a biodegradable vegan faux leather so convincing it won the Technology and Innovation Award at the 2018 Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Milan. The material has been used by Brazilian sustainable brand Zilver for biker jackets and trousers, as well as by footwear brand Po-Zu which introduced apple skin trainers last August.
Corozo nut and milk protein buttons
As well as looking for eco-friendly alternatives to fabrics, sustainably focused brands are also considering alternatives to plastic elements like buttons. Brands including Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Banana Republic and Folk are among those to have started using Corozo, a supplier of buttons made from the corozo nut native to South America, while Phoebe English used buttons made from casein - a naturally occurring protein in milk - in her Spring/Summer 2020 collection. The protein is cured and hardened in sheets, from which the buttons are cut.