Introducing New Sustainable Fabrics

Expert Advice

There has been a flurry of innovative and sustainable fabrics coming on to the market, offering fantastic new options for brands looking to use more sustainable textiles. These fabrics come from a range of sources and many have unusual origins. Lots of brands are looking to use less plastics in polyester, decrease the amount of water use in cotton production and use less chemicals in the dying and leather tanning processes. Other brands are looking for more vegan alternatives to animal fibres .

Leading the new innovations are lab-grown cultures and as well as looking at new ways of recycling produce such as agricultural waste. Trade magazine Drapers recently looked at seven developing sustainable fabrications:

  • Coconut wool - uses sustainably sourced coconut waste to produce a “tree-free”, soft rayon. Developed as an alternative to wool by the Australian company Nanollose, the first viable garment utilising the “Nullarbor” fibre was created in December 2018. The material is created in a facility where microbes ferment liquid waste products from the food industry, including coconuts, to extract cellulose fibres. These are then dried and spun into the Nullarbor yarns. The process requires very little land, water or energy in comparison with traditional rayon or cotton production and can produce a yield in as few as 10 days.

  • Pineapple leather - Pineapple “leather”, or Piñatex, has is quickly growing in popularity as a sustainable and vegan alternative to traditional leather. Produced primarily by the UK-based Ananas Anam company, the fabric is made using the fibres from pineapple leaves, which are a natural by-product of the pineapple farming industry.

  • Mycelium leather is created from the microscopic spores produced by mushrooms. Companies are able to cultivate these cells which naturally self-assemble into a sturdy, 3D mesh-like structure that can be compressed to become a viable material. This is then dyed and tanned to create a leather-like finish. The material is non-toxic and biodegradable, and can be produced within days.

  • Grape leather - waste from the wine-making industry is another area being co-opted for sustainable purposes. Grape “leather”, which was developed by the Italian company Vegea, uses waste fibres and oils from wine production to create a sustainable leather alternative. The leather is created from “grape marc” – a waste material consisting of the grape skins, seeds and stalks that remain after grapes have been pressed for wine.

  • Ocean plastic waste - Plastic pollution is an increasing focus of conversations around sustainability, and textiles that re-use plastic waste are on the rise. Examples include Seaqual, which creates recycled polyester using plastic waste salvaged from the Spanish Mediterranean coast, and Econyl, which uses waste from landfill and oceans to create a regenerated nylon.

  • Lab-grown silk. Using technology inspired by the protein in spider silk, US based company Bolt Threads has developed a vegan alternative to traditionally produced silk. The company uses bioengineering to put natural silk genes into yeast cells, which are then cultivated through fermentation using yeast, sugar and water. The liquid silk is then extracted and spun into fibres, which are then woven into fabric. The final textile, which is called Microsilk, has high tensile strength, elasticity, durability and softness.

  • Apple skin - apple leather is another innovative textile created from unwanted by-products of the apple juice industry. Companies creating the fabric primarily work with apple farms in the Italian Alps. The waste skin, pulp and pips from apple juice farms are transformed into “apple skin” a vegan and sustainable leather-like fabric that is fully biodegradable.