THE RISE OF SUSTAINABLE TEXTILES

As brands hunt for sustainable textiles to use in their collections, there has been a movement in innovative fibres and fabrics – Judith Willis unearths these nontraditional materials, some of which come from unexpected sources.

MILK

Qmilch is an eco-friendly textile made from milk. The designer of the fabric, Anke Domaske, was a student studying microbiology but now runs fashion label Mademoiselle Chi Chi, which has started weaving the milk fibre into its collections. Domaske’s inspiration for creating Qmilch came whilst her father was undergoing cancer treatment and as a side effect began to struggle with skin problems and sensitivity to fabrics.

The idea of creating textiles from milk has been around since the 1930s, but previous attempts have all employed harmful chemicals. Qmilch, on the other hand, has a more ecologically friendly process. Made from organic milk that has gone sour and cannot be sold, itis heated, combined with ingredients such as beeswax, and spun into thread. Domaske says that Qmilch “feels just like silk,” and is odourless and biodegradable. It also contains a protein that retains antibacterial and anti-aging amino acids, and helps to regulate both body temperature and blood circulation. Following a wash, the fabric dries twice as fast as cotton – a textile which takes ten thousand litres of water to produce two pounds of fabric, in contrast to Qmilch which requires only half a gallon.

Domaske is planning on designing a whole collection made entirely from Qmilch.

MUSHROOMS, PINEAPPLES AND GRAPES

Mycelium “leather” is created from the microscopic spores produced by mushrooms. Once the cells are cultivated, they naturally 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 a matter of days. Not surprisingly, Mycelium “leather” is rapidly becoming a popular vegan alternative to animal fibres.

Pineapple ‘leather’, or Piñatex, came about when leather expert Carmen Hijosa went to visit the Philippines to consult with leather industry there.

Hijosa observed that the quality of the leather was poor, and producing it was harmful to both the local environment and the community. But during her visit, she observed something else: the volume of wasted pineapple leaves left over from pineapple farming. The leaves, Carmen learnt, have “good strength and flexibility” that made it possible to turn them into a plant-based leather alternative.

Fine cellulose strands are extracted from the pineapple leaves, separated and felted together into a nonwoven fabric. It takes around four hundred and eighty leaves to create a single square metre of Piñatex, which weighs and costs less than a comparable amount of leather. Although Piñatexincludes a nonbiodegradable protective coat for durability, the company is working towards creating a natural alternative that will make the fabric fully biodegradable.

Grape “leather” was developed by the Italian company Vegea after its founder Gianpiero Tessitore began to research“the physical and mechanical properties of various plant fibres, and their ability to be transformed into eco-friendly materials.” His exploration led him to discover that thewaste fibres and oils from wine production were ideal for creating a sustainable leather alternative. There are twenty-six billion litres of wine produced annually and rather than letting all the grape skins, stalks, and seeds go to waste, Vegea is using it to make a fashion forward product.

OCEAN PLASTIC WASTE

Plastic is the most common element of pollution found in the ocean and it is threatening marine life to an unprecedented level. However, textiles that re-use plastic waste are on the rise.

One company that is making great changes is Seaqual, which creates recycled polyester using plastic waste salvaged from the Spanish Mediterranean coast. Working together with fishermen in the collection of all sorts of plastic polluting the ocean, Seaqual then sort through the plastics, locating those that have polyethylene terephthalate or PET materials. The PET is then converted into flakes and eventually into polymers which are spun into threads that go straight into fabrics and clothing.

Another business working to reclaim marine debris to make fabric is Econyl, which uses waste from landfill and oceans to create a regenerated nylon. Their method requires very little water and leaves less waste than traditional nylon production methods. The waste debris is collected, purified then broken down before it goes through the process of depolymerisation to extract the nylon. In turn the nylon is then polymerised and converted into yarn which is then recommercialised into textile products.

Who would have thought that one day we would be creating textiles
from fruit, fungus and plastic waste? These products come at a cost but fortunately not with an expiry date.

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