This post was written by Summer Edwards and originally appeared on Tortoise and Lady Grey, a well-researched blog and resource for those seeking sustainable fashion and in depth information on the industry.
The following post is another in my series about sustainable textiles, this time looking at some of the textiles that we see emerging and coming to new prominence. For a better understanding of sustainable textiles more broadly, see my Guide to Sustainable Textiles.
There has been a large amount of research into sustainability in textiles, and new technology and methods have seen the development of a range of new fibres and blends. One of these is Pinatex, which was outlined in my post on vegan leather alternatives. But there are many more that are emerging. Some offer huge advances in sustainability, whilst others may not be as sustainable as they are made out to be. This post will briefly explore some of these textiles.
Qmilk is a textile fibre that is derived from casein, the protein from milk. The process utilises the waste from raw milk product. Milk production for human consumption results in certain qualities of milk that are deemed unfit for human consumption, and producers are required by law to dispose of this. Qmilk makes use of this waste milk to create a textile product that is antibacterial and hyoallergenic.
The process does not involve the use of any chemicals and is an excellent option for people who have chemical sensitivities to most conventional garments. It is natural and biodegradable. It also uses minimal energy to produce, which lowers the carbon input of textile production. But drawing upon waste milk production, it is unlikely that this product can ever be more than a niche offering. Better advances in sustainability will come from reducing our consumption and production of milk, and implementing measures to reduce the amount of ‘waste’ milk that arises in conventional dairy farming. Still, for now this product does have good sustainability credentials and will be useful for the increasing number of consumers that have chemical sensitivities.
Kombucha leather is made from the kombucha SCOBY- a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast- that is grown to produce the fermented drink kombucha. In recent years textile makers have experimented with drying the SCOBY- which has leather-like qualities when dried- to make garments and footwear. This is another natural and biodegradable textile. Kombucha requires the input of sugar and some water to feed and grow the SCOBY, but otherwise requires no energy or other major resources to produce. This may be a useful alternative to conventional leather. However, alternatives that make use of waste product- such as Pinatex- may be more sustainable option for widespread use in the fashion industry.
SeaCell™ is an emerging fibre that is produced from seaweed. The textile is produced using the lyocell process- a closed loop process for turning cellulose fibers into a soft biodegradable textile. Seaweed is a renewable resource, and SeaCell™ sustainably harvest the seaweed from the Icelandic coast. Strict measures are in place to ensure that the natural seaweed crop can completely regenerate and rest before it is harvested again, and harvesting will only take place at 4 year intervals in each location.As a niche product SeaCell™ is a sustainable option. But harvesting wild stocks of seaweed may not be a sustainable option for higher rates of demand. For this reason, some companies are exploring seaweed farming as an alternative to cotton and other textile crops. At- sea is a EU-based research pilot that is exploring commercial options for seaweed cultivation. Seaweed for textiles is one sustainable option to keep your eye on.
These trademarked textiles are new blends that have been developed by Australian sustainable athletic wear company Kusaga Athletic. These two have slightly different properties, by they are biodegradable and made from renewable, sustainably grown and harvested natural materials.
The carbon and water footprint of these textile is so significantly reduce, as compared to cotton or polyester, that Kusaga Athletic claim to have developed the greenest t-shirt on the planet. The fabrics carry many global certifications to demonstrate the authenticity of their environmental credentials. This start-up is still in its infancy, but I am sure we will see these fabrics making an big impact in the sustainable athletic wear market in the years to come.
These are just a handful of the emerging textiles that have been developed in recent years. There has been a great deal of research to find more sustainable options across the board, and I am sure that many more textiles will come to surprise and impress us over the next decade. Watch this space.
From Summer: If you want to learn more about your sustainable textile options, and want help to do your own research, I recommend my Guide to Sustainable Textiles. It has 60 pages of coverage on the sustainability and ethical considerations of all the major textiles. At only $9 is an affordable option that empowers you to assess the ethics and sustainability of your favourite garments.
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.