Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. That adds up to $500 billion in clothing waste a year. On the current path, by 2050 the fashion industry will account for quarter of the world’s carbon budget (Ellen MacArthur Foundation). The problem is a combination of widespread usage of environmentally unfriendly textiles (leather, wool, cotton and silk sit at the very top of that list), a growing norm of mass consumption, and a shrinking lifespan of items purchased. In other words, people are buying more and throwing it away faster.
The fashion industry isn't alone in generating large volumes of waste. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a staggering 45% of fruits and vegetables are often not even harvested or simply discarded due to their appearance. Ironically, this food waste presents one of the most promising solutions to the fashion industry's ethical and environmental woes. Plant-based fabrics derived from food waste could mean not just lower impact textiles, but net-positive textiles. Put simply, textiles that take waste out of the system.
Good news: this is already well underway. To be sure, the commercialization of these textiles is in its infant stages — and some of these materials are not yet fully biodegradable nor fully derived from waste products. But, their promise is enormous...and we're thrilled at VOKE to be carrying a few of these fabulous innovations.
Apple leather is produced from the leftovers of harvested apples — the seeds, cores and peel. It is 100% biodegradable, highly durable, and feels remarkably similar to animal leather. So far, there are only a few brands utilizing this materials, but we expect it will become increasingly popular as the manufacturing process scales.
Shop apple leather here.
Photo credit: Alexandra K
Piñatex is a natural leather alternative made from cellulose fibers extracted from pineapple leaves. As an agricultural waste product, the harvesting of these fibers helps support a scalable commercial industry for developing farming communities. The fabric was created by Dr. Carmen Hijosa and first displayed at the PhD graduate exhibition at the Royal College of Art, London. Dr. Carmen's company, Ananas Anam Ltd., manufactures and supplies the material to brands looking to use it for products including footwear and fashion accessories, clothing, interior furnishing and automotive upholstery.
Currently, the material includes a non-biodegradable protective outer layer for durability, but the company is working on a natural alternative that would make the fabric fully biodegradable.
Shop Piñatex here.
Mushroom leather, or "Mylo" was created by Bolt Threats, a startup specializing in growing next-generation fibers. Mylo does not come from waste products today — but even still, it is a dramatically more sustainable alternative to animal-based leather. In an interview with Fast Company, founder Dan Widmaier outlined the process of making it:
To fabricate the material, Bolt first sourced the mycelium cells and set them up on a dish in the lab. The cells grow by extending fibers called hyphae, which source cellulose-rich nutrients to eat (Bolt fed their mycelium corn stover). “Those hyphae, if you control the growth conditions like temperature, humidity, and CO2, make the body of this really dense fibrous network,” Widmaier says. “And the realization was that this fibrous network looks like the fibrous network in a nonwoven mat, like leather.” Once the mycelium grows large enough, “we cut it into slices, and it goes through a process not dissimilar to how animal hides are tanned to become leather, except it’s more environmentally friendly,” Widmaier says...[B]ecause mycelium doesn’t rot like animal hide does...[it] does not need to be treated with copious amounts of salt and chemicals.
Stella McCartney crafted a sample of her famous Falabella bag using Mylo, which went on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in June 2018.
Photo credit: Bolt Threads and Stella McCartney
Australian technology company Nanollose has launched a wool-like material, named Nullarbor, made from coconuts. To make Nullarbor, Nanollose uses industrial organic agricultural waste to produce plant-free cellulose that is then spun into 'wool'. The process does not involve the felling of trees, nor does it require the use of arable land or livestock.
According to the company's CEO, the fabric could eventually be created using a wide variety of waste products beyond coconut, "Our process has the potential to convert a number of biomass waste products from the beer, wine and liquid food industries into fibers using very little land, water or energy in the process."
Photo credit: Nanollose
The start up Orange Fiber has created a fabric made from discarded Italian orange peels — which, along with other citrus fruits, typically contribute to one millions tons of waste product each year. The fabric looks and feels like silk — and, amazingly, contains essential oils and vitamin C that get absorbed into the wearer's skin. The oils last a minimum of twenty wash cycles, and the company is developing fabric softeners to extend this unique quality .
Photo credit: Salvatore Ferragamo
So, what's next?
Textiles made from apples, pineapples, grapes, mushrooms, oranges and coconut are just a few examples of innovations that can eventually help us solve two pressing global issues: food waste and fashion waste. As the innovative companies behind these advancements work furiously to scale production, our team at VOKE is scoping for these textiles left and right so we can help bring them to you!
- The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, "A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future," January 2017.
- The Food and Agriculture Organization, "Beauty (and taste!) are on the inside."
- Fast Company, "This very realistic fake leather is made from mushrooms, not cows," April 2018.
- Techno Fashion World, "Nullarbor: fabric from coconut waste,"July 2018.
- Salvatore Ferragamo, "Orange fiber green fashion inspiration."
- Bolt threads company website
- Ananas Anam company website
- Nanollose company website
- Orange Fiber company website