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'Innovative materials will become more mainstream if they fulfill consumers desires'

By Vivian Hendriksz


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Fairs |VIDEO

Rotterdam - The fashion industry is one of the world's largest and most creative sectors - but it is also one of the most polluting industries, responsible for 10 percent of the world's CO2 emissions. The current production models of clothing are incredibly harmful to the environment, as it takes more than 2,500 liters of water to grow enough cotton to make a single t-shirt. In addition, before the cotton becomes a t-shirt it has to be spun into a yarn, dyed using potentially hazardous chemicals and transported to low-wage countries to be stitched together by garment workers toiling away in poor working conditions. For years this has been the natural process for textile and garment production, but now designers, researchers, and creators are asking who thought up this process and calling for a change.

"Why have we not thought to re-think this industry? It is time we re-think the whole textile production chain," argued Aniela Hoitink, designer, scientist and founder of NEFFA, a research institute focusing in textile innovation, during a presentation at Material Xperience, a trade event highlighting innovative materials. Together with a host of other designers, trend forecasters and researchers, Hoitink is challenging the conventional production methods used by the fashion industry by introducing new materials derived from existing productions, as well as new materials made using entirely new manufacturing methods. By introducing these new, innovative and sustainable materials, they hope to transform the fashion industry for the greater good.

This video is in Dutch - for English subtitles, please go to Settings and select English.

New innovative materials at Material Xperience aim to challenge the fashion industry production methods

Take MycoTEX for example, made from mycelium taken from wood-loving mushroom roots, Hoitink created this new and flexible material together with a team of leading researchers from the University of Utrecht. "The fibers in mycelium already look like a textile underneath the microscope," explained Hoitink. Rather than being spun or woven out of other natural or man-made resources, MycoTEX can be grown in a lab using 12 liters of water in comparison to a conventional cotton t-shirt. The textile can then be directly pasted and shaped on a 3D mold, ensuring there is no textile waste from cutting or sewing. In addition, it also offers the wear extra features such as anti-microbial properties and is 100 percent biodegradable - making it a sustainable and attainable innovative textile choice.

"Why are we producing fashion the way we are, if the way we consume garments has changed so much?"

Aniela Hoitink, founder of NEFFA and MycoTEX

Ellen Mensink, founder, and director of Brightloops, a start-up specializing circular textiles agrees the fashion industry needs to rethink how it produces and perceives textiles. She believes that the industry is on the cusp of tremendous change and is set to follow in the footstep of the automotive and food industry when it comes to sustainability and circularity. "We are producing more and more clothing than we need and I am no longer willing to pay the price when it comes to the race to the bottom," she said, underlining disasters such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse and the Tazreen Fashions fire in Bangladesh. Rather than producing fashion according to the current linear systems, Mensink foresees the future of fashion as being circular, implementing new systems that reuse vital resources instead of throwing them away or incinerating them at the end of their lifecycles.

"When you can buy a bikini for less than the price of a sandwich, it is no surprise that people perceive fashion as a throw-away item," she noted. "2.350.000 tonnes of unwanted textiles are thrown away each year in the Netherlands alone - 70 percent of this is incinerated which is a shame as it could easily be reused." Mensink is aware that many consumers have come to think of clothing a disposable item, in part thanks to the rise of fast-fashion, which is why she aims to challenge this notion and making fashion valuable again. Through her lifestyle brand Loop.alife, Mensink aims to show the industry how new apparel can be made from post and pre-consumer textile waste. Using mechanical recycling methods, which separate wool blends, cotton, and denim textiles, the start-up is able to separate the fibers, color sort them and reuse them to make new textiles, creating a zero-waste, circular production method.

"We need to move to a circular system which reuses materials rather than exhausting our planet's resources"

Ellen Mensink, Founder & Director of Brightloops and Loop.alife

These material innovations fit into the two areas Yassine Salihine, lecturer for design research at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) and Senior Forecaster at the Footwearists, foresees emerging within the field of material development. One area is set to focus on bio-fabricated plant and animal-based textiles, like Zov, lab-grown leather, Pinatex, a leather alternative made from Pineapple leaf fibers and MycoTEX. The other is set to focus on new technical driven materials, such as Parley ocean plastic, a new type of up-cycled plastic yarn made from plastic waste taken from the ocean. Although he is positive that innovative materials like these can help accelerate a shift to more responsible production methods within the fashion industry, he is wary of rushing these innovate materials to market before they are ready.

"True sustainable products can only be if people are willing to wear it and use it on a daily basis - they need to wear it like a badge of honour - not like a ball and chain"

Yassine Salihine, lecturer for design research at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) and Senior Forecaster at the Footwearists

"Take mycelium for example, while you can use it to make textiles the problem with it is that the material does not look very appealing - it still looks like fungus. I understand why they trying to push it forward and get people early on board, but I think they need to focus on creating more finishes to make it more appealing." This is a common issue numerous innovative sustainable textiles and materials face - while a huge effort has been in the overall development of the material, less of an emphasis is placed on its overall desirability and appeal. "These innovative materials will become more mainstream if they can fulfill the wishes and desires of consumers - that is the bottom line at the end of the day," he explained to FashionUnited. "When a product exists that people really aspire to, products and materials that connect with their personal lives then it is a success. But in order to create these materials, designers need to design in a different way."

This video is in Dutch - for English subtitles, please go to Settings and select English.

He also warned that biodegradable textiles are not the only solution to the fashion industry's production problems. "Realistically we cannot decompose all of our unwanted garments - we do not have the land to do so." Instead, he encourages fashion companies looking to implement innovative and sustainable materials to seek out multiple strategies, and see which ones align best with their needs and consumer demands. "Do not put all your eggs in one basket so to speak. This is true for investing your money as well as chasing after new technologies. You need to look at how the technology will be able to tackle the problem that is in front of you and to what extent (every fashion companies needs are different). The initial costs of implementing these new innovative materials will be big, but I think in the long run I think it will pay off."

Photos: by Viorica Cernica from Houdbaar

Circular Fashion
Ellen Mensink
Marina Toeters
Material Xperience
Next gen materials
Trade Fair