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Brands flock to next-gen materials, new report shows

By Guest Contributor


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Stella McCartney x NFW Credits: Stella McCartney x NFW

It’s been some years since the sparkly promise of pineapple leather and the like first sprouted in our news feeds, so what’s happening now with the innovation of next-gen materials? Quite a lot, it turns out. The Material Innovation Initiative's (MII) new report "Brand Engagement with Next-Gen Materials 2023" spotlights a surge in collaborations this past year between innovative material companies and apparel, accessories, footwear and home goods brands. From Gucci to Stella McCartney, fashion powerhouses embraced next-gen materials in 2023 at a staggering rate.

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Material Innovation Initiative (MII). MII is a nonprofit that accelerates the development of high-performance, more sustainable materials for the fashion, automotive, and home goods industries.

Why are these brands favoring these new, animal and petroleum free replacements to “incumbent” leather, wool, silk, down and fur? Because animal-derived materials generally have incredibly high environmental impacts across a broad range of categories, including water usage, biodiversity loss, eutrophication and greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations Environmental Program found that the fashion sector alone influences humanity’s ability to achieve eight of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water, and Life on Land. Tackling damaging raw materials can move the needle on a brand's environmental impact. Many next-gen materials also provide the benefit of circumventing pervasive human rights issues and weakly-regulated animal welfare standards in the developing countries where most animal materials are produced. These innovative materials are designed to significantly decrease their ecological footprint compared to traditional alternatives. Through advanced manufacturing techniques, sustainable sourcing, and improved end-of-life considerations, these materials aim to minimize resource consumption and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The diverse brand collaborations we saw in this space in 2023 demonstrate the desire, from both brands and consumers, for this new class of materials.

Over 380 collaborations in 2023

The report highlights that there have been over 380 collaborations globally between innovative next-gen material companies and fashion, home goods, and automotive brands this past year.

Next-gen materials are defined as materials which are sourced from abundant, renewable, and nontoxic resources such as plants, algae, agricultural waste, fungi, microbes, captured CO2, and recycled plastic. They offer greater than a 90 percent reduction in Global Warming Potential compared to their conventional counterparts and have the potential to spare trillions of animals’ lives each year. Their production, use, and disposal do not rely on chemicals that are harmful to human health or safety and their supply chains and practices are designed to position sustainability and social justice at their core.

This huge growth in collaborations shows that brands are eagerly exploring and adopting these sustainable new materials. The report reveals major fashion labels like Gucci, Stella McCartney, Ganni and Tory Burch leading the charge in adopting plant-based and lab-grown sustainable alternatives to leather, silk, cashmere, wool, down and fur.

“We saw an explosion of collaborations between innovators working with both large and small brands around the globe,” said Thomasine Dolan Dow, Director of Materials Innovation & Design at MII.

Although the industry is still relatively nascent, 2023 has been a promising year for the adoption of next-gen materials by major brands.

Growth driven by consumer demand

The boom in next-gen material collaborations is fueled in part by strong consumer demand. MII's consumer research "Next-gen materials: A 2023 assessment of the potential for U.S. consumer adoption" found high levels of interest among US consumers in purchasing fashion, home goods, and automotive products made with next-gen materials, with 90 percent of respondents expressing openness to purchasing next-gen materials.

The research identified a sizable segment of potential early adopters willing to pay a premium for next-gen products - 78 percent of respondents were willing to pay the same or more for next-gen materials. Brands are taking note, as they aim to meet this consumer demand for sustainable options.

“Brands want to tap into consumer demand, while showcasing their sustainability credentials through innovative materials and supply chains," said Nicole Rawling, CEO of MII.

Texworld NYC Credits: Texworld NYC

Innovation on display at major trade events

The next-gen materials industry was also showcased this year at major international trade events like Texworld NYC, one of the largest global textile sourcing fairs, illustrating the growing interest from brands to source next-gen materials.

MII hosted the Next-Gen Innovation Hub at Texworld NYC, exposing around 4,500 brands, sourcing agents, students, and industry professionals to cutting-edge material innovators they likely had never heard of before.

More launches expected in 2024

With many innovators now reaching commercial scale, brands have viable next-gen material suppliers to collaborate with. MII's recent "Next-Gen Materials Lookbook" highlights new 2024 product launches using next-gen leather, silk, wool, down, and fur alternatives.

As options grow, transparency improves, and costs decrease, we can expect adoption of next-gen materials in fashion to continue accelerating in 2024 and beyond. Brands want to tap into consumer demand, while showcasing their sustainability credentials through innovative materials and supply chains.

“I’ve been a fashion designer for my whole life, and I’m not as interested in what the next silhouette is, or what the next color is in 2024 and ‘25,” Stella McCartney told CNN. “I’m like, ‘What’s the next material? What’s the next solution that we can give to the world to make it, a better planet?’”

An overview of some recent brand releases:

Gucci Credits: Gucci

Gucci leans into next-gen leather

Italian luxury brand Gucci created multiple accessories including bags and sneakers featuring their new Demetra material. Demetra is Gucci's proprietary next-gen leather alternative made from plant-based sources.

Gucci also tapped musician Billie Eilish to promote their Demetra line, leveraging her star power and sustainability credentials.

Stella McCartney showcases next-gen innovators

British designer Stella McCartney, a pioneer in ethical fashion, hosted a runway show and sustainable market on the streets of Paris. Her collection displayed next-gen leather, silk and down, while the market stalls let innovators like Natural Fiber Welding, Keel Labs and BioFluff share their latest materials.

Mara Hoffman launches 'Dress of the Future'

New York designer Mara Hoffman partnered with textile recycling startup Circ to create a limited edition "Dress of the Future" made entirely of Circ's recycled lyocell material. The vibrant, silk-like dress signifies the potential of circularity in fashion.

Tory Burch upcycles iconic tote

American accessible luxury brand Tory Burch refreshed their classic Ella tote bag using next-gen leather Bio-Tex from Modern Meadow. The Ella Bio Tote comes in three sizes and multiple colors.

The Material Innovation Initiative is advancing the next-gen materials revolution by connecting science and big ideas. They are focused on research, knowledge-sharing, and fostering connections to fast-track the development of environmentally preferable and animal-free materials. To view the reports referenced throughout this piece visit the reports website here.
Material Innovation Initiative
Next gen materials