Given that the production and processing of materials makes up the majority of fashion’s carbon footprint, it’s no wonder there has been a renewed focus on textile innovation across the industry of late. Just this year, we’ve seen Stella McCartney launch its first bag made from Mylo, an alternative leather made from mushroom roots; Zara unveil its first products made from LanzaTech’s carbon-capturing material; and Gucci-owner Kering investing in lab-grown leather start-up VitroLabs.
It’s a welcome development for Nina Marenzi, founder of the Future Fabrics Expo, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. “Ten years ago, it was just not understood why there was a need in the first place to have materials that have a lower environmental impact,” she tells Vogue. “[Now] it’s become very clear that unless you really are involved in these discussions [and] trying to establish these partnerships, you’re going to be left behind.”
Finding an alternative to traditional leather is one area that’s seen a large amount of innovation, given that the cattle industry as a whole is responsible for an estimated 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Among the frontrunners are mycelium-based materials, such as Mylo and MycoWorks, alongside plastic-free alternatives such as Mirum. “We’ve always said that if you move away from leather, you have to really look at what you are replacing it with,” Marenzi says. “And if you’re replacing it with plastic, that’s not right.”
There’s also been a drive towards developing recycled textiles using post-consumer waste, which has been a huge challenge for the industry to date (often, recycled materials used in fashion come from manufacturing waste or other industries, with plastic bottles being a prime example) . “Even five years ago, when there was talk about textile-to-textile recycling, people were thinking that’s something [for further] in the future; it’s too far away,” Marenzi continues. “But if you show them pioneering trials, and say, ‘Look, this is possible’, then we can actually scale it.”
Meanwhile, bio-based alternatives to synthetics, including Clarus, which turns natural fibers into high-performance materials, and Kintra, a corn-based polyester that’s fully biodegradable, are also on the rise.
Below, see 12 of the most exciting materials of the future you need to know now.
Backed by Stella McCartney, Adidas, Gucci-owner Kering and Lululemon, mylo is an “un-leather” made from mycelium, or fungi roots. Large sheets of fluffy foam are grown from fungal cells, before going through the regular tanning process that animal hides undergo. While primarily made from bio-based materials, Mylo is not completely plastic-free – although it has set a goal of eliminating synthetic content altogether.