Mar 25, 2024
by Karl Smith
Next-Gen Material Innovation News You Need to Know This Month
by Karl Smith
Mar 25, 2024

Following on from last month’s bumper crop of material innovation news – a month in which we had to deliver two separate updates to account for all the progress across fashion, footwear, design and manufacturing – you might think March would be a scaling back; a more low-key affair. You would, however, be wrong. And that can only be a good thing.

This month alone there’s news from all corners of innovation – big-name brand collaborations, investment in textile-to-textile recycling, shifts away from problematic plastics, and further news set to push forward next-gen materials into the wider public and consumer conscious. Again, in short, a very good thing.

From GANNI to GAP, Parley to Walmart, alternative leathers to an innovator that’s taking fashion progress into its own hands, this is the next-generation material innovation news you need to know this month.

Marquee-level Fashion Corporations Invest in Material Innovation

A pretty large contingent of questions came with the news of Renewcell’s collapse back at the end of February – a flurry of intrigue and borderline panic both from within the industry and without, the saga unfolding with the kind of media scrutiny that positive innovation news is rarely afforded. And, of these questions, “What next?” loomed the largest.

Now, we might not have The Answer as yet – but it seems like we do have at least one. An answer, so to speak. And that answer is Infinted Fiber.

Having previously put their money behind Renewcell – though we all know how that went – H&M Group, Zara parent Inditex, and TTY Management are now getting behind the Finnish innovator.

Having invested €40 million EUR collectively, the move could be interpreted as a show of faith from the consortium of corporate behemoths – although, of course, it could also be read as another bid for power; a way to capture and commodify change for their own ends.

Still, only one way to find out.

GAP Gets Serious About Turning Waste Into Want

And, in that same vein, Infinited Fiber isn’t the only innovator to find itself benefiting in the wake of Renewcell’s misfortune. Los Angeles-based Ambercycle, too, has launched a new partnership with another big-name collaborator – GAP.

Working with the all-American brand and retailer, Ambercycle will provide its recycled polyester product, cycora, to the certified B-Corp brand Athleta – GAP’s dedicated performance wear and lifestyle label – making it the first technical apparel brand to use the material at scale.

The partnership isn’t due to launch for another two years, set to roll out in 2026, but – while this may seem like a long lead to those eager for change to continue at pace – it’s fair to say that operations on this level, when executed properly and with long-term success in mind, will always take time.

Stella McCartney Continues to Cultivate the Next Generation of Next-Gen Materials

Stella McCartney has long been considered something of an incubator for next-gen materials – and something of an outlier within the realm of luxury fashion. While the brand has been describing itself as “cruelty free” now for over twenty years – having never used the feathers, furs, or skins of any animal since day one – in recent years, over recent seasons, it has also pushed that reputation further by using and spotlighting a selection of next-gen materials.

It’s an approach which, while positive in many (and most) ways, has sometimes garnered criticism of the label for casting its net too fast and too wide – never quite giving enough space to each new innovation to show what its made of. Still, even with this particularly ungenerous reading, the fact is that – even if Stella McCartney isn’t functioning as the incubator it might like to be – it’s still very much working as a vital springboard.

To that end, seeing the brand now working with the likes of Keel Labs’ seaweed-based Kelsun™ and Ponda’s plant-based BioPuff®, as well as with the bio-recycler Protein Evolution and the air-purifying paint manufacturer Airlite®, is a refreshing dose of the brand practicing what it preaches in an industry that doesn’t exactly tend to follow that rule. These are innovators – like Natural Fiber Welding and Bolt Threads and Radiant Matter – to which Stella McCartney has previously given airtime and which now it offers something else: its backing in real terms, as a partner in progress and in production.

Dr. Martens Ventures Into Resale With Its Rewair Program

Brands everywhere, it seems, are starting to catch on to the resale market. On the one hand, of course, this is just another way for labels to insert themselves into the chain of consumption – a way to make money on a product that they’ve already sold once. On the other, though, there’s kudos to be handed out to anyone willing to help put circular infrastructure in place and – in doing so – effectively run the risk of reducing sales at the first port of call.

So, Dr. Martens’ newly-launched Rewair Program, then: not entirely selfless, of course – but then what brand ever is? – but certainly a progressive step from U.K. heritage brand. Especially when you consider that the label has always been somewhat cagey about the make-up of its “vegan leather” offerings and, in that sense, hasn’t exactly been transparent about its Earth-friendlier agenda.

This one, though, is pretty clear cut.

GANNI Enlists Fairly Made® to Enhance Brand Transparency

And speaking of transparency – for some brands it’s kind of just par for the course. Take GANNI, for example, the Danish label has been a leading light in sustainable fashion now for some time – keeping us all filled in on its successes and its failures when it comes to a pretty constant campaign of working in cleaner and greener ways. Announcing a new partnership with Fairly Made®, then, GANNI is continuing on that same trajectory – once again assessing the situation and deciding there’s room to aim higher.

Described as a “tech-driven tool enhancing supply chain transparency,” this latest move will allow for detailed tracing (and sharing) of the brand’s Tier 3 raw materials, for the gathering and monitoring of detailed information on the manufacturing process of the materials and of any garment, covering Tier 1 and Tier 2 levels of the supply chain, and for logging the travel distance and energy footprint of a product. All of which adds up to a pretty well-rounded picture of a GANNI product’s impact. Information that, characteristically, the brand will not be shy in sharing.

It’s worth noting that the system will be rolled out first to various GANNI “icons,” covering only the brand’s hero products. But, in that same vein, it’s also important to mention that there are already plans in place to take this further and – eventually – for this information to be live across GANNI’s full product offering.

They say “it’s not a marathon, it’s a sprint,” but it’s always good to see someone running nonetheless.

Tired of Waiting, Evrnu Takes the Initiative

With uptake remaining one of the biggest barriers to progress in the fashion industry, a lack of commitment having already taken down Renewcell earlier this year, Seattle-based textile recycler Evrnu has taken that challenge and readily accepted it. Instead of waiting around for brands to wake up and buy-in to progress, the U.S. outfit has now bridged the gap by launching its own label, functioning as proof of concept and as a readymade customer, closing the divide between the end-consumer and the innovator.

It’s a gamble, of course – launching a label, after all, is no guarantee of positive consumer response; no sure thing in any sense. But, when the payoff could see progress pushed faster and further into a much more public conversation, it’s clearly a gamble worth taking.

Parley for the Oceans Steps Away from Plastics and Further Toward Plants

Parley for the Oceans is best known for plastic. Not for the reasons that so many other brands are known for using plastic, of course, but for salvaging those toxic discards and creating something worthwhile from them – using it as a material that’s wound up in everything from T-shirts to football boots.

This latest step, then, may come as something of a surprise. With plastics now becoming seen more widely as a problem rather than a solution, even in their recycled form, founder and CEO Cyril Gutsch has announced a partnership with plant-based outfit BANANATEX via its new investment arm – a joint venture which will see Parley change tack and pursue new Earth-friendlier avenues.

As an company which has always been dedicated to reducing impact, it’s a shift that makes sense – you go not just with the flow, but with the science – but it’s also no mean feat for an operation like Parley, which built its reputation and a loyal fanbase on recycling ocean plastic waste, to acknowledge a change in the tide.

Australian Materials Outfit Alt. Leather Brings in Finance to Further Progress

Having previously launched the vegan handbag brand LOM – a label which used innovative alternatives such as cactus and apple in lieu of animal-derived materials – Australia-based creative director Tina Funder has now turned her ambitious to the source; to the materials.

Having launched Alt. Leather in 2022 – which does exactly what you’d expect, both from the name and from a founder with Funder’s credentials – a new seed funding round, which had only targeted investment of $750,000, coming in above expectation, providing an injection of $1.1 million US; capital which gives the Melbourne-based outfit – which has already grown its research team from one to four – further room to develop and hone what Funder hopes to be Australia’s first 100% bio-based leather.

3D Weaving Finds a Surprising New Home at Walmart

Walmart. The unstoppable retail colossus of the United States. The store that sells everything. A place with a reputation for a million different things, depending on whom you ask. Rarely, though, will you ask someone and have them say “sustainability” when you’re playing the Walmart word-association game – and that’s probably fair enough.

Still, though, the corporate juggernaut does often seem to have one eye on the future. And, yes, perhaps that’s only because some pragmatic person in an office somewhere has realized there’s no profit to be made on a dead planet, but – regardless – the end result remains the same. And so, having last year joined forces with San Francisco-based carbon capture outfit Rubi Labs, Walmart now finds itself once again entwined with a cutting-edge material innovator.

Working with Oakland-based 3D-weaving pioneers Unspun, Walmart intends to use the innovator’s unique production method, Vega, to produce apparel. Now, if you’re wondering exactly what that means – or why, considering it’s more about manufacturing processes than materials, it’s set to make any kind of difference to the company’s impact – that’s fair enough. But, really, it’s all in the “How?”, rather than the why.

With its 3D approach to weaving, Vega cuts out multiple stages of the production process – most notably the cutting and stitching elements, which not only lead to waste and to lost inventory but also to added emissions from transport – and closes the manufacturing circle, going straight from yarn to garment in one fell swoop. Which, for a company the size of Walmart, could end up moving the needle in ways it’s hard yet even to predict.

PANGAIA Pushes Tailoring in a Progressive New Direction (With Pineapples)

A lot of energy – arguably too much energy, in fact – has been put into the question of whether pineapple belongs on pizza. Very little though – or, at least as far as we’ve ever heard – has been dedicated to whether the divisive fruit belongs in a suit.

Well, it seems that every conversation has its moment – and now it’s time for this one.

Available now for pre-order, PANGAIA’s new tailoring capsule is crafted entirely from FRUTFIBER™ – that’s banana leaf fiber, pineapple leaf fiber, and bamboo lyocell – making it a primarily plant-based offering, and certainly an Earth-friendlier one – especially when compared to more traditional suiting made from wool, from plastic-based fibers, and from non-regenerative cotton – also marketed as a premium quality product.

Tailoring, though, is a hard sell: at $395 USD for the men’s jacket and $295 USD for the men’s pants, these products aren’t cheap and the question remains as to whether PANGAIA can really get a higher-end formalwear consumer on the hook with progressive materials.

Still, as the old adage goes, “dress for success.”