Design
Apr 26, 2024
by Karl Smith
The Next-Gen Material Innovation News You Need to Know This Month
by Karl Smith
Apr 26, 2024

When it comes to material innovation, we’ve covered a lot of ground already this month. We’ve taken deep dives with insiders at GANNI and Parley For The Oceans, and we went even deeper to introduce fifteen need-to-know names; turning over the floor to the new vanguard of next-generation progress.

Still, the great thing about innovation – about progress in general – is that it doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, stop.

And to that end, we’ve put together our customary monthly roundup – a mix of forward-thinking products, major funding news, and vital makeup tips we think you ought to know about. (And, yes, you read that right.)

From enzyme-enabled athleisure to materials made from potato waste, algae-based eyeliner to circular sneakers – here’s the inside info on what’s next, now.

The Unseen is Asking You To Cover Your Face in Algae. You Should Listen

If you’re familiar with progressive pigment company Living Ink, you’ll likely also be familiar with its mission to replace the disastrous and ubiquitous Carbon Black with an algae-based alternative. You may have seen the Colorado-based innovator’s collaborations with Nike, providing the black hues for Billie Eilish’s vegan Air Alpha Force 88 sneaker and for the ISPA MindBody’s neon-toned “Volt” colorway. Still, what you might not be familiar with is the idea of putting the company’s next-generation algae product on your face.

Well, things change. And, in this case, they change for the better.

Teaming this time with The Unseen, Living Ink’s latest partnership sees its petro-free and carbon-positive Black Algae put to use by the cosmetics arms of the U.K.-based material science outfit, coming in the form of a lengthening mascara and long-wearing pencil eyeliner called “Absorption.” Having long-relied on animal-derived elements, petro-derived Carbon Black and mining-obtained Iron Oxide, the use of Black Algae as a replacement for these traditional materials represents the possibility of a sea change within the beauty industry.

With vegan products gaining more and more traction in the sector, Earth-friendlier options are sure to be next on the list. Proof that this is already possible at a marketable scale should push consumers to ask, “Why not?” when it comes to positive action.

Samsara Eco and lululemon Are Breaking Down Activewear’s Plastic Problem (With Enzymes)

We all know about the relationship between exercise and endorphins, but what about the connection between your workout and Earth-friendlier enzymes? Okay, yes, that link was tenuous – but, nonetheless, a new collaboration between activewear outfit lululemon and material innovator Samsara Eco has bridged the gap.

Launching the first product made from enzymatically-recycled polyester, the Australian next-generation operation and the Canadian athleisure apparel brand have come together on a new packable anorak which utilizes mixed plastic waste, lululemon apparel at the end-of-life stage, and converted carbon emissions.

It’s an interesting proposition: considering that sportswear is so often so far behind when it comes to the Earth-friendlier end of things, prioritizing performance from an athletic standpoint over progress on other fronts, this feels like something of a breakthrough moment.

You have to wonder, though, if this joint effort couldn’t have focused on something – some technical piece of clothing – that hammered home the point a little harder. Would actual, Earth-friendlier sportswear not have caused more of a stir amongst the community and the brand’s peers?

Realistically, we may never know. What we do know, though, is that this collaboration still represents a turning point – an opening of the door. If lower-impact polyester recycling and transformed carbon emissions can be used this way, what might they be used for next?

That, hopefully, we’ll find out sooner rather than later.

Spiber Secures Funding For Fashion’s Fermented Future

Japanese biotech outfit Spiber is best known for its groundbreaking brewed protein, but – despite high-profile collaborations with the likes of nanamica and The North Face and PANGAIA – “best known” is still very much a relative term.

However, with a fresh injection of ¥10 billion JPY (around $65 million USD), that innovation could soon be reaching a lot more people.

Extremely versatile in nature, the fermentation-derived polymer can be used to replicate the characteristics of a whole host of materials – alternatives to spider silk, wool, cashmere, leather and fur, for example – through a single process.

This latest investment, then, which brings Spiber’s total to around $500 million USD over nine funding rounds, has the potential to push high-impact and high-cruelty products out of the picture with Earth-friendlier alternatives now capable of being produced at scale.

With a new manufacturing plant set to open in the United States as part of this latest phase, Spiber and its brewed protein look set to make its mark on the mainstream.

Sparxell’s Plant-Based Pigment Is Locally-sourced With Global Implications

Another pigment-related piece of news, then, and this time it’s Sparxell – the London-based purveyor of plant-based cellulose color – changing the tide when it comes to detoxifying our tones.

Having raised $3.2 million USD in a round of capital raising that included direct investment, seed funding, and additional grant money – including an anchor investment from corporate giant L’Oréal – the company, founded by a group of Cambridge University scientists, is looking to scale up its efforts.

Using plant-based cellulose and nanocrystals, Sparxell’s pigment borrows inspiration from natural biomimicry found in beetles and butterflies but, of course, uses neither in its wholly-vegan innovation.

An alternative to the high-impact fossil-derived and microplastic-spewing coloration processes we’ve become accustomed to (but which has only recently become anything like a mainstream talking point), the raw materials for Sparxell’s plant-based product can be grown and sourced locally, drastically driving down the impact of a high-polluting industry which has spent too much time under the radar.

U.K.-based Innovator Fibe is Turning Potatoes into Progress

The U.K.’s affinity for the humble potato is perhaps the country’s worst-kept secret. It is, it’s fair to say, a national treasure. And you know what? It’s easy to see why. After all, everyone’s favorite bit of ground-dwelling beige is versatile in ways that other vegetables just can’t compete with. And now it seems that extends way beyond food.

Closing a £1 million GBP pre-seed investment round off the back of £750,000 GBP in grants from Innovate UK, London-based next-gen outfit Fibe is looking to push potatoes further than ever before. According to the innovator, “the leftover stems and leaves of the potato are the world’s largest untapped agricultural feedstock,” leaving 150 million tonnes to rot every year.

But it doesn’t have to be this way: following a recent breakthrough, Fibe has devised a new potato-based yarn – possessing similar qualities to cotton and polyester – which, due to the huge resource of raw material, could not only replace synthetic materials but also up to 70% of the world’s natural fibre demand.

Not so humble after all, perhaps.

Dole Cuts Down on Fruit Waste in Style With Piñatex

If you know anything about fruit or, for that matter, if you know absolutely nothing about fruit but you’ve ever eaten it in the United States, chances are you’re familiar with Dole Sunshine. As the world’s largest fresh fruit and vegetable company, owning something like 125,000 acres of agricultural land across the world, Dole pumps out more of the good stuff than basically anyone else on the planet – which, conversely, also means it produces more fruit and vegetable waste than anyone else too.

But, as much as this is par for the course when it comes to a corporate food juggernaut like the California brand, that doesn’t mean it’s something we have to accept. And, in this case, it seems like Dole agrees. Having cut its organic waste by a huge 83% in the last year thanks to a slew of innovative partnerships, it seems that Dole is now not only cutting back but also getting creative. Working with material innovator Ananas Anam and premium accessory outfitter Rais Case, the forward-thinking triumvirate has crafted a limited edition bag from the next-gen organization’s Piñatex pineapple waste fiber.

A plant-based and cruelty-free alternative to traditional leathers, the Piñatex collaboration marks not only a sideways step for Dole Sunshine – which, funnily enough, isn’t exactly known for its bags – but also something of a departure for Rais Case, more accustomed to using animal-derived materials in its high-end products than the waste from fruits and vegetables.

The real story here, though, is what Dole has been able to do with its wastage – a testament to what can be achieved, to how quickly it can be done, and to the scale at which it can be accomplished with a serious level of commitment – effectively throwing down the Earth-friendlier gauntlet and challenging other mega-corporations to do the same.

The Purification of Footwear Is Well and Truly Underway

When it comes to Earth-friendlier footwear, nine times out of ten we’re promised the world as conscious consumers and given considerably less. A cursory recycled plastic here, a nod to “vegan” materials there – not much, but just enough to keep us on the hook.

Sometimes, though, there’s a surprise that breaks the status quo. And, in this case, that comes courtesy of London-based eco-footwear brand PURIFIED.

Rather than some minimal gesture, the label’s newest shoe is an all-out Earth-first offering – a rare case in which, having thrown everything at the wall to see what sticks, everything has stuck.

Featuring an upper made from QWSTION’s banana waste BANANATEX material and an outsole crafted from Natural Fiber Welding’s PLIANT, a game-changing (but often overlooked) 100% bio-based cured rubber outsole material, the ABACA sneaker has the all-too-unusual distinction of being entirely free from not only virgin plastics but any kind of plastic whatsoever.

More impressive still, the 100% natural ABACA is not only capable of biodegradation but has also proven to enrich the soil and benefit the plant life of the environment into which its remains are absorbed.

Big name brands, take note – the footwear industry is primed for purification – follow suit or fall behind.