May 23, 2023
by Karl Smith
6 New Sustainable Material Innovations You Need to Know About
by Karl Smith
May 23, 2023

Fashion and footwear move fast. Change in the ways that the industry makes and does things is almost as constant as the release schedule itself. And, in that sense, while it isn’t always big or bold or sometimes even noticeable at all, progress is perpetual.

Day by day, the market evolves to integrate more and more next-generation materials and processes – all with the potential to make real, tangible and lasting change. But, in the end, it tends to be the products that hog the spotlight – thanks to the shallow-dive nature of hype culture, it’s almost always the clothes and shoes themselves that enjoy the bulk of the coverage, rather than what goes into them.

At FUTUREVVORLD, we try our best to shine a light on material make-up wherever possible: we don’t talk about clothes or shoes or bags or whatever else without talking about what they’re made from. There can be trade-offs, of course – good and bad present in the same product. No-one is perfect or totally immune from the constraints of the consumer marketplace in some sense. But, either way, the fact remains: material reality matters.

With that in mind, what follows is a round-up of the most interesting developments in next-gen materials where footwear and fashion are concerned. From flower-based dyes to self-repairing vegan leather, everything here has at least one thing in common. The potential to make a difference.

PIÑATEX Light from Ananas Anam

Pineapple-based pioneer Ananas Anam has been creating PIÑATEX for long enough now to have had the leather alternative used in everything from bags to sneakers and applied to products by brands as big as Nike.

PIÑATEX Light, then, is the next generation of the next generation. Joining the Ananas Anam family alongside PIÑAYARN, this new variation is exactly what the name suggests: a combination of the company’s two industry-leading products – PIÑATEX with a PIÑAYARN backing – it is lightweight, flexible and thin (at just 1.1mm) without sacrificing durability or elasticity.

“PERVASIVE BLOOM” Mustard-based Dye from Olderbrother

Best known for its utilitarian approach to everyday wear and workwear, it’s worth noting that California-based Olderbrother applies that philosophy across the board – not just in product, but also in process. As a brand, they’re not about preaching – but, if they were, you could fairly say that they practice, too.

SS23’s “Pervasive Bloom” collection, for example, uses dyes created with “mustard seed harvested from urban landscapes, along with mulberry wood extract, tannins, chlorophyll, and iron.” It’s a technique that not only takes the environmentally harmful chemical aspect out of the dying process, but which also does good for the environment on a (literal) grassroots level.

As Olderbrother explains in its SS23 editorial: “Mustard forms monocultures – areas where little other plant life can grow, limiting biodiversity and disrupting entire ecosystems. Additionally, as mustard dies back in the summer it creates a tremendous amount of fuel for wildfires, posing a significant threat to communities… While mustards are likely here to stay in California, there are methods of managing their presence that can still leave room for local plant ecology to regain their footing.”

“By removing thousands of individual mustard plants from public land while in their flowering phase,” the brand adds, “fewer mustard seeds are added to the seed bank,” stemming the tide of the mustard takeover and, in the process, making use of its natural yellow and green coloration.

BioSequins from Radiant Matter for Stella McCartney

On the day-to-day, you may not think much about sequins. And that’s perfectly understandable – after all, they probably don’t make up a huge percentage of your wardrobe. Nevertheless, this development matters: it may seem frivolous, but it’s all-too-rare that more frivolous or luxurious garments are given the sustainable treatment they so desperately need.

In replacing petrochemical-based plastic – the material from which sequins are most often constructed – with naturally-occurring tree cellulose, biomaterials company Radiant Matter offers a solution to a problem that a pretty sizeable proportion of the industry might not even have considered worthy of attention.

That Stella McCartney has the distinction of being the first major brand to pick up on this is hardly surprising, particularly in context of the label’s continued work with cruelty and plastic-free materials companies like Natural Fiber Welding. A marquee name like McCartney’s giving time to this issue at all, though, is a big step in making sure it isn’t just the easiest or most obvious problems that the industry is working to solve.

Self-Repairing Mycelium Leather

What if clothes could fix themselves? It’s a question you may have asked yourself at some point – either in the process of reluctantly discarding some damaged garment or, perhaps, whilst hunched over a tear or a snag with needle and thread in hand. What if that question, though, was the product of actual research instead of just the result of mild annoyance? Well, that could change everything.

Still far from scalability for market consumption, a report in the scientific journal “Advanced Functional Materials” explains how this could soon be possible.

Using lab-grown mycelium, researchers were able to produce a mushroom leather-like material, puncture holes in that material, and then successfully coax it into repairing itself to such an extent that the damaged areas were no weaker than the undamaged parts.

It may be a way off – with researchers still looking into recreating these results with a stronger mycelium leather and ways to stop this living mushroom fabric from continuing to grow unchecked – but the possibilities and potential of this development could revolutionize fashion sustainability within the next decade.

Algae Ink™ from Living Ink

It may seem optimistic, but a slew of recent developments could well see petroleum’s vice-like stranglehold on basically every part of our lives coming to an end. Not a moment too soon, of course – and hopefully not a moment too late.

One such change comes in the form of an Earth-friendlier update to a regularly-ignored issue: the problem of ink.

Ink – or, more specifically, the pigment known as Carbon Black which is used in creating black inks, plastics, and even rubbers – may seem as innocuous as it is ubiquitous, but behind this inescapable everyday product is an equally inescapable fact: that Carbon Black, created from heavy petroleum, is neither safe for the Earth nor for the humans who use it.

That’s where Living Ink comes in. Having already been applied to everything form Nike shoes to Patagonia tags, Algae Ink™ is just that – a new kind of bio-based ink, created from algae, that is both safe for humans to use and carbon negative. Move over Carbon Black, hello Algae Black™.

Mycelium Furniture from Mycotech Lab

While there must be a way to say that the mushroom market is growing without using some kind of terrible pun, I’m yet to find a viable workaround here – so let’s just gloss over that and get to it.

Showcased recently in the collaborative exhibition between Space Available and Braindead Studios, the power and beauty of mycelium comes in its organic form – a semi-predictable aesthetic that more-or-less guarantees the right kind of shape but leaves much of the rest open to nature’s whims.

That mycelium innovator MYCL would push that form to furniture, then, seems – if not inevitable, per se – at the very least something like “creatively logical.” Working with artists and design studios like Space Available, Dean Edmonds and ōd architecture studio, MYCL’s endeavours prove that fungi may well be the go-to base material for interiors that are more sustainable, artistic and genuinely unique.

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