Feb 24, 2024
by Karl Smith
Next-Gen Material Innovation News You Need to Know This Month – Part Two
by Karl Smith
Feb 24, 2024

Here we are, then – a FUTUREVVORLD first – the second edition of this month’s material innovation news, made entirely necessary by the sheer volume and breadth of progress in the worlds of footwear, fashion, and design.

From Earth-friendlier eyewear to new partnerships in bio-based footwear manufacturing, big-name fashion brands partnering with plant-based innovators to a new standard set for recycled materials and a game-changing seaweed innovation that could well turn the plastics industry upside down.

This is part two of all the essential next-generation material innovation news you need to know this month. Dive in. (And, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out part one.)

Sway’s Scalable, Seaweed-based Thermoplastic is Ready to Revolutionize the Industry

Founded in 2020, San Francisco-based cleantech material innovator has never been short of ambition; its mission, right from the get-go, has been to deliver an Earth-friendlier alternative to petro-plastics and, in turn, to deliver us all from the untold damage those fossil-based materials cause.

Having made incremental (but nonetheless impressive) advances toward that goal over the last six years, Sway has now announced something more like a breakthrough – an innovation with applications and implications that are equally broad and potentially revolutionary.

A 100% bio-based thermoplastic resin, TPSea is home-compostable, free from microplastics, and created from a regenerative seaweed that can actually aid in replenishing ocean ecosystems.

All of which, even on its own, is pretty incredible. What’s perhaps most important, most genuinely capable of moving the needle, however, is that TPSea is designed to work within the scaled plastic infrastructure as it exists – there’s no need to overhaul the entire manufacturing system and no reason for the Plastics Industry to claim it’s too complicated or expensive.

So, consider that the gauntlet thrown down. Your move, plastics. Profits right now, or progress in the long run?

Stella McCartney Continues Its Partnership with BANANATEX and Its Commitment to Progress

First things first: as a finished product, these aren’t going to be for everyone. That’s about as self-evident as it gets. What’s equally obvious, though, is that their existence is a good thing; that Stella McCartney continues to throw its weight and its name behind innovative, plant-based and plastic-free materials is vital in terms of progress in the fashion industry.

In that sense, then, love them or hate them – there’s likely no in-between – that these shoes represent the continued partnership between a big-name fashion brand and a company which produces material from banana waste is a big deal.

GANNI Renews Its Collaboration with Ace & Tate, Giving Recycled Materials New Visibility

Danish label GANNI is a frequent traveler here – its constant drive to not only use Earth-friendlier materials in its products, but also to see just how far it can push those materials is rarely equalled by its peers in the fashion industry.

Often, though, that means prototypes; designs with serious potential to make serious change – like the bacteria-based Bou Bag, for example – but which are not, at present, manufactured at scale.

It’s even more heartening, then, when one of GANNI’s progressive partnerships takes a more mainstream approach, producing something that’s accessible to a wider audience of consumers. Like this latest collaboration, with eyewear brand Ace & Tate – a joint-effort, comprising sunglasses crafted from a recycled material called Acetate Renew Bio.

Which, when you think about how many pairs of sunglasses are lost and replaced every year – let alone how many are actually manufactured – could have some real impact even beyond this capsule.

Balena and For Ever Join Forces, Inject Some Sole Into Sustainability

Portugal-based outsole manufacturer For Ever has been on something of an Earth-friendly roll of late – working not only with TENCEL Lyocell, but also with Natural Fiber Welding’s naturally-cured performance rubber product Pliant, and a host of other innovative materials from cork (it is Portugal, after all) to industrial waste. Now, adding another sustainable string to its already well-strung bow, For Ever has forged a new partnership – this time with Milan-based material innovator Balena.

Introducing Balena’s BioCir®flex – a product designed not only for traditional manufacturing methods but also to ease seamlessly into more progressive manufacturing processes such as 3D printing – into a range of footwear soles, For Ever effectively brings Balena’s bio-based, biodegradable material to a mass market, acting as proof of its scalability and its performance capabilities.

Having been around for over half a century now, it’s heartening to see an outfit like For Ever working with new materials and new processes – the finished BioCir®flex product is an injection-moulded, bio-based thermoplastic – rather than continuing to trade on the status quo. That a legacy manufacturer would choose to forge ahead like this, not content with one token Earth-friendlier option, sets an example that the whole industry ought to aspire to.

Sustainability Goes Infrared with NEFFA’s Latest Innovation

Often in the next-generation sphere, innovators tend to carve out a pretty distinct micro-niche and stick to it. Usually, this means picking one idea and seeing how far that will take them. In NEFFA’s case, however, the Dutch biotech fashion outfit has staked its claim with a mix of technologies which, when used together, have some serious potential.

Combining infrared, which allows for the precise sorting of garments, enzymatic technology for their swift and easy breakdown, and a 3D manufacturing process using home-compostable mycelium, it might seem at first glance like NEFFA are simply throwing everything at the Earth-friendlier wall to see what sticks. That, of course, isn’t what’s happening here – and it isn’t why the company has managed to close a successful (if undisclosed) round of seed funding, led by the Dutch Industrial Biotech Seed Fund.

With MYCOTEX, the company’s flagship mushroom-based material, at the fore, NEFFA (which is a contraction, of sorts, of New Fashion Factory) is working to introduce processes which localize production, reduce waste and water usage, and – perhaps most importably – can be scaled into the current manufacturing system with very few extensions to existing machinery. And that, to borrow from Don Draper, is what the money’s for.

Melina Bucher Combines Traditional Craft with Next-Gen Material Innovation

For too long, progress was seen by many as the enemy of tradition. Artisans and manufacturers rooted in a legacy of animal-derived materials and processes hinging on environmentally damaging chemicals or massive amounts of water usage were often resistant to the idea that there might be a better way – after all, it wasn’t their way and that most likely meant that this alternative future didn’t require their skills or their know-how.

They were wrong, of course, and it’s the intersection of future-facing technologies and classical craftsmanship where much of the most interesting work is being done today. Take German bag designer Melina Bucher, for example: here is a label, focused on next-generation materials and animal-free products, opting to open a first-of-its-kind master craftsmanship operation in Mannheim.

Choosing not to focus only on the base materials – which would be fine, with an array of synthetic leathers and, most notably, Natural Fiber Welding’s MIRUM material employed in the production of its bags – but also on the artistry, Melina Bucher is a testament to a certain kind of synergy that others might want to downplay.

Eastman’s Naia Renew Makes a GRS-Certified Debut

Having previously trailed the product and impressed at the Première Vision sustainability event in Paris, Tennessee-based material innovation outfit Eastman is now preparing to do the business and make good on its word with Naia Renew.

Made from 60% sustainably-sourced wood pulp and 40% from other waste materials – the latter of which now comes with the benefit of a coveted GRS certification – the cellulosic fiber is, according to Eastman, prepped, ready, and about to make its way out into the world and into the hands of at least one Earth-friendlier fashion brand.

Much depends on how this first run sells and how the product is received by brands of course, but – if uptake in Naia Renew follows anything like the same pattern as interest – then we’ll soon be hearing a lot more from Eastman’s latest innovation. (That being said, however, others producers of recycled cellulose aren’t currently providing the most positive outlook. But, hey, here’s to bucking the trend.)

Cycora Pushes What’s Possible for Recycled Textiles

Material innovation is necessarily about what’s new; new processes, new systems, new ideas, and – of course – new materials. What’s less often evangelised, however, is the setting of new standards; not because it isn’t important (it’s vital for any kind of progress), but because it sounds like admin work – like spreadsheets and clipboards – and that isn’t quite as easy to market.

Still, it matters. And what Ambercycle has achieved with Cycora has far-reaching implications for next-gen materials.

According to CETI – that’s the European Centre for Innovative Textiles for the uninitiated – Cycora, which is made from end-of-life textiles, not only outperforms its recycled peers when it comes to spinnability standards, but also draws level with virgin materials in that regard, maintaining “consistent quality without compromising on performance.”

It’s a huge win for Los Angeles-based Ambercycle, the innovator behind Cycora, as well as the company’s peers in the sector who will doubtlessly look at this result and see a turn in the tide for industrially-scaled recycled materials. And, of course, a massive blow to the naysayers who – either through stubborn marriage to the status quo or in service of their own interests – doubt the potential of next-gen materials versus traditional competitors.

So, a lot more than just admin.