Jul 17, 2023
by Karl Smith
7 New Planet-Friendlier Innovations in Fashion, Footwear and Design
by Karl Smith
Jul 17, 2023

If money makes the world go round – and certainly that’s true within the fashion industry – then innovation is what keeps it moving forward. Here’s the thing: if they were to remain static, unchanged and unchecked, fashion and footwear, already big-time contributors to the pollution of the planet’s air and oceans, would be not only unsustainable but entirely untenable.

Thankfully, though, that isn’t the case. There are those working within the industry – and adjacent to it – pushing forward with solutions to our essential problems; questions of toxic plastics and petrochemicals, ethical issues surrounding animal-derived products, and the proliferation of climate-destroying carbon emissions.

Most of these aren’t designed to change the system overnight – and, frankly, the industry wouldn’t accept that kind of seismic shift anyway – but, rather, designed to change the processes and the products which fit together to form the system itself. Replacing, over time but with ever increasing speed, each and every cog in the machine unfit for purpose. Which, unfortunately, is a lot of cogs.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of the latest innovations and updates in the material world – from plastic-free plastics to new circular programs, welfare-oriented wool commitments to a bacteria-based blazer with serious implications for the future of fashion. The world keeps spinning, but sometimes it feels, at least, like it’s hurtling through space in the right direction.

PANGAIA Joins Spiber’s Biosphere Circulation Program

If someone were to ask you for a list of brands “doing the most” when it comes to planet-friendlier products and processes, it’s hard to imagine that list not including PANGAIA.

Between its use of organic materials, plant-based down alternatives, and low-impact innovations like its wash-less peppermint oil treatment, there are few labels doing as much as the materials science brand. And fewer still doing it so consistently.

And with its latest move, the London-based outfit is only pushing that reputation forward.

Partnering with fellow innovators Spiber, PANGAIA will join the Japanese company’s new “biosphere circulation program” – an effort to create a fully circular fashion economy, hinging on Spiber’s groundbreaking brewed protein, where participating brands will see their products upcycled in a lab environment in their end-of-life stage.

Zerocircle Creates Products and Packaging from Seaweed

Having been named a winner of the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize, India-based Zerocircle is putting its award money toward further research, development and production of seaweed as a viable alternative to plastics. Plentiful, natural, and – most importantly – non-toxic to our planet, to our oceans, or to any of the animals which populate either, if seaweed can be harvested and harnessed in the right ways then it has the potential to make huge waves across multiple industries.

As far as fashion and footwear goes, the first port of call – and one where Zerocircle is already pushing hard – is packaging: replacing virgin, single-use and even recycled plastics (the latter of which is still detrimental to the environment, shedding microplastics even in the recycling process) with an abundant, organic crop like seaweed is a huge step forward in reforming the industry’s out-of-control polluting habits.

Zerocircle’s bio-soluble seaweed packaging is a kind of low-impact ouroboros: a product responsibly sourced from the sea, created with a view to cleaning up the sea itself – where seaweed often works as a filtration device for the oceans, it can do the same on land, stopping plastics from ever passing into the water.

GANNI and Polybion Collaborate on Bacterial Cellulose Blazer

GANNI has never been shy about its planet-friendlier proclivities: the go-to brand for fun-loving minimalism, GANNI has nonetheless focused on working with recycled materials, progressive processes, and next-gen alternatives to plastic-based fibers. Over the last few years, the Danish label has collaborated with Iceland’s 66°NORTH on a collection that utilized low-impact dyes and 95% ocean plastic polyester, with New Balance on a sneaker with a 50% recycled upper and 5% regrind rubber outsole, with Rubi Laboratories on a scheme to decarbonize the fashion industry, and with its own internal processes to push for greater transparency in reporting.

Continuing that positive trend, GANNI is working with the Mexico-based next-gen materials company Polybion. Together, the two have created a blazer crafted entirely from Celium™ – Polybion’s bacterial cellulose-based alternative to animal-derived and petro-plastic materials. Created in partnership with GANNI’s dedicated research arm, Fabrics of the Future, the jacket’s Celium™ base originates from Polybion’s own factory in Irapuato, Mexico, and is created from fruit waste.

While the blazer, which debuted at the Global Fashion Summit earlier this year, is itself a one-of-one item, the collaboration is likely to – ugh – bear fruit in the not-so-distant future. Successfully showcasing the versatility and viability of Polybion’s fully circular product, the Celium™ is proof positive of the material’s suitability for the fashion industry.

HeiQ AeoniQ™’s Plant Polyester Goes to Market with MAS Holdings

Plastic is one of the biggest problems faced by the fashion industry – and, for that matter, basically every industry; all the way from food to transport to technology. The reason plastic is such a problem isn’t just the fact that its massively detrimental to environmental, animal and human wellbeing – there’s not just microplastics in the air now, by the way, they’ve even gotten to our blood – but because it’s such a huge part of life as we know it. Cutting out plastic isn’t just a click-your-fingers-and-its-done kind of job: it requires research, development and huge investment to put forward a workable plan for a plastic-free future.

Thankfully, though, people are working on that plan.

Austrian circularity specialists HeiQ AeoniQ™ have joined the likes of U.S.-based Kintra Fibers in putting their resources toward new kinds of plastics; materials with the same properties and usage potential, but created from natural means. Where much time is spent in seeking out “vegan” replacements for animal-derived products – with good work being done by companies like Natural Fiber Welding toward making those alternatives plastic-free – alternatives to plastics themselves get far less attention.

While HeiQ AeoniQ™’s plant-based dupe for nylon and polyester has been knocking around for a little while now, the question of scale has – as is so often the case with next-gen materials – held it back from making the kind of impact that a development like this rightfully ought to. A new partnership with textile manufacturer MAS Holdings, however, could change all of that. Per Forbes: “MAS Holdings announced they had “invested $2.5M in AeoniQ” and “committed to a 5-year offtake agreement” to purchase 3000 tonnes of the yarn in the first year of scaled production (2025), then 5000 tonnes each year from 2026 to 2029.

Nike Commits to Mulesing-Free Wool

Now, wool is wool – there’s no disputing that. It comes from animals and, frankly, we’d rather it didn’t. But, there are better ways – more conscious and considerate ways. Less, to put it bluntly, needlessly cruel ways.

(Funnily enough, this ancient practice found ways to be more symbiotic prior to the mass-scale industrialization of farming.)

That being said, to see a brand as large as Nike take something like a stand and push for the “better” option is worthy of acknowledgement.

The Portland-based company is officially committing to mulesing-free wool – which is a big deal, even if it sounds like a small step. (For the uninitiated, mulesing refers to the practice of removing a large are of skin from wool-bearing sheep; ostensibly to prevent infection, but decidedly barbaric as a procedure and only necessary because of the way sheep are bred for large-scale wool farming.)

While this isn’t technically about “next-gen” materials or material innovation, it is a question of material choice and material ethics: Nike, and other Nike-sized companies, identifying this as something they don’t want to associate with could have a huge knock-on effect. And that’s real progress.

Natural Fiber Welding Crafts MIRUM Seats for BMW

Cars are contentions. And rightly so. At FUTUREVVORLD we often talk about the issue of petrochemical-derived materials – and the ways in which so-called “vegan” materials lean on petro-plastics – but, when it comes to cars, we’re really talking about the petrochemical. The big one.

How, then – beyond full-electric and even further progress in medium-to-long term – can we think about disrupting that industry for the better?

Well, as usual, next-gen material innovators have an (if not the) answer.

Partnering with BMW, Natural Fiber Welding has created what NFW founder Luke Haverhals calls, “Full automotive seating made fully from MIRUM – the world’s first and only proven performance material that is simultaneously low-carbon, non-toxic, circular, & natural.”

Balena Moves Into 3D-Printing With BioCir®flex

Having already made an impression with its biodegradable slide, material science company Balena has now taken its BioCir® material and re-engineered it, optimizing thje innovation specifically for 3D-printing.

Dubbed BioCir®flex, this latest version retains the essential properties that made BioCir® a noteworthy innovation in the first place – fully compostable, made without the use of fossil-based petrochemicals – but comes with the added benefit of higher scalability.

Now suitable for lower-impact processes like 3D-printing and injection molding, BioCir®flex has the potential for take-up across a huge array of industries where those processes are the default (and ones like footwear, where they’re making speedy inroads), replacing toxic, high-impact materials that have long been the go-to for lack of choice or questions of viability.