Sep 15, 2023
by Karl Smith
Next-Gen Sustainable Material Innovations You Need to Know
by Karl Smith
Sep 15, 2023

Material innovation takes many forms – even just within the relative niche of fashion, footwear and design. Despite these varied facets of the next-gen sphere, however, focus reliably tends to fall on the same few areas: alternatives to animal-based products and antidotes to fossil-derived fibers, for example, get more than this fair share of the limelight.

Which, of course, isn’t to say they don’t deserve it – only that they’re far from the be-all or end-all of material innovation. There’s constant change – constant progress, even – at the granular level, the research and financial minutia, that form and inform every piece of news.

Everything that feels like it came from nowhere has been brewing for years – every leap forward, seemingly into nothing, has had that course plotted to the finest detail.

All of which is to say that those marquee-level offerings don’t exist in a vacuum: innovation is a spectrum – some colors are more perceptible than others, yes, but it what sits between them that does so much of the work making them so bright.

And so, from home-compostable acceptors to funding for planet-friendlier pigments, the world’s first Fine Mycelium production facility to carbon capture pilot schemes at Walmart, here’s everything you might have missed between the news you saw.

Been London x Biophilica Home-Compostable Collection

That the cycle of consumption and production is a problem ought not to be news. Purchase facilitates manufacture, which only leads to more purchase down the line.

All of which, in turn, leads to more wastage – not just at the factory level, but at the consumer level, too.

Of course, the answer as always is less, not more – but new products have their place too. Case in point: accessories brand Been London and biotech company Biophilica, whose new collaboration presents an intriguing prospect – products which, at the end of their life, neither find their way to landfill nor have to reach a specialized facility to degrade responsibly.

Using the plastic-free leather alternative Treekind, the small collection comprises bags and high-end small goods. Products designed to ensure and then return to the Earth.

MycoWorks Is Opening The World’s First Full-Scale Fine Mycelium Plant

Recently the subject of a new documentary short, MycoWorks continues to prove the power of mycellium as not only a material innovation in fashion and design but also an agent for change in a much broader sense.

This latest news, then, combines all of the above: in launching a new production plant for Fine Mycelium, MycoWorks is effectively putting its money where its mouth is – betting on itself and on a better future for the fashion industry – with a move that could (and indeed should) point to the scalability of the bio-based product as an alternative to plastics, animal-based leathers and other high-impact materials.

Dedicated to the production of MycoWorks’ high-end Reishi material, the plant is set to begin operating on September 20, 2023 and, according to a statement from the company, “will employ more than 350 people, enabling MycoWorks to supply its luxury partners with millions of square feet of Reishi per year.”

All of which makes this not only a world’s first on some technicality, but very much on terms that anyone would be hard-pressed to argue with: a facility large enough, with enough manpower and manufacturing capability to affect real change.

Rubi Laboratories Is Partnering With Walmart (Yes, that Walmart)

San Francisco-based Rubi Laboratories is borderline unstoppable at this point. Which, in case you were wondering, is very much a good thing: unlike so many other things about the fashion industry that feel, despite much hard work on the part of so many, destined to run amok ad infinitum, Rubi Labs is a machine of positive perpetual motion.

Having previously linked with other progressively-minded organizations like the Danish fashion label GANNI, the material innovators have now announced a collaboration with what it would be fair to call an entirely different beast (and, in many ways, beast is the only appropriate word). This new partner in progress? Walmart.

As part of a new pilot scheme, the super-chain of superstores will not only look at ways of integrating Rubi Labs’ carbon capture technology across various facilities its supply chain to reduce impact on the Earth, but will also “[test] the performance of apparel that uses the fibers Rubi produces from carbon emissions.”

It may not be the first name you think of when it comes to sustainability, but Walmart is often the first name that millions of people think of when it comes to pretty much anything else. Having an organization of this scale committed to working on a better, more sustainable future could quite literally change everything.

Nature Coatings Inc. Has Secured a Game-Changing Investment

Part of an upcoming crop of material innovators focused on pigment solutions, Nature Coatings Inc. has secured $2.45 million USD to continue its work – work which, as with the next-gen company’s peers in the sector, is dedicated to the researching and development of alternatives to toxic, high-impact materials like the fossil-derived Carbon Black.

Rather than creating color from carbon in an environmentally-harmful process, Nature Coatings uses wood-based waste to create its product, BioBlack TX, with a mission to phase out a ubiquitous chemical that is not only disastrous from a sustainability point of view but also in terms of its toxicity to human.

Considering that the issue of coloration receives a lot less time in the spotlight than other material issues – like lower-impact replacements for plastics or for animal-derived products – this funding boost represents a huge watershed moment for what might previously have been considered a niche concern. The cash injection – which comes courtesy of The 22 Fund and Regeneration.VC, with participation from Leonardo DiCaprio, Safer Made, and Portfolia – is an endorsement of the belief, held by companies like Nature Coatings Inc. and LivingInk, for example, that pigment is a pressing issue.

BOSS Embraces THE CHANGE with HeiQ AeoniQ™

As far as fashion labels go, BOSS – and, indeed, Hugo Boss – is absolutely a household name. What it’s not, however, at least not these days, is famous for its groundbreaking work in either the aesthetics or the materials department. If you were to convene a focus group, BOSS would likely have associations of quality and dependability – of uniformity. None of which, necessarily, are bad things.

It seems, however, that the German brand has other ideas.

Part of an ongoing project referred to as “THE CHANGE,” BOSS has partnered with European compatriots and circularity experts HeiQ AeoniQ™ to release three new pieces of outerwear for the Fall/Winter 2023 season using the material innovator’s low-impact fibers.

According to a statement from BOSS, “All three of these exclusive items coolly combine plant-based fibers with high-tech, state-of-the-art construction methods,” including a stand-out double-breasted trench coat, “crafted from a 3-layer textile comprised of HeiQ AeoniQ™ fabric bonded with a bio-based, waterproof membrane, while the third, inner layer is a Swiss pima cotton.”

Because “high end” doesn’t have to mean “high impact.”

Plastic Bottles Are Going Bio-Based

Plastic bottles: if something so broad and amorphous as “sustainability” had a list of enemies, you can bet these would feature somewhere near the top. And understandably so when you consider that “35 billion empty water bottles are thrown away in the US each year, with only 12% being recycled.”

Obviously the answer is cutting down – sooner rather than later, plastic bottles ought to go the way of the plastic bag; a mark of shame on any shopper who dares to make the request – and, certainly, reusable water bottles are on the rise. (Calvin Klein even makes a bio-based carry bag for your bottle.) But there are other solutions, too. A change in materials would drastically change the impact of this far-too-ubiquitous product.

And that change could be on the cards much sooner than any kind of ban, with trade media outfit Packaging Europe reporting that “Origin Materials and Husky Technologies report the successful use of injection moulding equipment to process PET containing FCDA – a bio-based chemical utilised in PEF production – into preforms and bottles for advanced packaging and more.”

Spinnova and Renewcell are Scaling Circular Fashion

In an ideal world, there’d be a fashion industry with no waste. In the absence of that idyllic vision, however, there’s still room to focus on better ways to manage the waste generated by production and consumption – methods that are more thoughtful, more creative, and less detrimental the Earth.

In announcing a new collaboration, then, Finland-based material innovator Spinnova and Swedish recycling aficionados Renewcell are picking up that baton and running with it: described as the first partnership of its kind, the joint effort is set to pioneer a new progressive alternative for waste – one where “textile waste-based fibre can be spun into new fibre without harmful chemicals.” And if you think that sounds like the product of some far-off future, well, think again – according to a statement from the two progressive outfits, “The first consumer products from this new textile fibre are estimated to be available by the end of 2024.”

Eckhaus Latta and Unspun Partner on 3D-Weaving Technology

Having recently secured fresh funding to scale-up its Vega 3D-weaving technology, California-based fashion technology outfit Unspun has made light work of showing the world exactly where that money went. Partnering with the fashion house Eckhaus Latta, Unspun has launched Vega into fashion’s public consciousness with the kind of collaboration startups dream of (but which they rarely end up securing) – on one of fashion’s biggest stages, featuring as a part of three of the NY-anchored label’s Spring 2024 looks from New York Fashion Week.

Showcasing Vega at fashion’s highest level proves exactly what the technology is capable of – and, in doing so through a partnership with a label as well known and as large as Eckhaus Latta, also proves that those capabilities extend beyond theory and beyond niche, smaller-scale collaborations. As Harper’s Bazaar rightly notes, “Unspun’s technology allows labels obsessed with craftsmanship and quality to make orders on demand without fabric waste (or the itch to burn what they don’t sell through).”