Jul 10, 2024
by Karl Smith
The Next-Gen Material Innovation News You Need to Know This Month
by Karl Smith
Jul 10, 2024

When it comes to progress, it often feels like either everything is happening at once or nothing is happening at all. It can be perplexing, frustrating even, to ricochet between near-daily updates and waiting so long for news it seems like nothing is ever going to change. But, while the old adage about watched pots very much holds true, this is news that tends to be worth waiting for.

All of which goes some way toward explaining why we didn’t publish our usual material innovation roundup in June and why, under a third of the way through July, we’re now stacked with news that’s worth imparting from across the breadth Earth-friendlier spectrum. There’s apparel manufactured from algae, sneakers part-made from mycelium, eyewear crafted from water-sports waste, game-changing partnerships and forward-thinking collaborations, and serious movement on funding and scale. And that’s not even all of it.

So, with a lot of ground to cover – from footwear to fashion and well beyond – here’s the material innovation news we think you need to know this month. Dive in: after all, there’s no sense in waiting.

Circ-Ready Community

A common criticism of the innovation community is that – well – it isn’t one. Gripes about insularity, navel-gazing, the hoarding of knowledge and connections are all regular topics of conversation. More than this, though, the next-gen sector has a habit of keeping itself to itself – perhaps going against our own “Progress Over Perfection” mantra – and focusing too hard on the product rather than looking for partners to push it out into the world, relegating potentially world-changing innovations to laboratories and boardrooms from which they may never escape.

This, however, doesn’t have to be the case. And the latest initiative from Virginia-based Circ is proof of that.

Launching the “Circ-Ready Community,” the textile-to-textile recycler unveiled a host of brands and manufacturers ready and waiting to use Circ’s recycled materials. Tested to a rigorous standard, Circ describes the group as “an exclusive community of global supply-chain partners who have demonstrated their ability to make high-quality, better-for-the-planet solutions for fashion brands using Circ materials,” leaving little room for doubt as for the innovator’s capability to deliver on scaling out its solution to the problem of fashion industry waste.

PUMA Introduces HyphaLite to the Mainstream

Having previously worked with HyphaLite on the collaborative Velophasis V002 sneaker released with Perks And Mini earlier this year, German sportswear giant PUMA has once again drafted in the biomaterial outfit to feature as in its footwear offering.

Derived from mushrooms and other plant-based material, the inclusion of HyphaLitewhich seems to be cropping up more and more in the footwear industry – feels like a natural continuation of PUMA’s well-regarded sustainability strategy. What’s most interesting here, though, is that the shoe in question isn’t a collaboration: while the fact that it’s sold out on the brand’s official website and numbers are dwindling elsewhere does suggest the numbers are somewhat limited, these are nonetheless a mainline PUMA shoe and HyphaLite’s usage here gives next-gen materials a serious spotlight moment.

That being said, the shoe itself falls to familiar temptation: the unnecessary inclusion of two types of animal-derived suede in the overlays does temper the progress here somewhat. Still, seeing innovation front and center like this is welcome at a time when other brands are often found rowing back.

Veshin Factory Takes a Big Leap Into Biomaterials

Veshin Factory is an interesting case. On the one hand, one could make the argument that the high-end manufacturer doesn’t technically fall into the category of “innovator” because they’re not producing a material of their own. On the other, it’s easy to see why this is wrong: in bringing next-gen materials to scale through factories in China, Italy, Colombia, and Brazil, Veshin is essentially innovating the entire fashion supply chain – offering brands the capability to produce luxury-level footwear and accessories with massively-reduced impact.

This newest move, then, marks the latest in Veshin’s push for progress in the fashion industry. Incorporating Leap into its material offering – a material made from apple waste courtesy of the juice industry and created by Danish outfit Beyond Leather Materials – the Earth-friendlier manufacturer is now able to offer a bio-based alternative to its global array of customers when it comes to accessories, footwear, bags and wallets. And that’s a seal of approval which the industry takes seriously.

SQIM Isn’t Making Alternative Materials, It’s Making Luxury Materials

There has been much debate about the efficacy of mycelium as an alternative material – and rightly so; there are questions left unanswered and questions which, having been answered, have produced less than satisfactory responses. Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for mushroom-based materials in the next-gen sector and it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for them in the fashion and footwear industries. It just means we might need to rethink what that place is.

Created by Italian innovator SQIM, ephea™ AURA is a material proposing exactly that kind of realignment.

The successor to ephea™, AURA is pitched as a high end, luxury-focused material which – in many ways – looks and feels like animal-derived leather. Crucially, however, it isn’t billed as a replacement but rather as a product in its own right – not to be considered a second or alternative choice but as a first-choice option, replete with all the inherent tactile and functional qualities of traditional materials, but with a much lower environmental cost.

Having already tapped into capital-F Fashion through a collaboration with BALENCIAGA, it’ll be interesting to see how much further AURA can go than its predecessor; such a successful test case, however, should place ephea™ AURA right in front of the world’s biggest brands. Leaving only the eternal question, “Why not?”.

Cellulosic Fibers are Coming for the Fashion Industry thanks to Lenzing and Suzano

Having recently leant their technology to various fashion brands and seen a revenue uptick of 5.7% for Q1, carbon capture and cellulose innovator Lenzing now has another big-ticket collaboration under its belt. Albeit one of a slightly different nature.

With the acquisition of a 15% stake in the company (and the option to pick up another 15% should it choose to do so), Suzano – the world’s largest producer of cellulose pulp – provides Lenzing with a well-earned and much-needed boost in terms of infrastructure, supply and production power. It may not sound glamorous – although the €230 million EUR to be paid in full on closing of the deal certainly has some gravitas – but this, in many ways more than the kinds of consumer-facing collaborations that we’re used to seeing, is the kind of thing that really moves the needle on sustainability.

Quiksilver Is Taking Back the Narrative on Recycling

If you’re interested in or adjacent to basically any form of outdoor sport – especially one that involves a board of some kind – then you’re probably familiar with Quiksilver. Producing everything from apparel and accessories to skateboards and surfboards to performance wear of all kinds, there are few corners of its broad market niche that Quiksilver doesn’t have a handle on. And, in general, that means there are also few surprises when it comes to the storied California label’s output. “Few,” however, is not the same as zero.

And, to that end, it’s heartening to see a brand like Quiksilver – which could so easily continue on with the status quo and ride the wave of its reputation well into the future – making interesting and progressive choices.

Coming off the back of a takeback program launched in 2022, Quiksilver has now partnered with French eyewear outfit Oceneo to make good use of some of those reclaimed products, crafting a run of Earth-friendlier sunglasses fashioned from the upcycled remnants of damaged wetsuits and reworking the Ferris silhouette into the FerrisNeo.

According to Fashion Network, “One wetsuit is sufficient to produce frames for four pairs [of glasses], using a mixture of neoprene and pine resin,” with other components such as the case and lenses – the latter made from bio-bylon – all sourced from Earth-friendlier manufactuers.

It’s an interesting project – billed as the first of many in terms of Quiksilver’s recycling research effort – and only trips up on the “limited edition” factor of the product, delivering only 150 pairs of the FerrisNeo. That being said you have to start somewhere, and it’s clear that Quiksilver is putting serious time, thought and effort into this work. Which, of course, is better than rushing in with half an idea and having to slink back when it fails.

It may not be making huge waves, but it’s making enough ripples to get the water moving.

A Fresh Round of Funding for Samsara Is a Blow to Petro-Plastic Perpetrators

Money: you can’t do anything without it, and too often the people who do have it aren’t interested in doing anything which might do anything to change that. With this in mind, then, it’s always good news when capital finds its way to progress and forward-thinking people are given the financial keys to actually affect positive change on the world.

This is very much the case with Australian enviro-tech outfit Samsara, having recently closed a Series A+ funding round with a fresh cheque for $100 million AU – one of the largest such investments the country has ever seen.

Taking on the daunting mission of reducing and eventually eliminating plastic waste from our planet, Samsara’s technology – essentially an enzyme which eats petro-plastics so you don’t have to – now has huge forward momentum, giving the next-gen company the potential to ratchet up its global recycling power and divert potentially huge amounts of plastic waste from disastrous landfill or incineration sites. That’s the kind of change only money can buy.

Epson and Spiber are Printing the Future of Fashion

Over the last 82 years, Japanese technology outfit Epson has made itself into something of a household name. Not for the manufacturing of watch parts, which is where it all began for the Nagano-based company, but – more than anything else – for printers and for being more-or-less the only real contender to HP’s domination in the sector. Given that reputation, then, it’s hardly surprising that Epson should want to push its technology as far as possible – in this case, into the realm of fashion.

Using the brewed protein fiber of compatriot material innovation pioneers Spiber as a base, Epson has collaborated with forward-thinking fashion brand Yuima Nakazato to play its part in the create of a new collection which puts Earth-friendlier production at the heart of its creative process. Using advanced pigment inkjet printing technology, designs are printed onto a material which mixes cotton with Spiber’s next-gen offering, deploying Epson’s Monna Lisa ML-13000 digital textile printing technology to reduce water consumption by 96% and overcome longstanding issues with printing onto mixed materials.

People say progress doesn’t just happen overnight. But have they tried printing it?

Organic Basics is All About the Algae Life

It’s long been argued that the problem with innovation is that it’s one step removed; that it’s always too far away from what the consumer actually wants. Whether you’re inclined to believe this or not – like most things in life, sometimes it’s true and often it isn’t – this latest collaboration between apparel brand Organic Basics and next-gen outfit Algaeing is certainly a strong case against that idea.

The Copenhagen brand – which does exactly what you’d expect it to do and does it well – has just released a new line of Earth-friendlier wardrobe staples, crafted from recycled nylon and dyed using Algaeing’s OEKO-TEX Eco Passport-certified Algadye™. While there’s plenty to debate about the nylon – the use of even recycled plastics is currently experiencing a fall from grace so far as its eco credentials are concerned – it’s the second part here that really matters.

Far too often dye is given something of a free pass, brushed over entirely because the problem of tonal toxicity isn’t as easy to convey to the average consumer as the problem of material pollution. Well, not so on this occasion: here, in Organic Basics’ “Algae Life” collection, that problem is put front and center – alongside its solution. What’s more, it’s also worth mentioning that the Copenhagen label is true to its “basics” brief in another sense – value. Priced starting from around $18 USD to $50 USD, the “Algae Life” collection also bucks the trend of pricing consumers out of the game when it comes to sustainability. Which, of course, isn’t going to get us anywhere.