Oct 16, 2023
by Karl Smith
The Next-Gen Material Innovation News You Need to Know This Month
by Karl Smith
Oct 16, 2023

When we say that next-gen materials are the building blocks of progress, it’s kind of a double-header. On the one hand, yes, we mean it literally: these fibers and fabrics – constructed from such innocuous-seeming sources as seaweed and bacteria, wood-waste and banana leaves – will be the materials that our clothes and shoes are made from in that planet-friendlier version of the fashion and footwear industry beginning to materialize in the not-so-distant future.

And then, on the other, we also mean this figuratively: these innovations – the companies and people behind them which are dedicating their time and resources, day in and day out, to creating for a better world – are the expertly-laid foundation which makes it possible to even imagining a more forward-thinking world build on top.

And it’s with this in mind that we’ve put together some of the most interesting, influential and essential news in the next-gen materials sphere from this last month. From seaweed-based dresses, courtesy of Keel Labs and Stella McCartney to a new bio-based leather debuted by BALENCIAGA – from Bolt Threads’ rising from its slumber to take the company public to Natural Fiber Welding’s latest deal to scale a more circular footwear industry – here’s what you need to know from this October.



BALENCIAGA still has the ability to surprise. Not, perhaps, in the sense it once did – back when Demna Gvsalia has just taken the helm and the shock of the new was all the brand seemed focused on – but, in a new, more thoughtful and more genuinely progressive sense. Having produced a full-length coat from mushroom leather back at the end of 2022, the Paris-based fashion house now seems set to continue along a more sustainable path.

After two years of collaboration, BALENCIAGA’s SS24 presentation at Paris Fashion week revealed the fruits of its partnership with San Francisco-based biomaterials company GOZEN: the LUNAFORM™ Maxi Bathrobe Coat – a piece of outerwear, crafted from GOZEN’s entirely bio-based leather alternative. Free from plastic and animal-derived elements, LUNAFORM™ is described as both “stronger and finer than traditional animal leather” and as having a “tensile strength to surpass that of plant and mycelium-based materials.” All of which – given that the material is now officially backed by one of fashion’s biggest players – sounds like major progress.

You can read more about the material over on the GOZEN website.

Stella McCartney Hosts a Sustainable Marketplace in Paris

As a pretty constant presence in the field of sustainability-minded fashion, Stella McCartney has positioned itself as something of a leader. Having established its own Earth-friendlier credentials through finding and finding ways to use new, next-gen materials in its designs – working with Natural Fiber Welding and Bolt Threads, using regenerative cotton and biosequins – the London-based label has now taken its place as something of a thought leader, too.

Playing host to a “Sustainable Marketplace” during Paris Fashion Week, Stella McCartney made the shift from being a brand that makes thoughtful, innovative, and planet-forward designs – itself no mean feat – toward being a facilitator in pushing for broader change. Showcasing material innovators from around the world, including NFW, Mabel Industries and Radiant Matter, the marketplace allowed for those outside of the label to get a sense of what the future of fashion might – and should – look like.

“I want to give people access to all this information. That’s why I did it,” McCartney told British Vogue. “I think the next generation of people do it. You’re doing what you can. We’re not here to make you feel guilty about not doing it a hundred per cent. Meet people, learn about things, and try not to consume quite so much fashion. Because we don’t need it.”

QWSTION Celebrates 15th Anniversary with New Bananatex Bags

Celebrating fifteen years in the game, Swiss brand QWSTION has released a new capsule collection of bags made with its natural-fiber Bananatex® material. Featuring two new styles, the “Travel Pack” and “Sling Bag,” the “Granite” collection is designed – using an updated version of the banana-leaf-based material – with the lightest possible footprint in mind and a goal of full circularity, noting that “metal zippers and buckles are recyclable, while the Cradle to Cradle Certified® Bananatex®, thread, tags and padding are 100% biodegradable.”

“To launch a brand new collection of bags, made from a brand new version of our signature material Bananatex® feels just like the right way of celebrating the 15th anniversary of QWSTION,” explains co-founder and CEO Hannes Schoenegger, speaking to FUTUREVVORLD. “It has been quite a journey with plenty of challenges and also very rewarding moments, from entering new grounds in developing circular materials to receiving international media attention and awards.”

You can read more about the collection, its materials, and the processes behind the bags over on the QWSTION website.

Bolt Threads Goes Public

To paraphrase Mark Twain: Rumors of Bolt Threads’ demise, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated. Where, earlier this year, it was announced that the company had halted production of its signature material – the leather alternative, Mylo – and speculation abounded as to the condition of the materials science company, now it seems we have our answers.

A newly-revealed deal will see Bolt Threads merge with “blank-check company Golden Arrow Merger Corp.,” becoming Bolt Projects Holdings, valuing Bolt Threads at $346 million USD in the process, and gaining the company an extra $46 million USD to help with the production and distribution of its b-silk skincare product.

As part of the deal, which – in an unusual move for the materials science industry – takes the company public, Forbes reports that “Dan Widmaier… will remain CEO of the new company,” whilst, “Cofounder David Breslauer, who has a Ph.D. in bioengineering from UC Berkeley and UCSF, will stay chief technology officer.” All of which should keep things on a fairly even keel.

Mylo remains on hold, however – despite its recent use by designer Sean Wotherspoon in a plant-based take on the adidas Gazelle – and its future remains uncertain. This move, though, and the cash injection that comes with it, could well shore up the material’s future somewhere further down the line.

Stella McCartney Presents Dresses Made From Keel Labs’ Seaweed-Based Kelsun™

Never content to simply sit by and watch, Stella McCartney also made sure to demonstrate the potential of those innovations showcased in the Paris-based marketplace. Among which, U.S.-based materials science company Keel Labs leant its bio-based fiber – Kelsun™, which is “seaweed-based and has a significantly lower environmental footprint than conventional fibers” – to dresses presented by McCartney.

Created from “an abundant biopolymer found in seaweed, harnessing the renewable power of our ocean’s resources,” the use of Kelsun™ marked a wold-first for luxury and, in typical McCartney fashion, dares other brands to adopt similar Earth-friendlier solutions or, failing that, explain why not.

Jonathan Cheung’s TOMORROWLAB Collection for AGI Showcases Fashion’s Future Materials

Another brand, another milestone. This time, it’s AGI Denim – “Pakistan’s only company with B Corp certification and end-to-end LEED certification” – marking the occasion of 30 years of manufacturing innovation and standard-setting. And doing so in typically forward-thinking form.

Working with Jonathan Cheung – former head of design at Levi’s and a much sought after advisor on sustainability issues, consulting for Earth-friendlier outfits like Bolt Threads and PANGAIA – the denim label has released a new collection, dubbed TOMORROWLAB, which proposes answers to various questions facing the fashion industry. It’s an ambitious project, too: using multiple next-gen material innovations and progressive production methods, the collection is broken down into multiple elements – a top-down approach that shows what’s possible when you approach more sustainable manufacturing as a wholistic process.

First, there’s the top-line “New Cellulosics” – a category that includes regenagri-certified regenerative cotton, Good Earth Cotton, organic hemp certified by GOTS, and wood-based fibers from Tencel. Second, there’s what AGI refers to as “Unwasted,” spotlighting waste-reducing materials “such as post-industrial and post-consumer cotton, Tencel with Refibra technology that utilizes fabric scraps, Circ, Renewcell’s Circulose, Infinna from Infinited Fiber and Hyosung’s Creora Regen, a 100 percent recycled spandex made of plastic waste.” And, third, there’s “Future Colors” – which, if nothing else, proves AGI’s commitment to the project and its attention to detail. Here, Nature Coatings’ wood-waste-derived pigments and Huue’s bio-based Indigo are used in a dying process undertaken exclusively with recycled water and entirely without pumice or potassium permanganate.

SPINNOVA Calls for Proposals to Design with CIRCULOSE Fibers

Having recently partnered with Renewcell on a new initiative to scale circular fashion, Finnish materials company SPINNOVA is now accepting proposals from brands looking to be the first wave of this planet-first partnership and which are interested in designing with its CIRCULOSE-based, textile-waste fibers.

“We are on a journey to scale circular fashion through our ground-breaking technologies and materials, but we are not able to do it without visionary brands. We understand that behind every iconic product is an extraordinary idea,” SPINNOVA, explains in its Call to Action. “That’s why we invite brands to present their vision for the world’s first capsule collection made with SPINNOVA® fibre made from CIRCULOSE®. Imagine the possibilities when visionary design ideas are combined with our material innovations.”

The open call runs to October 26th.

Natural Fiber Welding Expands PLIANT™ Production with ForEver

While MIRUM – NFW’s signature, plastic-free and cruelty-free leather alternative – continues to appear everywhere from automotive interiors to apparel, the Illinois-based materials science company is also pushing forward with production of its other circular, next-generation materials.

Having cut a deal with the ethical manufacturing outfit Veshin Factory back in June, Natural Fiber Welding has now partnered with ForEver – the Portugal-based production company – to facilitate brands’ access to PLIANT, “the world’s first naturally cured performance rubber outsoles.”

“ForEver offers access to brands who want to further their use of sustainable materials through their extensive library of open toolings. This allows brands to easily incorporate PLIANT™ outsoles, which are USDA-certified 100% biobased and meet the ASTM D6866 standard, into their product lines without having to invest in molds,” reads a statement on the NFW website.

Much like with the Veshin collaboration, the idea here is that easier access ought to mean less resistance – fewer of the usual excuses like problems with scale and materials acquisition that brands trot out when they’re defending choices that are bad for the planet – and a higher uptake on products with lower impact on our world.