That the world of next-gen materials continues to expand isn’t really up for debate: that FUTUREVVORLD continues to receive news, research new endeavours, and publish insights relating to exciting breakthroughs in progressive production more-or-less on the daily is evidence enough.
Still, when those observations are quantified from another source – and when that source is an authority like the Material Innovation Initiative (MII) – it tells us our perspective isn’t skewed; that the progress we see, from our point of view, is progress that can be observed from wherever you’re standing.
And, with the release of MII’s 2022 State of the Industry report for Next-Gen Materials, that’s where we find ourselves: furnished with the kind of data that – in terms of forward-thinking, sustainably-minded change in the world – might bring some joy to optimists, satisfy pragmatists, and maybe even turn the tide on the pessimists among us.
Headlines from the report point to impressive growth in the sector. Not just financially – with over $3 billion USD invested since 2013 and $457 million USD invested in 2022 alone – but also in terms of boots on the ground and dedicated minds working to create cleaner, kinder, and greener materials. Highlighting the 102 dedicated next-gen materials companies, the report shows a steady increase on last year’s number, and the continuation of a strong upward trend despite difficult business conditions all round.
The report also makes note of systemic changes – or, in MII’s words, a “year of reckoning” – within the fashion industry in particular, which have contributed to positive change: “2022 will probably be remembered as the year of greenwashing crackdown in the fashion industry. This is the year when one of fashion’s most adopted tools to measure the industry’s environmental impact, the Higg Index, was paused for reevaluation. Some predict that we will see less “sustainability marketing” until industry stakeholders have a better understanding and consensus regarding communicating with consumers on this sensitive and complicated subject.”
Or, in other words, nondescript “sustainability” as a marketing tool is out while the search for and implementation of legitimate solutions is in – a conclusion backed-up by the report’s long list of household names (ranging from adidas to Disney to Volkswagen), across multiple industries (including fashion, the automotive industry, and entertainment), notes as “first-mover brands” bringing next-gen materials to market.
In a field with multiple avenues of research and production, plant-derived materials continue to be the main focus, with a pretty emphatic 52% of companies producing next-gen materials opting to follow that route in terms of their input and technology. Interestingly, though, the runner up is neither recycled materials (6.9%) or mycelium (8.8%) – which it would be fair to say are the two most frequently discussed materials right now, at least in terms of fashion – but microbe-derived materials, which account for 19.6% of next-gen main focus and take the number-two spot for the second year in a row.
In terms of the split between actual product focus, however, the story remains similar to MII’s 2021 report with the notable exception of a slight shift from leather alternatives (64 companies, down from 67) to silk (up to 15 from 12) and wool (up to 10 from 7).
Interestingly, the number of companies focused on producing next-gen alternatives to exotic skins remains at 1 – worth mentioning, despite and because of its low showing here, in the sense that it points to the phasing out of these often cruelly-acquired materials as opposed to a need for substitution; a shift in attitudes, perhaps, that inform’s the industry’s priorities.
In other circumstances, a number holding steady at 1 wouldn’t exactly point to progress – in this case, though, it just might.
You can read MII’s full report – complete with further data on key investors, expert predictions, and region-specific data – over on the initiative’s website. And if this report stirs your interest in next-gen materials then you might enjoy our deep-dive into the world of fruit-leather fibers.