This blog investigates 5 sustainable fabric alternatives that you probably have not heard of. However, these alternatives are quickly gaining the attention of major brands as more consumers demand a change within the fashion industry…
Fashion Has a Sustainability Problem
Sustainability has been a growing problem for the fashion industry and the types of materials used are a big part of that problem.
About 65% of all fibers used in the fashion industry are made from a synthetic material derived from fossil fuels. Polyester, the most common synthetic material used in fashion, is a lightweight plastic. Polyester is created through an energy-intensive heating process and requires large quantities of water for cooling. Additionally, polyester dyes are highly toxic. Every time polyester is washed, microplastics are released into the water. Also, Polyester fabric can take over 200 years to decompose. This becomes more alarming with stats from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation like – one garbage truck of clothes is burned or sent to the landfill every second.
Cotton, which makes up about 20% of all fabrics on the market is a natural material, is better for the planet to a degree, however, there is a steep environmental toll to cultivating cotton. According to the World Resources Institute, it takes over 700 gallons of water to make one cotton shirt. Conventional cotton is the world’s single largest pesticide-consuming crop.
Mass leather production also has an extreme environmental impact. Aside from animal cruelty, the leather industry is responsible for nearly 15% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and contributes significantly to deforestation. The industry also uses a tremendous amount of water and chemicals in the tanning process.
5 Sustainable Fabric Alternatives:
1. Piñatex – Pineapple
Today, pineapple leaves are usually discarded, but their strong fibers can be used to create soft, but durable fabric similar to leather. Piñatex, manufactured by Ananas Anam Ltd, specializes in manipulating this food by-product into a beautiful and eco-friendly leather alternative.
In 2019, fashion giant H&M incorporated a jacket and cowboy boots made from Piñatex into their Conscious Collection.
2. Mylo – Mushrooms
For billions of years, mycelium has grown beneath our feet and served as an ecological connective tissue. A sprawling, infinitely renewable, interlaced web, it threads through soil, plant bodies, and along river beds to break down organic matter and provide nutrients to plants and trees. Mushrooms are the fruit of mycelium.
On a mission to harness the promise of advanced materials science, a team of visionary scientists and engineers at Bolt Threads developed a state-of-the-art process to grow and transform mycelium into a high-quality alternative for animal and synthetic-based leather.
Cleverly referred to as “un-leather”, Mylo is soft, supple and durable with an unmistakable resemblance to animal leather. In April 2021, Adidas debuted a version of the Stan Smith made from Mylo. Major brands lululemon, Stella McCartney, and Kering have also used Mylo in select products.
3. Qmonos – Spider Silk
Performance Apparel Alternative
Spider silk without the spiders. After 11 years of research, Spiber Inc., a Japanese biotechnology company, can now spin its own environmentally-friendly synthetic spider silk. Spider silk, which is 340 times tougher than steel, can be transformed into a highly durable fabric that has a very low environmental impact.
North Face used Spiber’s fabrics to develop the “Moon Parka”, which was released in 2019.
Omonos is a brewed protein that several companies are working on, so be on the lookout for others in the near future.
4. S.Cafe – Coffee Grounds
Performance Apparel Alternative
This unique performance fabric is made of coffee grounds that are blended with recycled plastic bottles to create a fabric that is odor resistant and ultra-fast-drying.
Utah outdoor brand, Coalatree, has used this fabric and in several products released in 2020 including this Evolution Hoodie.
5. Tencel/Lyocell – Eucalyptus Tree
Lyocell (sometimes just known as TENCEL, the trademark name of the fabric given by it’s Austrian manufacturer, which is also the world’s most reputable lyocell and modal producer) is a semi-synthetic, or cellulosic, fabric that has become very popular in the sustainable fashion world.
Eucalyptus tree pulp is the secret ingredient in TENCEL. Eucalyptus trees require very little water or pesticides. In the case of the TENCEL brand, they only produce their Lyocell from sustainably managed forests.
Back in 2018, AllBirds teamed up with TENCEL to create a “Tree Shoe collection”. In 2020, they expanded the line due to high demand.
In May 2021, Allbirds revealed their collaboration with Adidas to create the world’s lowest carbon footprint performance sneakers.
You may be asking yourself how to source these sustainable fabric alternatives. Many of them are in high demand, but some of these suppliers let you order them directly from their website. Some websites will even tell you which factories around the world have these alternative fabrics on hand.
Blacksmith’s sourcing team can also obtain any of these sustainable material alternatives, so Contact Us if you’d like some help!