From Lab-Grown Leather Jackets To Fabrics Fashioned From Food Waste – The Future Is Fabric says Amelia O’Mahony Brady

By Amelia O’Mahony Brady

This week we explore the trailblazers of sustainable textiles who are brimming with innovation. Take a moment to visually absorb your current environment. Are you ensconced ina cafe, residing at home or in the heart of a chaotically-busy office? Wherever you may find yourself, you’re most likely unaware that the vast majority of objects surrounding you – provided they fall into suitably-skilful hands – would make perfect fodder for sustainable-fabric production.     As fast-fashion landfills remain bursting-at-the-seams (their contents manufactured, more often than not, by questionable means) the industry’s champions of ethically- produced, ecologically-viable design are proving more assiduous than ever. In a bid to combat crop-burning pollution and overflowing food deposits – to put into context, the average global consumption of bananas is 100 billion, which creates 270 million tons of waste* – inventive startup Circular Systems is seamlessly bridging the gap between food waste and covetable fashion. Helmed by Isaac Nichelson, whose sustainable-style innovations span three decades, their concept is a curious merging of past traditions and present advancements. They harness the inedible by-products of food crops – think pineapple leaves, hemp stalks and those aforementioned bananas – and turn them into natural fibres, ready to be woven and worn. It’s both forward-thinking and evocative of past design principles: as Fast Company recently reported,  

97% of general garment fibres were naturally derived up to 1960, in stark contrast to today’s 35%.


Circular Systems are far from lone wolfs in the eco-textile field.

  At the last edition of the Business of Fashion’s groundbreaking VOICES conference (of which Sinead Burke was an ever-articulate speaker) the “Era of Biofabrication” was the central focus of Andras Forgacs’ talk. He founded Modern Meadow with an ethos of creating “animal products without the animal”, and has since developed a bullet-proof business plan that offers equal benefit to consumers, manufacturers – and the planet. The essential ingredient to this lab-grown leather is collagen, directly brewed using a fermentation process. Considering that the traditional leather-making process involves removing everything from animal skin that isn’t collagen, this method is much more energy-efficient, not to mention ethically- sound, and is on track to eventually overshadow the $100 billion business of leather manufacturing.     Another natural fibre garnering a lot of buzz (first created to emulate spider silk) is fashioned from hydrogel: a non-toxic, 98% water material, developed by the University of Cambridge, that results in “super stretchy, strong and sustainable” fibres. Eliminating the vast problems that synthetic fabrics pose, the fibre is beyond prototype status but has yet to enter consumer markets – when it does, however, it’s fully equipped to shake up traditional manufacturers. In comparison, salmon leather – once the unwanted waste of fish tanneries – has cemented itself as a material of choice for sustainable brands, customised by vegetable-tanning and dyeing in a kaleidoscope of colours.  

The Irish makers and innovators taking on sustainable textiles

  An ever- increasing number of home-grown designers place importance on “conscious clothing”, but a special mention must be given to We Are Islanders; a trailblazing fashion label founded by Rosie O’Reilly and Kate Nolan. Created at a time of relative infancy in the social media age (and decidedly pre-Fashion Revolution) its ethos was to fearlessly cross unchartered territory in its textile usage. They adopted seasonless collections well ahead of the curve, funnelling their fervent love of the sea into each item. Bamboo, bona-fide Irish linen and – once more – organic salmon leather characterised their flattering silhouettes. One “ecolux” collection of particular note, named Tidal, was comprised of four once-off piecesdyed by the high tide on Sandymount Strand. Each garment was encased in a see- through “dyeing unit”; the force of the waves creating unique patterns on the clothes over the course 48 hours. There may be countless emerging models for sustainable textiles abroad, rather than on Irish shores, but there’s no doubt those same textiles are perfectly matched to this country’s boundless creativity.          
*statistics are taken from Fashion Revolution and associated, approved organisations.

Imagery from @weareislanders, while the second image features Zoa™ x Modern Meadows biofabricated leather swatches, layered over the We Are Islanders shot.

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