Designing for a circular fashion system starts with the materials. From leather made from cactus plants to viscose engineered using textile waste, Rose Ellis looks into the latest textile innovations helping to close the loop.
Making clothing circular is based upon the concept of designing out waste, while simultaneously reusing materials and regenerating natural systems. This is all the more pressing due to the unfathomable amounts of clothing that are consumed and then discarded, their origin or afterlife often not even considered. WRAP estimates that 350,000 tonnes (£140 million worth) of clothing is sent to landfill each year in the UK alone. It may not be the absolute solution, but making textiles that are circular plays a crucial role in combatting this.
To fully close the loop, consciously designing garments for their afterlife is imperative. This could mean the textile is entirely biodegradable, made without wasteful byproducts or even made from waste itself. It could also mean being endlessly recyclable and infinitely increase the textiles’ lifetime. Nature is innately regenerative and is the inspiration for some of the most sustainable materials. Let this be the inspiration for our own wardrobes too, and consciously close the loop on our newly acquired and once loved pieces. Delving deeper into circularity, considering not only the garment as a whole but right down to the fibre itself. Each of the following initiatives are really encouraging and some excitingly abstract.
Desserto cactus leather alternative
Made from nopal cactus, Desserto is plant-based vegan leather alternative, grown and made in Mexico. The plantations are entirely organic and the mature cactus leaves are harvested every 6-8 months and only need replanting every eight years. The award winning Desserto seems like one of the best sustainable vegan leather alternatives on the market, utilizing its natural strengths as a desert grown plant. As the plant is a native species, it is extremely water efficient and requires no irrigation. The leaves are dried in a solarium, using natural sunlight and the byproduct cactus exported or sold into the national food market.
Created by Bolt Threads, MicrosilkTM recreates silk fibres made by spiders. The proteins that give the silk such sought after properties, such as high tensile strength, elasticity, durability and softness, inspire the bioengineered fibre. The specific genes are used to generate the protein on a large scale. The silk protein is then isolated, refined and spun into fibres, which are knitted into textiles and apparel. Big names in the fashion world are in support of the arachnid inspired silk, the first collaboration being with Stella McCartney, creating a silk shift dress on show at the New York MoMA in 2017. Since then MicrosilkTM teamed up with McCartney again and Adidas to reveal a fully biodegradable Biofrabric Tennis Dress.
Renewcell’s brainchild, Circulose is a branded ‘dissolving pulp’ – slurry made from old clothes that is then reworked into natural textile fibres. Closing the loop for clothing items that cannot be resold, garments are shredded, and the buttons, zips and colours are detached. Once the contaminants are also removed, such as plastic polyester, cellulose is left (hence the name Circulose). Among supporters is Levi’s, this year saw the launch of a pair of jeans made up of Circulose combined with organic cotton as part of its Wellthread line.
Aquafil’s ECONYL® regenerated nylon
Aquafil is famous for its yarn made out of nylon waste, such as ghost fishing nets or textile waste scraps, called ECONYL®. It follows four steps – rescue, regenerate, remake and reimagine. The waste is collected, purified and then remade into yarn used to create new products. Gucci Off The Grid and LongChamp’s new Green District collection are two of the high profile users of the fibre. ECONYL® yarn has 90% less of an impact on global warming than that made from oil and cleans up our seas. A win win.
Galy lab grown cotton
Galy is a new technology that grows cotton in a lab instead of from plants. They recently won the annual Global Change Award and it’s easy to see why. The lab grows cotton ten times as fast as conventional cotton farms, taking just 18 days. Not being dependent on weather or soil conditions, it can be grown anywhere, using just 80% of the water and land that plant grown cotton would, while releasing a fraction of the greenhouse gases. Galy takes the cell and makes a fibre, without growing the plant – genius!
Warewool circular fibre
Another fantastic new technology is Warewool, a fibre aiming to be made with a completely circular lifecycle, designing fibres at the DNA level with specific inherent properties already embedded, such as colour, stretch and moisture management, for example. This eliminates the need for more processing of a material, such as dyeing, reducing pollution in waterways. The fibre should be available in three to five years and once it is, as a natural material it will be possible for the nutrients used to be returned to the ecosystem at the end of the usable life. What’s not to love? Just that it’s not already on the market.