Sustainability Gamechangers: The Innovations Set to Shape the Future of Fashion This December

Image: Colorfix

In her monthly column, Techstyler founder Brooke Roberts-Islam curates a ‘must-know’ list of the innovations set to shape the future of sustainable fashion. Dedicated to positive change, Brooke highlights what is being done right now to transform the fashion industry. 

It is well documented that a significant portion of the impact fashion has on the planet is attributed to the textile phase. A large factor within this is the use of chemicals and water for dyeing and finishing of the final textile. The toxicity of the chemicals used in dyeing processes and the need for cleaner, safer alternatives has driven research and development of botanical and biological dyes that are not just natural pigments, but that harness biological organisms to deposit that pigment onto textiles.

In an exciting development announced this month, a UK-based startup called Colorifix has gained VC funding to expand on its initial tests which have proven successfully that it is possible to implant colour-making genes into organisms that will then deposit that pigment onto textiles, completely eliminating the need for synthetics processes requiring water and chemicals. Manufacturing tests are expected to commence in factories in Europe and Asia by the end of the year and small quantities of commercially available dyes are expected to be released in 2020.

Image: Colorfix

Also on the material front, India-based Canva Fibre Labs (CFL) has developed an interesting business model taking agricultural waste from hemp crops (which the farmers usually burn, releasing carbon into the atmosphere) and processing it into cellulose-based materials similar to cotton, but with superior strength and durability. A multitude of recycled cellulose plant fibres are entering the market, but hemp waste has been largely overlooked in terms of apparel and accessories. CFL is using what they call an “indigenous proprietary technique for the processing of agricultural waste from hemp plants, with [an] output that has compatibility with current textile infrastructure.” This points to their ability to scale and integrate this sustainable textile into existing manufacturing supply chains. Their system reportedly uses no hazardous chemicals to process the hemp fibres into yarns. This is definitely a material to watch as global production increases and the market for this high performing and lower-priced fibre rises.

On the subject of waste, the Danish brand Son Of A Tailor has launched what they are marketing as the Zero Waste pullover. This is interesting for several reasons. The first is that they are using a 3D knitting machine called the Shima Mach 2X. This machine knits the whole garment in one operation – sleeves, body then neckline so that there is no cutting and therefore no material waste. Think of it as a bit like three sets of knitting needles in one machine, knitting three tubes (two sleeves and a torso section) and joining them together at the armhole and neckline.

This may sound astonishing, but the technology has been around for over 10 years, it’s just that brands have previously not brought the story of the technology to consumers. They have integrated their made-to-measure digital service into the knitwear programming to provide custom-sized knits on demand. Knitwear sizing by its nature has a wider latitude than non-stretch garments and with 3D knitting, changing the circumference of the garment is relatively straight forward. The real win here is that the knitting speed is so fast that they can manufacture on-demand, meaning that knitting stock and generating unsold inventory is entirely avoidable. Whilst their zero waste claims are bold (and the technology is not new), this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and the technology is already in place to provide this on-demand manufacturing at scale.

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a global not-for-profit organisation and is the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world. To make global cotton production better for the producers, the environment and the textiles sector it has launched an updated framework designed to support members of the BCI to ensure they communicate accurate, credible and relevant sustainability information to consumers. In an industry awash with, well, green-washing, clarity, and transparency are becoming increasingly important (and hard to discern).

“We recognise that the need for members to communicate about sustainability is growing and evolving and that the Framework must evolve in parallel with growing market and consumer demands. We must also give members the guidance they need to report on their achievements in a way that is credible and transparent,” said Eva Benavidez, Senior Communications Manager at BCI.

To deliver accurate and transparent information on cotton sourcing and production, BCI is linking directly back to data and reports from the cotton farms. See an infographic of the latest report here, providing a higher level of confidence and proof of sustainability credentials for brands, retailers, and consumers when they purchase BCI cotton. 

When it comes to materials, this month it’s all about denim. The bain of sustainable denim has long been the presence of elastane. Most jeans contain at least a small percentage of elastane (sometimes just 2%) to provide comfort and stretch. Elastane helps achieve a better fit and allows for skinny jean silhouettes that stretch onto the body. Demand for stretch denim has overtaken the demand for the traditional 100% cotton denim that was used in the original denim material founded in the mid 19th century. Elastane is a synthetic polymer, so it’s introduction turned biodegradable cotton jeans into a part-plastic textile that is far less sustainable. Separating the elastane during chemical recycling has proven to be a huge challenge, so a smart solution has been created to change the chemistry of the stretch component to one that is biodegradable–without losing the stretch and recovery performance.

Candiani, in collaboration with Denham, have joined forces to launch the world’s first biodegradable stretch denim. Part of Denham’s new “Life is Movement” collection of jeans, the denim is created with Candiani’s patented plant-based Coreva Stretch Technology. The Candiani mill has achieved a stretch cotton yarn (and therefore denim fabric) by wrapping cotton around a natural rubber core, replacing the common synthetic and petrol-based elastane with this new, custom-engineered core component. Candiani announced that they have created an “innovative biodegradable stretch denim fabric without compromising elasticity and recovery properties.” The first production quantity of the fabric is available to Denham exclusively, but expanding this to a global scale at an accessible price would see a dramatic improvement in the sustainability credentials of the global denim industry.

Stay tuned for next month’s column revealing the game-changing innovations that give cause for optimism in a sector that faces many material and operational challenges. See you in 2020!


Read Brooke Roberts-Islam’s lineup of Sustainability Gamechangers for November

Discover why the key to a sustainable planet is combining biology and design

Find out the reason why toxic chemicals are the biggest threat to sustainable fashion.