Leather bags made from coffee, silks from orange peels, alternative textiles created from pineapple and whole worlds bio-manufactured with the help of living organisms. Sounds… futuristic, right? But what if it were an imminent reality? If the future was already here if the answers were found under our noses, what would we do with it?
The aforementioned scenarios are far from being hypothetical, they are all examples of fascinating creations that appeared from the hand of entrepreneurs throughout the world who are still looking for their place in the market, inventions whose formulation is based on biodegradable raw material and therefore friendly with the environment. The importance of these new discoveries lies in the fact that they may be the necessary response to face the great crisis in which we are immersed, which according to the reports of the United Nations (UN), only has a time window of ten years. As humanity, we have only a decade to reach the Sustainable Development Goals before reaching the limit of environmental emergency and finding ourselves with an irreversible panorama.
So far the industry shows slight and slow improvements, the data from previous years seem not to improve and the pollution dated in 2018 with levels of 20% of all wastewater pollution, 10% of global carbon emissions and 24% of the implementation of insecticides worldwide for their products when their use of the soil for the plantation of their raw material represents only 5% (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2018) still forge one of the biggest problems of the chain.
However, transforming a system that has grown voraciously and has proven extremely profitable does not seem feasible, largely because there is still considerable resistance to change. The industry has not rethought the foundations of its methods because it has focused its efforts on reducing the negative impact of the practices without modifying at all the flow of its profits or its already familiar manufacturing system. Greenwashing, poor solutions such as textiles made partially with biomass, but still not biodegradable, and lack of traceability of supply chains are still on the horizon of an unsustainable world. So, if conventional production has already been questioned and none of the solutions found represents a truly effective change in terms of sustainability, perhaps the answer is to produce unconventionally.
Tomorrow's response is then intertwined with the roots of conscious humanity, with nature and with its renewable resources. The new emerging materials fit perfectly into a circular economy, not only because of the organic origin of their composition or because of their efficient degradation, but also because of the possibility of using waste from other industries (especially food) to obtain their raw material. Giving hundreds of finishes and textures to explore, it is these new elements that will shape the future of the world and will be inserted into a circular economy.
As a global village, we are short on time and instead of extravagant solutions, we need these kinds of small steps in the right direction. As Suzanne Lee explains in her 2019 TED talk, the great volume of knowledge and innovations about new alternatives for the system has come from the hand of small and medium entrepreneurs, uprooted from the attractiveness of capitalism and with their eyes on a world seen under the lens of sustainability. Innovative, striking and above all functional ideas are being incubated in small interdisciplinary teams that, through the use of technology as an enhancer, demonstrate that a circular fashion paradigm in which textiles and fibres remain at their highest value during the use and never end up as waste, it is possible. Perhaps the future is already here, and we can only welcome it.
United Nations (2018), The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals: an opportunity for Latin America and the Caribbean (LC / G.2681-P / Rev.3), Santiago. Retrieved from: https://www.cepal.org/es/publicaciones/40155-la-agenda-2030-objetivos-desarrollo-sostenible-oportunidad-america-latina-caribe
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. (2018, March 1). Fashion and the SDGs: What role for the UN? United Nations Conference, Geneva, Switzerland.
Suzanne Lee, [TED]. (2019, July). Why "biofabrication" is the next industrial revolution [Video file]. Recovered from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pMhqyteR5g