The use of alternative fibers on the rise
The Paris Agreement adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 represents a global response to the scientific consensus that human activity is causing global average temperatures to rise at unprecedented rates.
The goals agreed in the Paris Agreement (17 SDGs) translate to reaching climate neutrality in the second half of the twenty-first century while improving the lifestyle of humans across the globe and preserving nature and biodiversity.
The fashion industry, as a major global player, needs to take an active part in contributing to the realization of these goals. Apparel and footwear industries together account for more than 8 percent of global climate impact (Cerullo 2019) and about 20 percent of wastewater.
Additionally, we need to consider the presence of various pollutants in the wastewater coming from hazardous chemicals or synthetic fibers that generate microplastics. We also have to take into account the disposal of garments: globally, 80% of discarded textiles are doomed for the landfill (where they can sit for plus-200 years) or incineration. Only 20% are actually reused or recycled (McCarthy 2018).
In the past few years, we have seen new fibers coming into play, alternative fibers, with low to zero impact on the environment and created with a circular economy mindset.
The global objective on climate change has forced manufacturers to explore and apply integrated preventive environmental strategies to processes to reduce the impact.
We have some incredible examples of Alternative Fibers coming from different backgrounds:
Food waste-based textiles
Plants/composite based fibers
Recycled synthetic materials
Food waste basted Textiles
Orange Fiber for example which is a silk-like cellulose fiber created from the industrial waste of citrus production or Piñatex which is an alternative “leather” made from pineapple leaves that are usually wasted.
Plants/composite based fibers
Banana Sylk fabric made from 100% pure banana plant stem; Mylo™ a leather-like material made from mycelium, the underground root structure of mushrooms, or Desserto an alternative to leather made from cactus.
Recycled Synthetic materials
ECONYL® is regenerated nylon mainly coming from the waste of fishing nets, fabric scraps, carpet flooring, industrial plastic, and climbing ropes; Recycled Polyester from collected PET bottles that get transformed into chips and then into fibers, this fabric is already used by sportswear brands.
These are just a few of the Alternative Fibers already in commerce that are running the show together with Natural Fibers that we already know.
While there's still plenty to be done, the use of sustainable fibers is on the rise. More will come in the next few years while new frontiers are broken to provide more opportunities to achieve the imperative need for the fashion industry to embrace innovative ways in creating sustainable products.
References and where to learn more
Cerullo M. (2019) - Fashion Industry’s Carbon impact bigger than airline’s industry - Available at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/earth-day-2019-fashion-industrys-carbon-impact-is-bigger-than-airline-industrys/ Accessed [19th April 2019]
McCarthy A. (2018) - Are our clothes doomed for landfill? - Available at https://remake.world/stories/news/are-our-clothes-doomed-for-the-landfill/ Accessed [22nd March 2018]
Kaye (2015) - The Rise of Sustainable Fibers in the Fashion Industry - Available at https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2015/rise-sustainable-fibers-fashion-industry/58051 Accessed [27th February 2015]
Marchese F. (2017) - How Sicilian Oranges are being made into clothes - Available at https://www.bbc.com/news/business-40946159 Accessed [24th August 2017]
Mavolu Team (2018) - From Waste to Value: Banana Fibre for Fashion and Textiles - Available at: https://mavolu.com/blogs/news/from-waste-to-value-banana-fibre-for-fashion-and-textiles Accessed [8th July 2018]
Williams J. (2018) - How Pinatex makes leather from pineapple fiber - Available at https://earthbound.report/2018/08/30/how-pinatex-makes-leather-from-pineapple-fibre/ Accessed [30th August 2018]
Bonime (2018) - Bolt Threads Launches Its First Mylo™ Leather Product With A Stylish Tote Bag - Available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/westernbonime/2018/09/08/bolt-threads-launches-its-first-retail-product-with-the-mylo-driver-bag/?sh=3fe665b2680c Accessed [8th September 2018]
Stewart (2019) - Two Men Created “Leather” From Cactus to Save Animals and the Environment - Available at https://mymodernmet.com/vegan-cactus-leather-desserto/ Accessed [28th February 2020]
Conlon (2018) - Trawling for trash: the brands turning plastic pollution into fashion - Available at https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2018/nov/23/catwalk-brands-trawl-ocean-plastic-waste-for-sustainable-fashion Accessed [23rd November 2018]
Fig.1 Wildman M. (2017) - Fashion Kills: The Seamy Underpinning of the Fast Fashion Industry - Available at https://thevibrantcrafter.com/fashion-kills-seamy-underpinnings-fast-fashion-industry/ Accessed [14th December 2017]
Fig.2 Maggio C. (2018) - Orange Fiber: il tessuto ricavato dagli scarti degli agrumi - Available at: https://managementcue.it/orange-fiber/8966/ Accessed [18th January 2018]
Fig.3 MaterialDistrict (2017) - Piñatex - Available at https://materialdistrict.com/material/pinatex/ Accessed [19th December 2017]
Fig.4 Mavolu (2018) - From Waste to Value: Banana Fibre for Fashion and Textiles - Available at https://mavolu.com/blogs/news/from-waste-to-value-banana-fibre-for-fashion-and-textiles Accessed [8th July 2018]
Fig.5 Parcerisa (2019) - Vegan cactus leather from Mexico: new favorite for luxury at Lineapelle Milan - Available at https://fashionunited.in/news/fashion/vegan-cactus-leather-from-mexico-new-favorite-for-luxury-at-lineapelle-milan/2019110123147 Accessed [1st November 2019]
Fig.6 Blood Red (2020) - ECONYL® regenerated nylon - Available at https://www.bloodredclothing.com/our-products/
Fig.7 Gold Garment (2020 - Recycled Fabric Clothing Manufacturers - Available at https://www.goldgarment.vn/2020/01/recycled-fabric-clothing-manufacturers.html Accessed [13th April 2020]