Textiles and fashion is a dilemma as it is one of the most consumed aspects of human lifestyle, but equally infamous for polluting and endangering the well-being of only habitable planet in our solar system. This makes the case for fashion innovation even more compelling and ethically pressing. Then it comes to textiles and fashion, the innovative ideas.
Textiles and fashion is a dilemma as it is one of the most consumed aspects of human lifestyle, but equally infamous for polluting and endangering the well-being of only habitable planet in our solar system. This makes the case for fashion innovation even more compelling and ethically pressing.
When it comes to textiles and fashion, the innovative ideas and their outcome must be objective based, well calibrated in design, practical and deliverable at appropriate time. Procrastination in this regard could be damaging. Pro-activeness and timely adaption to new experiments is the need of the hour. This feature takes stock of some recent interesting innovations reported in global textiles and fashion sphere which may shape the future of fashion, its producers, consumers, and of course, our planet.
Fabrics From Seaweed
So far, there has been reliance on animals and other resources available on land for fibres needed to make textiles and clothing. But now, innovations seeking other options for fibres are exploring oceans for new materials. The invention of SeaCell – an eco-friendly fabric made from seaweed-based material, is an innovative find of this kind. The manufacturers take the seaweed called Ascophyllum Nodossum or Knotted Wrack from the farms of Icelandic fjords. The plant is processed and mixed with the cellulose to create a yarn as in the case of lyocell or modal. One of the biggest benefits of the SeaCell is that it naturally contains medicinal properties—such as calcium and vitamin E—which are beneficial for skin of the wearer, as well as has anti-inflammatory properties. Such textile material is perfect for children’s clothing and active wear. The harvesting method of seaweed is harmless and sustainable. In addition, the 100 per cent plant-based fabrics with standard SeaCell fibres, with no additional nanosilver, are completely biodegradable. While Pangaia, a D2C materials science company, combines high-quality seaweed with GOTS certified organic cotton to create softer eco-friendly T-shirts, the Vitasea line from Lululemon makes excellent use of SeaCell for comfortable yoga clothes. Leticia Credidio is also working on seaweed-based sleepwear.
Reusing Fabric Waste
Numerous textile and apparel manufacturers, researchers and even fashion brands are working to develop innovative methods to reduce textile waste which is beneficial to planet earth. For instance, take the case of Levi’s – the world’s leading denim manufacturer. In 2016, it started developing the first jeans using 100 per cent recycled cotton from dissolved old T-shirts. The technology developed by Seattle-based textile recycling start-up ‘Evrnu’ converted dissolved fabrics into high quality threads. The recycling method not only recycled used T-shirts but also required 98 per cent less water than virgin cotton products that normally require a lot of water in cotton-growing and threading processes. Encouraged by the continuous improvement in recycling process over subsequent years, the denim leader is now targeting all its products to be made from 100 per cent recycled cotton by 2025. In order to achieve the set target, the American manufacturer has introduced dedicated textile recycling programme in US, Canada, Japan, the UK and Germany. Similarly, Swedish fashion giant H&M also chose to use only recycled or other sustainable materials in all of its products by 2030. Others like Mango and Zara are also following suit. The British luxury fashion brand Stella McCartney which never used leather or fur, switched to organic fabrics, low-impact dyes, and regenerated cashmere from off-cuts to produce luxury clothes.
The growing interest of designers in 3D printing technology is helping them to create complex shapes and original apparel pieces, as each design tends to be unique, personalised and sustainable. For instance, a Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht has created unique clothing called Proximity Dress which expands to create a barrier whenever it senses a person close to the wearer. The dress includes different sensors that are able to detect human movement in proximity. Inspired by the need of social distancing in recent times, Wipprecht developed the idea in part through 3D printing using the SLS process as well as Poly Jet technology in manufacturing various components of the Proximity Dress. Israeli stylist Ganit Goldstein also used 3D printing in her first collection ‘Between The Layers’ that included seven garments and six pairs of shoes for combining multiple colours. Now the designer always starts her work with a 3D body scan to adjust her designs to a specific silhouette.
3D printing technology also helps immensely in reducing waste, which is a challenge in fashion industry, especially in haute couture segment. In future, experts predict, the possession of a 3D printer can potentially transform the fashion industry not only to be more agile, personalised and adaptive but also more sustainable too. One can simply take print out of the desired new looks on-demand. Once these are no more fashionable, they can be melted to create a new batch of clothes. This process will help one stay fresh style-wise and also keep waste to a minimum, offering innovative solution to fashion’s problem of overproduction.
For most of the time in a year, garments are purchased keeping seasonal temperatures in mind. Although these cycles sustain continued sales of apparel market, the abundant production of garment does not help the environment. Understanding the concern, manufacturers are now innovating apparel that may not only reduce the garment quantities but also help the consumer wear them across multiple seasons.
In beginning of this year, Ralph Lauren unveiled an apparel and textile innovation with ‘Intelligent Insulation’ – a sustainably-minded temperature responsive fabric that adapts to cooler temperatures by expanding and creating a layer of insulation. These were used by Team USA for the Winter Games Opening Ceremonies earlier this year. The company claims it to be the first single item of apparel that can transition through three seasons and from indoor to outdoor environments seamlessly, thereby restricting the need for multiple garments. The intelligent insulation technology adapts to change in air temperature around the wearer without the use of battery-powered or ‘wired’ technology. The fabric contains two separate materials that expand or contract at different rates in response to temperature changes. When the temperature drops, the lengths of the two materials change differently causing the textile to contract and bend. This creates channels in the fabric structure to increase the amount of insulation provided by the garment. The technology has been developed by Skyscrape.
Ionofibres, i.e., ionically conductive fibres used in electronically conductive smart fabrics, are gaining traction as they exhibit higher flexibility and durability and match the conduction of the human body. Textile batteries, displays and muscles are potential end-uses for such materials. This has made University of Boras in Sweden to work on producing conductive yarns without conductive metals as part of the larger goal of developing new garments for haptic (sense of touch) stimulation comprising flexible and wearable textile actuators and sensors. The research is about producing electrically conductive textiles by coating non-metals sustainably on commercial yarns. However, the biggest challenge is in achieving the balance between textile properties and conductive features. For coating, the processing is important as textile manufacturing can be harsh on the textile fibres, especially when upscaling their use. The fibres must also be turned into wovens or knits without damaging them and retaining conductivity. The research so far has shown that coated yarns produced are even smoother to process into fabrics than the commercial yarns they were made from. Nevertheless, more research is still needed to combine the ionofibres with other functional fibres and to produce the unique textile devices but, while less conductivity than electronically conductive fibres, the ionofibres have the potential to impart entirely new properties.
Packaging is usually considered a trivial matter when it comes to sustainable fashion. However, when a fashion item reaches the consumer, the packaging material mostly ends up as disposal with no recycling option. This is why fashion designers, brands and companies are now switching to upgrade to bio-packaging. India’s domestic designer brand Doodlage converts its leftover materials into smaller products like accessories as well as paper to make its packaging completely plastic-free. Other designer brands such as I Was A Sari, The Summer House, Ura Maku, Sui, etc have also embraced bio-packaging as a standard practice. At global stage, luxury fashion brand PVH has committed to achieve packaging that is 100 per cent made up of sustainable and ethically sourced materials by 2025 prior to becoming a ‘zero waste’ company by 2030. UK’s online fashion market ASOS also aims to mitigate packaging waste. In 2020, it had modified its signature black and white mailer bags and reduced their thickness by ten to twenty microns which translated into annual plastic reduction of 583 tonnes. Additionally, ASOS has implemented a closed-loop system with its packaging manufacturer to collect the returned packaging and incorporate it into the new mailing bags. The other waste-reduction strategy comes in the form of sharp polybag systems which offer on-demand, low-waste shipping solutions. The polybags can be custom printed to enhance the customer experience and come with the ‘How2Recycle’ label so that consumers know how to recycle the bags at store drop-off locations to be recaptured and reused, sending nothing to landfill. American outdoor clothing brand Patagonia’s website also offers detailed instructions on how customers can recycle their garments. In fact, the brand claims to have realised the importance of eco-friendly packaging some eight years back. It believes that the brands with eco-friendly packaging will have larger market share, and hence it is determinedly focused on the task.
The future of fashion lies in new types of fabrics, which can not only further the sustainability cause but also provide manufacturers, designers and brands with the product edge. The companies such as Bolt Thread and EntoGenetics are innovating super-strong spider silk. Google is also ready to provide clothing through its Project Jacquard, one of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP). Project Jacquard is a collection of conductive threads for weaving touch-responsive textiles including clothing, tablecloths, rugs and other such items made from fabric. The project is also working on possibility of colour-shifting with ebb – a colour-changing fabric technology. The ebb materials could even help in conducting many activities that are currently done on phones using the colour signals instead. For instance, a cuff that changes colour whenever an incoming call is received.
Just like fabrics, leather is also undergoing a transition with start-ups like Modern Meadow creating lab-grown leather which could prove to be an ethical alternative to killing of animals.
The idea of metaverse is pushing virtual fashion market. Brands are embracing virtual fashion and capitalising on it. For quite some time, gamers have been buying accessories, clothing and skins for their digital avatars, but now the trend has caught up with fashion brands too. In fact, Ralph Lauren attributed its strong third quarter (Oct-Dec 2021) earnings to these virtual investments and the younger generation shoppers it has attracted. Other global players like Nike, Adidas and Vans World are also on the same path. As the customers can dress up their avatars for virtual worlds like Horizon Worlds and Decentraland, fashion industry views it as its next revolutionary innovation.
Since virtual fashion is no more confined to avatars, one can now wear virtual garments on Snapchat and Zoom meetings or pose with them for photos for social media feeds. This means one can show up to a work meeting in complete boardroom attire when in real life one is all casually dressed; or post a picture on Instagram of a luxury jacket that was never touched in real life. Virtual fashion is being sold in a variety of ways – from gaming platforms and digital photos to videos that use augmented reality and even NFTs. Virtual fashion world does not require fibres or factories yet can bring designs to life through computer programs and 3D animations, adding to fashion sustainability. Morgan Stanley estimates the virtual fashion market at $55 billion by 2030.
Baldwin Technology and Archroma, a global supplier of specialty chemistry for textiles, have formed a new collaboration to support textile manufacturers in their development projects, targeting an improvement in the product safety, performance and functionality, while at the same time maximising the productivity and resource utilisation of the finishing application process. Baldwin’s TexCoat G4 is a non-contact spray technology for textile finishing and remoistening. It is designed to allow a controlled and optimal coverage of the exact amount of finish chemistry for reaching specific characteristics of the fabric. It can reduce water consumption up to 50 per cent compared to traditional padding application processes. With Archroma, it is currently testing finishing products and systems, such as the soon-to-be-launched PFC-free Smartrepel Hydro SR for water-based soil repellence, as well as metal and inorganic particle-free antimicrobial technologies like Sanitized T 20-19 and TH 15-14.
Odour Management Technology
Since 2015 HeiQ and Patagonia are into research partnership. The partnership involves Patagonia providing ideas and setting the principles, while HeiQ uses its expertise in speciality chemical formulation and application to textiles to create finishings that outperform the market. Both have jointly developed HeiQ Fresh MNT, a renewably sourced mint oil-derived textile technology to control malodour development on textiles. HeiQ Fresh MNT is the latest addition to the HeiQ Fresh family of sustainable odour management technologies – mineral-based HeiQ Fresh HAX and the bio-based HeiQ Fresh FFL. The technology, based on test method ISO17299-3A, provides fabrics with long-lasting odour control capability that keeps garments smelling fresh and wearers feeling clean and comfortable all day. Compared to current industry standards, the treated synthetic fibres attain more than double the odour control efficiency. With controlled odour there is less washing required which saves water, detergent, energy and microfibers, as well as prolong the life of the garments. Patagonia will start to upgrade its products with HeiQ Fresh MNT in the near future.
Looking at all these developments, it is expected that textiles and fashion segment will continue to evolve and so will the innovations in the segment. The textiles and fashion industry offers vast landscape and allows unending opportunities to innovate, deliver and move on to new ideas.