WORDS BY ASHLEIGH GRIBBON
Recycled silver earrings, All Blues. Linen blazer and trousers, both Materiel. Chrome-free leather shoes, Nicholas Kirkwood.
Prada’s pioneering, regenerated Re-Nylon pieces. Gucci’s latest Off The Grid collection, utilizing ocean-friendly Econyl. Stella McCartney’s vegan leather, Mylo, lab-grown from mushrooms by scientists. Consciously led design is fashion’s new frontier, and at its core are some of the world’s most ingenious, eco-friendly fabrics.
Made using lower-impact, more planet-friendly processes, these responsible textiles can contribute to a reduction in waste — repairing, recycling or repurposing existing pieces helps promote a circular fashion economy — lower carbon emissions and soil regeneration, as well as conserving water.
Here, read three experts’ views on the fabrics that are moving the needle towards to a better future — Céline Semaan, executive director of climate-positive organization The Slow Factory; Amanda Johnston, curator and consultant at The Sustainable Angle; and founder of sustainability magazine More or Less, Jaime Perlman — then visit FARFETCH’s Fashion Footprint Tool to learn about the materials in your clothes and what you can do to make smarter, more positively conscious fashion choices.
Tencel trench coat, vegan leather shirt, both Nanushka.
The importance of choosing positively
'It’s so important for brands to rethink their production practices to become more eco-friendly, and sustainable materials play a big part in that,’ explains Jaime Perlman, founder of More or Less – a bi-annual publication and digital platform that promotes responsible fashion consumption. ‘It’s been great for large brands to dip their toes in the water experimenting with new materials by creating eco capsule collections – creating new materials which minimize waste and require less energy to produce than traditional materials will lessen fashion's impact on the planet to a degree – but true commitment to the cause is having a long term plan which will incorporate only materials which are less wasteful. No material is perfect and this needs to be taken into consideration when manufacturing. Although we are improving fashion’s carbon imprint, we’re not erasing it completely and circularity should be in the forefront of every brand’s mind.’
'Right now, we have more micro plastics in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way,’ reveals The Slow Factory’s Céline Semaan. ‘These micro plastics are the number one cause of the corrosion of the coral reefs, and most of these come from the waste streams of the fashion industry: whether it’s on an individual level when we’re washing clothes or from factories that are releasing these plastics back into our oceans because of the way toxic dyes are released – it’s a big issue that the fashion industry needs to consider.’
'More than 80% of a product’s environmental impact can be attributed to its material choice alone,’ says Amanda Johnston. ‘At The Sustainable Angle, we focus on materials as a way to educate, inform and showcase more responsible solutions to the fashion industry. LVMH Award finalist Bethany Williams visualizes and embodies sustainability through a 360-degree approach: recognizing materiality, waste, and prioritizing environmental and social justice through her design practices and operations.’
WHICH FABRICS ARE SUSTAINABLE?
Tencel dress, Low Classic. Econyl bag, Stella McCartney.
Regenerated cellulose: Lyocell
'Traditional viscose is made from wood pulp, and is associated with deforestation and toxic chemical effluents, whereas Lyocell refers to the sustainable closed-loop process that captures and reuses the processing chemicals,’ explains Johnston. ‘Tencel is a sustainable branded Lyocell fiber – produced by regenerated cellulosic innovator, Lenzing – which uses wood from certified sources as the feedstock.’
'As Lyocell requires wood pulp to be created, it’s important to consider how this is harvested and how the natural habitat and biodiversity is being preserved – and that’s on the company that produces these materials to ensure,’ adds Semaan. ‘Lyocell is positive because it gives the cotton industry a break: right now, there is a global shortage of cotton harvests. There’s around 60 years left of topsoil for all agriculture – including cotton. As cotton is a very thirsty crop, even if it’s done in an organic way, it can cause drought. So we need to find alternative [fabrics].’
Recycled nylon jacket and shorts, both Raeburn. Vegetal leather and recycled cotton bag, Bonastre.
Closing the loop on waste: Econyl
With its transparent production process, Econyl has quickly become a favored conscious alternative for fashion’s heavy-hitters, with the likes of Gucci, Burberry and Prada utilizing the upcycled nylon substitute in their recent collections. Developed by Italian textile mill Aquafil and launched in 2011, Econyl is a nylon fabric made from upcycling waste, such as fishing nets and textile production scraps destined for disposal. It has the same characteristics and physical resemblance to traditional nylon but has biodegradable properties, meaning it can be broken down and recreated into new materials repeatedly, diverting waste from landfills and offering significant reductions in CO2 emissions. Italian fashion house Prada recently partnered with textile yarn producer, Aquafil, on its Re-Nylon project: a collaboration that sees Prada promise to convert all of its virgin nylon into Re-Nylon by the end of 2021. ‘Instead of using raw plastics and oil, Econyl is made from waste streams – so there’s a circularity in that,’ explains Semaan. ‘Mara Hoffman was the first to use Econyl in her collections. She was the first to give it a chance and to popularize it.'
'It’s important to note that the raw material for virgin nylon is a plastic made from crude oil, and as such, it’s a toxic material which we need to stop producing,’ notes Johnston. ‘However, as there is so much of this material already in the biosphere as waste, initiatives and materials that make use of this rubbish offer an interim solution to decoupling from petrochemicals [chemicals derived from petroleum or natural gas],’ she adds.
More or Less founder Jamie Perlman echoes: ‘Using Econyl as an alternative to virgin nylon is definitely a step in the right direction, however it’s not totally immune from releasing micro-fibres when thrown into the wash. To help resolve this issue, consumers can invest in a special bag to throw in the laundry which catches microparticles released from our clothing when washed.’
Organic cotton blazer and jeans, Remain. Top, KNWLS.
One of the world’s oldest fabrics: linen
Made from flax plant fibers – a plant that can grow in arid terrain where food crops are unable to, and requires far less water than cotton – linen is one of the world’s oldest, and still one of the most sustainable, fabrics. Interesting fact: this naturally biodegradable fiber dates back to 8000BC and the Egyptians often used it as a form of currency. Every part of the flax plant can be used to create usable products, including linseed oil and Omega 3, meaning there is zero wastage. According to the European Confederation of Linen and Hemp, ‘across its lifecycle, a linen shirt uses 6.4 liters of water’ compared to 2,700 litres for a cotton shirt. This season, designers like Materiel, Jacquemus and AMBUSH apply their contemporary lens to linen with design-led tailoring and jackets.
Linen and flax jacket, AMBUSH. Organic cotton vest, Marine Serre. Organic cotton pants, Sunflower.
New material innovations: Mylo and NuCycl
'It’s crucial that [big fashion houses innovate], as their aspirational lead will be followed by the rest of the industry,’ explains Johnston. ‘They play an important role in embedding sustainability into the value systems and operations of brands. We’re currently seeing a surge in investment in sustainable materials of all types. The key innovations that are poised to make a difference are [fibers and fabrics] that are grown and produced in a way that repairs damaged ecosystems, restores soil and agricultural land – as well as those that capture the value locked into both pre and post-consumer waste streams through recycling. We’re also seeing exciting new developments in leather alternatives in response to the catastrophic effect of intensive cattle farming upon deforestation. These materials use bio-based raw materials from agricultural waste – such as pineapple leaves or cactus – or are bio-fabricated from fungal root systems, for example.’
As a pioneering voice for veganism in the industry for almost two decades, it’s unsurprising that Stella McCartney is leading in this space. The brand’s partnership with Bolt Threads – a biotech company rooted in creating sustainable fashion biomaterials and fabrics – has led to the creation of a new bio-based ‘leather’ called Mylo, lab-grown from mushrooms.
Developed by textile innovations company, Evrnu – a fiber firm dedicated to creating a circular ecosystem in the textile industry through forward-thinking technology – NuCycl is a regenerative fiber that purifies garment waste and converts it into pulp in order to create new premium fabrics. It enables 100% of post-consumer textile waste to be made into new clothing, multiple times – a progressive approach to addressing the 92 million tons of waste created annually from the fashion industry. ‘[NuCycl] is a wonderful new material,’ says Semaan. ‘It’s a cellulose fiber, and the input is textile waste. Stella McCartney prototyped it with adidas a few years ago. It’s such an interesting fiber because the input is not natural resources such as trees, soil and plants – it’s textile waste. This is the future and this is where we need to start looking.’
'For me, the future is about embracing science,’ continues Semaan. ‘Last year my business partner and I launched the first science incubator [project] in the fashion industry called One X One. We paired designers with scientists, because if we want to look into innovation, we need to work across sectors. From design to science, creating a common language allows designers to understand scientists, and allows scientists to understand the criterias and constraints of design. When we look at the world as an ecosystem, we realize that there are no boundaries between science and design, spirituality and culture. That’s what the goal of The Slow Factory is, to work across sectors in a positive way to accelerate innovation. The future of the fashion industry is embracing cross-cultural, cross-sector collaboration — it’s about embracing science.’