Over time, the fashion industry has shifted away from using animal products, such as furs and leathers, in favor of using synthetic animal product alternatives. Organizations like PETA have condemned clothing and accessories brands for contributing to an ongoing epidemic of animal cruelty through the exploitation of exotic species, encouraging many to forego the usage of animal products altogether.
Consumers are turning away from brands that use animal products, but the widely used synthetic alternatives, such as polyester, are not the sustainable alternative they're advertised to be. An article from Esquire says that the methods used to produce synthetic materials release petrochemical pollutants that damage the ecosystem, still harming the animals activist groups are working to protect.
Fast fashion promotes the usage of these synthetic materials because they are cheaper and quicker to produce in factories, releasing dangerous amounts of greenhouse gases into the air. The pollution doesn't just stop there. Clothing made of these synthetic materials is typically lower quality, falling apart after just a couple of wears. Even when the garment is in the hands of the consumer, the shedding of microplastics works its way into the oceans, causing even more damage.
However, there is hope on the horizon. The demand for truly sustainable alternatives to animal products has skyrocketed, spearheading innovation in textiles. From vegan leather made of food waste to fabrics made of recycled plastic bottles, the hunt for true environmental friendliness in fashion has begun.
Source: Good Guys Don't Wear Leather
Let's dive into what makes these products more sustainable options for the fashion industry, and who is embracing this newfound technology.
This material has already been spotted on the Paris Fashion Week runway, courtesy of Stella McCartney. Produced in Italy using apple skin and pomace, the leftover waste from fruit juice production, the raw material is then applied to a polyester canvas, creating the fabric. The materials used to produce AppleSkin use fewer toxic chemicals, recycles material that would otherwise just go to waste, and are PETA-approved.
The result is a soft and durable textile that comes in a variety of colors, textures, and thicknesses, making this material incredibly versatile in its uses. The Frayme bag from Stella McCartney is produced from AppleSkin, with an embossed pattern that resembles crocodile skin.
The material still relies on less sustainable synthetic materials in its production, making this material not biodegradable at the end of the item's life. It might not be the most sustainable option, according to Impactful Ninja, but it is better than using animal products or petroleum-based synthetics outright.
Source: Stella McCartney
Produced by Bolt Threads, Mylo is a leather alternative produced from mycelium, the underground root system of mushrooms. Their factories run entirely on renewable energy, using sustainable vertical farming methods that take roughly two weeks to grow the mycelium. The spores are fed sawdust and other organic materials, harvested, compressed, and finished with a water-based polyurethane mixture before being dyed and embossed. The process yields a realistic leather-like material that is soft, supple, and behaves almost identically to animal leather.
Very little data is available on their carbon footprint due to the newness of the technology, but the fact that the material is both non-toxic and biodegradable makes this innovation particularly promising. Although they are not completely plastic-free, they are petroleum-free and rigorously analyzed with Green Chemistry principles. Brands like Adidas and Lululemon have already produced products using Mylo, with Adidas recently releasing the reimagined Stan Smith using the material.
Source: Adidas News
The silk industry is more sustainable than other animal product industries, but concerns surrounding water consumption and the treatment of workers have prompted a search for an even more sustainable alternative. Similar to AppleSkin, Soysilk is produced using leftover waste from soybean processing, limiting excess food waste and creating a more circular model of consumption. Shockingly enough, soy-based textiles have been seen on the market since the 1940s, but are just now being produced on a larger scale.
One major benefit to Soysilk is it's relatively wrinkle-free in comparison to regular silk, which wrinkles incredibly easily. The material may be more environmentally friendly than animal-based silk, but it should be noted that the fabric is produced using formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. The soy industry as a whole has also come under fire for contributing to deforestation in Brazil, causing large-scale environmental damage, but Soysilk fills the gap by using byproducts that would otherwise be discarded as waste.
Source: Eco Cult
In short, the search for a fabric that is 100% completely sustainable is still ongoing. However, major strides have been taken by textile producers to invest in materials that lower the large environmental impact of the fashion industry. With vegan alternatives such as these three paving the way for a brighter fashion future, there is hope for sustainability after all.