A synthetic spider silk parka, luxury knitwear made from deadstock yarns, and one-of-a-kind pieces from unwanted locally sourced materials are the latest sustainable clothing options.
The Moon Parka is the first product successfully made of synthetic spider silk materials – the result of over 11 years of research, 10 design iterations, and 656 gene synthesis designs. Japanese advanced biomaterials company Spiber created the prototype outerwear jacket in partnership with The North Face, and expects to deliver the final product next year.
Named for the home of the most distant and harshest polar region mankind has reached, the Moon Parka was created thanks to biomimicry. Spiber’s researchers were inspired by the extremely strong and flexible threads that spiders produce with biological proteins. Over a decade of development led to the synthetic fiber used in the Moon Parka, called Qmonos, from the Japanese word for spider web. It is produced through an industrial fermentation process that involves micro-organisms producing proteins.
With the Moon Parka as a proof of concept for the spider silk fiber, Spiber hopes to revolutionize the apparel industry. The company has also set its sights on the automotive and medical device industries for future product development. Ford Motor Company researchers are also looking to biomimicry for inspiration, focusing on geckos’ sticky toe pads to improve adhesives and recyclability.
Meanwhile, despite a growing number of recycling, upcycling and chemical-separation initiatives throughout the fashion industry, a lot of existing textiles are going to waste around the world — so much so that UK waste-reduction charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) recently announced a three-year, €3.6 million commitment to reduce clothing waste across Europe.
Designer Eleanor O’Neill is doing her part with an even smaller initiative through her studio in England. The lone producer behind her Study 34 label hand-makes clothing using leftover luxury yarn. It is not uncommon for manufacturers to dispose of high-quality yarns if there is not enough left to produce a complete line of garments. O’Neill buys the remnants in bulk and produces limited knitwear collections.
“There are a number of suppliers in the UK who buy and sell end-of-line yarns which are really high quality and, apart from anything else, you can’t usually buy these luxury yarns is such small quantities elsewhere,” O’Neill told Ecouterre. “So I thought here is an outlet and I have a skill, let’s put them together and see how it goes! I think it’s important for a brand to offer something different.”
The sweaters in her newly released Autumn/Winter 2015 line range from £185-215 (US$285-330). O’Neill says that Study 34 pieces are made to last a lifetime with proper care.
“One of the aims of Study 34 is to convey to the customer how a garment is made in the hope that once they can see the time and skill that goes into making clothing it will encourage them to value it more,” she says. “It’s a sad fact but I think getting to a stage where people treasure and look after their clothes enough not to throw them out within a few months would be classed as a revolution right now.”
Yet, in this era of fast fashion, is using leftover raw materials enough? Recycling materials seems essential in reducing the fashion industry’s negative impacts.
Enter social enterprise Space Between. An initiative of Massey University’s School of Design, Space Between is using a designer-led approach and collaborating with local partners in New Zealand to address sustainability issues. Current and past students of the school are able to develop their entrepreneurial capabilities while reducing waste and resource depletion.
The clothing pieces are known as “The Fundamentals,” and are made on-demand, year-round rather than seasonally in batches. They are produced by Earthlink Inc, a non-profit organization that provides work for people facing workplace challenges. Space Between also partnered with New Zealand Post Group and corporate uniform manufacturer Booker Spalding to identify more sustainable disposal methods for end-of-life retail and postal uniforms, such as upcycling them into The Fundamentals pieces. Get more insight into the process here.
Jennifer Whitty, Senior Lecturer of Fashion Design at Massey University and director of Space Between, said the goal of the project is to “develop alternative connections between design, manufacturing systems, and consumption habits.” She hopes the partnerships will create a mutually beneficial local industry and alter the conventional designer-manufacturer relationship.
Space Between is also affiliated with university research related to waste reduction in the industry, under the banner Fashion Lab. They consider models of making zero-waste garments and aim to challenge the norms of consumption and retail.
*This story first appeared on Sustainable Brands.