Sustainable materials

From Fungus to Fiber: Developing and Using Mushrooms to Make Textiles

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Image: MycoTEX

Forward thinking design innovation is showing us we need to rethink the resources available to us. For many designers, the future of fiber is not in pulling more resources from the ground; it’s growing them.

Consider the mushroom. While most of us are used to fungi as food, many designers have turned to mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus (basically the roots of a mushroom) for use as fiber. The latest designer to make waves is Aniela Hoitink. With help from the Myco Design Lab, a collaboration of the University of Utrecht, Officina Corpuscoli and Mediamatic, Hoitink concocted a way to make a garment entirely from mycelium, and the resulting dress made from her MycoTEX fiber is currently on display at the Fungal Futures exhibit at the Universiteitsmuseum in Utrecht.

“I have a great interest in technology and microbiology and am always looking for potential opportunities to use one of them in textiles,” says Hoitink. “So when I saw an open call for mycelium research, I was immediately interested. Mycelium has a lot of great properties like isolating, water repellence, anti microbial or even skin caring. These properties are perfect to use in textiles.”

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Image: MycoTEX

This fungal fiber begins in a petri dish, where Hoitink grows the mycelium.

“After 2 weeks the mycelium is fully grown and can be harvested. After that, the mycelium shapes have to be marinated in another liquid. Then I take them out and put the circular shapes on a 3D mold of a women’s figure, that is when I make and shape the garment. During drying, the mycelium will stick together and the garment is ready.”

This makes for a garment that is not only unique, but also entirely compostable, something that Hoitink believes should be a consideration of the design process. “Nowadays our consumption rate is ever increasing and, as part of such disposable culture, we hardly repair anything. So why not base our textile and clothes production on this disposable culture and make garments that are 100% biodegradable and maybe only last for 1 or 2 years,” says Hoitink. “This way, we can still buy new stuff and throw away the old, without actually adding to the huge textile waste mountain.”

From growing shoes to building materials, when it comes to a sustainable material, mycelium has a lot of potential. But first we have to tackle our perception of it.

“People tend to disregard fungi because they associate them with disgust,” says Maurizio Montalti, the designer behind the Fungal Futures exhibit. Montalti also works with mycelium, founding the company Mycoplast in 2015.

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Image: The Growing lab ©Maurizio Montalti

“If only we would accept being part of nature instead of always drawing the typical separation between man and nature ,” says Montalti, “it’s food for thought for the public.”

But it’s not only food for thought for the public; exhibits like Fungal Futures are a challenge to the industry as well.

“Designers hold a great responsibility,” says Montalti. “If you really think that this kind of material and product can make a difference and can positively impact our relationship to our ecosystem [then] the only way to make this happen is to make this come to the consumer,” says Montalti, “and the only way to do that is through industry.”

Like Montalti, while her dress design is unique – a kind of fungi couture – Hoitink sees potential for the use of mycelium on a larger scale, particularly given its properties. For example, its antibacterial powers. “Mycelium can be anti microbial or skin caring. Those properties are already part of fungi; it is just a matter of using it in the correct way,” says Hoitink. “We don’t need chemicals or silver layers to add these extra functions.” To give a textile antimicrobial properties, silver nanoparticles are incorporated into fibers like nylon. But these nanoparticles come at a cost. According to the nonprofit Beyond Pesticides, “Many consider silver to be more toxic than other metals when in nanoscale form and that these particles have a different toxicity mechanism compared to dissolved silver. Scientists have concluded that nanoparticles can pass easily into cells and affect cellular function, depending on their shape and size.”

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Image: Fungal Futures – Kristel Peters10 ©Marja_Verweij

 

For any textile application where antimicrobial properties are desirable, Hoitink sees a potential for mycelium.Clothing is my ultimate goal, but there are more applications,” says Hoitink. “Think about antimicrobial curtains in hospitals or moist absorbent textiles for old houses.”

In fact, mycelium is already being used in a variety of fiber forms. Ecovative Design produces both Myco Foam and Myco Board, environmentally-friendly alternatives to styrofoam and particle board and for anyone who is interested in experimenting with fungal fibers, the company makes a GIY Mushroom Materials kit (that’s Grow It Yourself) so that you can grow your own fibers at home. In Denmark, product designer Jonas Edvard has used mycelium to create a fiber he calls MYX, which he uses in lampshades. These designers and others see mycelium as a sustainable, renewable alternative to petroleum-based products, and Montalti is confident that if time and research can continue to be devoted to mycelium, we have the opportunity to transition away from petroleum-based products.

“I feel certain about the fact that these materials will strongly impact the market and become one of the most viable alternatives to synthetics,” says Montalti.

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Image: Ecovative

Getting there however requires not only thinking innovatively about materials, but about the entire system at hand.

“The moment that we try to compete with plastic materials it’s a difficult challenge,” says Montalti, noting that “there are different parameters to take into account when looking at the value of the product.”

A more sustainable system will require innovative materials, but also, as Montalti points out “a new form of business model.” One that isn’t just focused on short term profits that come at any cost. “Everything needs to be questioned,” says Montalti, and that means not only how we make materials, but in what system we sell them and how we do business.

When it comes to the future of fashion, Hoitink agrees, pointing out that to move forward, we need to challenge ourselves to not just apply new materials to old methods, but to rethink the entire way of making clothing.

“People are stuck in the old ways of clothing production,” says Hoitink. “People ask me if I could make a yarn out of Mycelium. But why should I put a lot of effort in trying so, if growing pieces is much quicker and environmentally friendly? One of the problems of recycling is that the yarn is not strong enough for weaving, one needs to add new yarns to the recycled yarns in order to use them for the industrial machines. But why not be open for new ways of making garments?”

*This story first appeared on Bk Accelerator

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SAC Launches Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) Contributor

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New platform allows industry to contribute and gain information on thousands of new materials in the Higg Index

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The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) has launched the Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) Contributor, a new addition to the Higg Index suite of tools that allows material suppliers and experts to submit apparel, footwear, and home textile material data into the Higg MSI. The MSI Contributor will allow SAC to expand data around materials sustainability to inform design, development and sourcing decisions for its more than 180 members – including designers and developers at some of the world’s most influential brands.

The Higg MSI provides a common lens for assessing materials impact on climate change, land use, water scarcity, resource depletion, eutrophication, and chemistry. “Sustainability measurement can only be achieved when the industry is speaking a common language,” saidJason Kibbey, CEO of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. “With the introduction of the MSI Contributor, we further the depth of that language, providing a baseline for thousands of materials that designers and the rest of the industry can use to make informed product decisions,” he said. “This is a key milestone in our roadmap to full industry transparency via the Higg Index in 2020.”

Once validated by the MSI Gatekeeper, the MSI Contributor submissions will be incorporated into the Higg MSI, a public tool relaunching in September that will allow users to see and compare scores for common materials in the apparel, footwear, and home textile industry. At launch, the Higg MSI will include 79 scored base materials (such as cotton, polyester, and EVA foam), and 225 additional production specifications (such as organic or bio-based fibers, weaving or knitting processes, or performance finishes) that can be used to get a more accurate score for a specific material. This results in more than 4000 scored materials, which SAC looks to rapidly expand with the MSI Contributor.

Through the MSI Contributor, the SAC expects that the entire industry will gain benefits in making more informed decisions around material use. Manufacturers will have a credible and comparable means to show how their responsible production processes reduce impact, allowing them to attract more brands committed to responsible sourcing.

 

“As a participating member of the SAC, INVISTA has been keen to ensure that the methodology used to assess material and product impacts is fair, unbiased and representative of actual environmental impacts associated with manufacture and consumer use of textile products,” said Francis Mason, Senior R&D Engineer of INVISTA. “This fundamental tool improvement will enhance the SAC reputation and Higg Tool adoption.”

 

According to Dr. Krishna Manda, Senior Advisor of Sustainability, Lenzing AG, “MSI Contributor will increase the functionality of the Higg Design & Development Module and supports brands in making meaningful decisions while designing products. This is a great platform to showcase the best sustainability practices of manufacturers which are duly verified by credible experts.”

 

The MSI Contributor marks another step in the evolution of Higg tools that promote data transparency, collaboration and systemic change across the industry. Soon, manufacturers and their brand and retailer customers will also be able to measure the overall environmental performance of their footwear, apparel and home textile products with the upcoming launch of the Design & Development Module (DDM) in the Fall.

 

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition welcomes industry review and contributions to the MSI Contributor at msicontributor.higg.org

Five materials for sustainability at scale

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Contributor Katharine Earley

Image: Cocccon
Image: Cocccon

From organic silk to recycled polyester, high street fashion brands are increasingly seeking high-performing materials with a low impact on the environment.

The quest for high-performing, sustainable materials continues apace as the more progressive high street fashion brands seek to create garments using fewer natural resources and generate a lower impact on the environment.

More than 1,000 sustainable materials were showcased at the Future Fabrics trade show in 2014. Meanwhile, designers can compare the impacts of diverse materials using interactive tools, and multiple collaborations are forming to develop healthier, low impact materials, pioneer closed loop models or prevent waste, including Fashion Positive and Reclaim to Wear.

“We’re seeing an increasing appetite for innovative, sustainable fabrics, and a growing interest from brands in transforming waste materials into a resource,” explains Sarah Ditty, SOURCE Intelligence editor-in-chief. “With many bio-based and synthetic options available, the real challenge for businesses, particularly big fashion brands, is integrating new materials into the design process from the outset.”

Here, we highlight five innovative materials on the market today:

Organic silk

Organic silk is produced by silk worms living in organically cultivated Mulberry trees. The worms consume the mulberry leaves, converting them into body mass, which they then use to spin their cocoon. Some 500 cocoons are required to produce one T-shirt, according to Swiss silk supplier ALKENA.

The company claims that feeding worms on leaves free from harmful chemicals yields larger, healthier cocoons and subsequently more consistent, better quality silk. Organic silk can be sourced in different weights, weaves and colours, and its production often takes place on a small scale among developing communities, including in China and India.

Farmers save money by avoiding the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, while protecting the environment and producing a fibre that is kinder to human skin. The material features in H&M’s new Conscious Collection, with garments including a black silk tuxedo jacket. You can source beautiful organic silks from suppliers such as Cocccon and Seidentraum.

diagram from ALKENA

Recycled rubber

Rubber trees are traditionally grown in plantations in deforested areas of rainforest (although small scale projects to tap rubber using traditional techniques are in place). Opting for recycled rubber offers a more sustainable alternative, as it avoids deforestation and its production generates fewer carbon emissions.

Outdoor clothing brand Timberland recently formed a partnership with tyre manufacture Omni United to create a new line of tyres designed to be recycled into Timberland footwear when the tyre treads wear out. Indosole, a collaboration between US social entrepreneurs and Indonesian craftsman, also produces shoes from tyres destined for landfill. Elsewhere, UK fashion brand Elvis & Kresse transforms rubber fire hoses into bags and belts and accessories.

Elvis & Kresse’s Reporter bag

Recycled plastic

With some 280m tonnes of plastic produced annually and less than 10% currently recycled, there is a big opportunity for fashion brands to derive value from plastic waste. Suppliers offering fibres made from recycled plastic include DGrade, Saluzzo Yarns and Bionic Yarn.

Fibres are largely spun from post-consumer plastic bottles, as well as plastic bags, and offer the same quality as virgin plastic while using less energy in the production process, and conserving natural resources. Importantly, giving plastic waste a new lease of life also helps to stem the flow of plastic into landfills and oceans.

Dutch fashion brand G-Star RAW has gone one step further by collaborating with Bionic Yarn to create a denim clothing line, Raw for the Oceans, made from ocean plastic debris. Elsewhere, EKOCYCLE, a sustainable lifestyle brand founded by will.i.am and the Coca-Cola Company, is partnering with brands including Adidas to create products made partly from PET plastic.

Recycled polyester

Polyester is a synthetic fibre derived from oil. Selecting recycled polyester, which is typically made from plastic PET bottles (suppliers include REPREVE and Eco-fi) – helps brands to reduce their reliance on finite natural resources and prevent plastic pollution.

Recycled polyester also requires fewer chemicals, energy and water to produce. Patagonia and The North Face both incorporate polyester made from plastic bottles in garments such as fleeces. The North Face revealed in 2014 that its Denali fleece is made from 100% recycled content. Innovative models to close the loop on recycled polyester are springing up worldwide.

Dutch aWEARness has created a circular supply chain for Refinity, its recycled polyester, leasing work clothing to companies and taking it back at the end of the contract to be recycled.

Luxury fashion group Kering, innovation business Worn Again and H&M have partnered to develop a technology to separate and extract polyester and cotton from end-of-life textiles. Meanwhile, Japanese chemicals company Teijin has created a ‘closed loop’ polyester through its ECO CIRCLE™ system.

H&M Conscious Collection 2015

Lyocell

Lyocell is a type of rayon fibre made from the pulp of trees such as eucalyptus and bamboo. The trees are cultivated on farms certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, grow quickly and require little water and few chemicals to thrive.

Lycocell creates a lower impact on the environment and produces fewer carbon emissions than mainstream, conventionally produced fibres. Additionally, some 98% of the solvent used to dissolve the wood pulp is recovered and reused in a closed loop process. The result is a soft, lightweight fibre, more commonly known as TENCEL®, which is made from FSC-certified eucalyptus by Austrian supplier Lenzing.

Many brands source TENCEL®, including Tommy Hilfiger, Levi’s, H&M and Burberry. It can be used in jersey, knits and woven fashion garments as an alternative for viscose, cotton and silk. MONOCEL (similar to cotton) is produced in a similar way, and is made from FSC-certified bamboo.

Katharine Earley is a journalist and copywriter, specialising in sustainable business.

**This article first appeared on Ethical Fashion Forum blog here.