Food waste to fashion: 9 Sustainable fabrics that could help save the planet
There’s no denying that the fashion industry has a work in progress when it comes to sustainability—brands are pledging to use organic materials, introducing sub-lines that feature eco-friendly materials only, swapping out their plastic packaging with a recyclable option and more. No matter how big or how small the change is, every action counts. But when it comes to fabrics used in their collections, aside from organic materials, there are not a lot of alternatives that have been incorporated into the making of clothes.
In conjunction with World Earth Day, we shine the spotlight on nine innovative companies that are attempting to make a difference in the textile industry by developing sustainable fabrics made from food waste:
A vegan leather made from pineapple leaf fibre, Piñatex is one of the most popular sustainable materials on the market. The fabric was founded and developed by Dr. Carmen Hijosa, a leather-goods expert in the Philippines back in the ‘90s when she realised the environmental impact of mass leather production and chemical tanning. Less than three decades later, the material has been spotted on the London Fashion Week runway, 2017 Met Gala, Netflix’s Next in Fashion and more, but the company behind the fabric, Ananas Amam, also prides itself as being able to provide additional income for farmers.
The company first came into the radar in 2015 when the it won the H&M Foundation Global Change Award, but Italian Maison Salvatore Ferragamo’s Orange Fiber capsule collection in 2017 truly launched it into the spotlight. Just last year, the fabric was used in H&M’s Conscious collection too. Made from citrus juice by-product (hence its name), the silk-like cellulose fabric is similar to viscose and can be blended with silk and cotton to create a wider range of materials. Having patented its industrial production, they continue to commit to “rescuing” more than 700,000 tons or orange peels that are discarded in Italy every year.
Potato to plastic? Chip[s] Board is doing it. The company was built around the values of a circular economy, as it pledges to utilise the resources rather than processing virgin materials. Using the by-products from potato chip manufacturing (mostly supplied from the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato products, McCain Foods Limited), the non-food grade waste is made into pure or fibre-reinforced bioplastic that are suitable for the fashion and interior designing industry. So far, it’s been used to make eyewear, and buttons for cushions and clothing.
Leather has always been one of the most debated fabrics—both PU and real leather don’t have the best environmental impact and are harmful to the planet, but thankfully, there are more and more alternatives that have spruced up in recent years. VegeaTextile is one of them. Founded in 2016 in Milan, the company mainly uses wine waste (the skins, stalks, and seeds of grapes) from the wine-making process and turn them into leather. The material has been used by H&M to make shoes and bags for its 2020 Conscious collection, as well as into sandals by &Other Stories.
Instead of focusing on one particular food by-product, Circular Systems transforms six food crop wastes—oil-seed hemp, oil-seed flax, pineapple leaves, banana tree, cane bagasse, and rice straws—into natural fiber products. According to its website, the total amount of waste alone offers more than 250 million tons of fiber, which is two and a half times more than the current demand. On top of being used to create the textile for clothing called Agraloop BioFibre, it can also be made into paper packaging, organic fertilizer, biofuel and more.
Bananatex is the world’s first technical fabric made from banana plants cultivated in the Philippines, and it’s a result of a three-way development between Swiss backpack brand Qwstion, a Taiwanese yarn specialist, and a weaving partner based in Taiwan. With an aim to create their own material, the five Qwstion co-founders spent three years researching and developing the fabric, and launched Bananatex and the bag collection ahead of their 10th year anniversary two years ago. The waterproof fabric comes with a natural beeswax coating and is strong and durable, and it’s biodegradable.
Did you know that milk contains more than 200 vitamins, minerals and proteins that can be processed and turned into resources? What started out as a search for non-allergenic fabrics for the founder, Anke Domaske's cancer-stricken father led to the discovery of the QMilk fibres, which are made out of milk—sour milk, to be exact. After separating the protein, the powder will then be mixed into water to form a dough, before being made into textile fibres. 100% natural and silky smooth, the fabric reportedly makes your skin feel softer with every wear, as it absorbs and contains moisture. Aside from clothing, the fiber can also be made into natural cosmetics and organic plastic.
The Seacell textile fiber is made from two simple ingredients: natural cellulose-based Lyocell fibre and seaweed. Adapted to clothing such as underwear and sportswear, the fabric is long-lasting and absorbs sweat 50% faster than cotton. On top of that, thanks to its mineral substances such as calcium, Vitamin A and more, they're also good effects on the skin. Like QMilk, Seacells can also be incorporated into medicines and cosmetic products, thanks to the high concentration of vitamins and minerals found in seaweeds.
A couple in Taiwan has managed to come up with a sustainable fabric that involves the discarded coffee grounds. Invented by Jason Chen—whose wife jokingly told him he should put coffee in his clothes to smell less after workouts—the S.Cafe yarn was the result of four years of hard work and determination. Using the coffee grounds which are thrown away after roasting beans, the raw material—mostly collected from local cafes—are combined onto a yarn surface using Jason's self-made technology, which uses a low temperature, high pressure and energy saving process. The final yarn product has odour-control, UV protection, and is fast-drying.