The way food waste becomes fashion is giving us hope for a more sustainable future
By Arwa Lodhi
Cotton. It’s absolutely everywhere, from your tee shirt to your cotton buds. Although it’s a plant based fibre, it’s far from sustainable, since it’s usually GMO, is one of the thirstiest crops in the world, and also one of the most heavily sprayed with pesticides.
But there’s good news on the fashion horizon: food waste is being transformed into clothing, mainly with thanks to system called Agraloop. It’s a regenerative system that uses plant-based chemistry and plant-based energy to upgrade food fibres into clothing, whilst enriching the local communities and basically creating a new economic system. And it’s the future of fashion.
How Food Waste Becomes Fashion
Circular Systems’ Agraloop received a grant of $350,000 from the H&M Foundation after they were chosen as this year’s winner of H&M’s Global Change Award, which seeks to recognise the most exciting developments in sustainable fashion.
The grant will allow the company to mass produce clothing derived from food waste, and that’s a great thing for the planet: back in 1960, 97% of textile fibres came from plants and animals. Today, we only use 35% natural fibres, with petrochemicals leading the norm. But now, there are more and more opportunities to convert 10 million tons of food waste into sustainable textiles and fashion, helping drive a paradigm shift back to natural fabrics.
For example, technology allows us to spin apple and orange peels, banana skins, pineapple leaves, sugarcane bark, mushrooms and even milk into thread, which means less food crop waste will be burnt or left to rot, releasing methane gas and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Systems like Agraloop’s are thus helping to regenerate depleted soil and reduce air pollution.
Perhaps best of all, unlike many synthetics and GMO cotton, the clothing resulting by these new fibres are all safe and healthy to wear, as well as recyclable, renewable and biodegradable.
From a technological standpoint, the system is a closed-loop bio process that happens at the farm level using modular mini-mills, which produce plant-based energy from the same food waste. Unlike growing corn for biofuel, the Agraloop concept doesn’t compete with a farmer’s primary focus of growing food, instead providing an additional source of income.
Skeptical that food waste could possibly be spun into something gorgeous? These examples below will change your mind!
After becoming ill, Nicki reevaluated her life and was inspired to live with health and happiness as a priority, not only for herself, but also for the planet. And so her sustainable fashion brand, Milo + Nicki, was born.
Milo + Nicki create fun, tropically inspired garments from banana fibres. We love their 6>1 maxi skirt that can be worn a full six ways or more, offering perfect versatility for travel and creative wardrobes.
As fine and strong as silk, orange fibres are perfect for creating sustainable luxury garments. Italian label Ferragamo was the first major fashion house to make use of Orange Fibre threads, created by Adriana Santanocito, who also showed what her beautiful, sustainable textiles could do at Green Fashion Week in Milan and Los Angeles recently.
She was inspired by the 700,000 tons of orange peels discarded when making juice in Italy each year. While working on her dissertation in fashion design, Santanocito decided to develop the project with Enrica Arena, an International Communication and Cooperation student, with the support of the Polytechnic University of Milan. The duo launched and patented Orange Fiber Fabrics in the hopes of making a difference in the fashion industry.
Spanish designer Dr Carmen Hijosa is the brains behind Piñatex, a material based on pineapple bush fibres. She’d worked for years in the leather industry, and became keen to find a cruelty-free alternative to animal hide that was also planet-friendly.
On one particular business visit to the Philippines, she had a lightbulb moment. She discovered that women in the Philippines wore traditional shirts made from the pineapple leaf fibres that were left over after harvesting the fruit. This sparked years of research and development into creating a new sustainable textile. And so Piñatex was born.
Today, Piñatex is used in many vegan leather brands’ bags and shoes, proving that food waste fashion is definitely becoming a ‘thing’!
Who says vegan leather has to be made from nasty plastic? Leading luxury vegan shoe brand, Veerah, has just launched a new line of vegan heels made from apple peels.
According to the company, the heels are a byproduct of apple juice that comes from a sustainable orchard in Italy: “The production process involves scientists taking dry apple peels and extracting fibers to construct apple leather, a sustainable textile,” the company said in a statement. “The apple leather is breathable, durable, chemical free, UV resistant and it looks and feels like real leather.”
So really, there’s just no excuse to kill animals for shoes anymore at all….
Sunad is a Spanish fashion brand that makes exquisite clothing from a surprising, natural source: modal blended with milk protein (casein). Casein is inherently sustainable – it’s a milk protein that is normally thrown out in the process of creating dairy, so using it in fabric helps reduce the environmental impact of the dairy industry.
If you aren’t convinced you’ll love the material yet, know this: casein fabric is super soft, and is also good for your skin, since it’s hypoallergenic and has natural antibacterial qualities. It even contains amino acids that nourish the skin as you wear the clothes!
Main image: Crossbody Tote in Pinatex from HFS Collective. Second image: Sunad