By Charles Morley
The fact that technology is making fashion sustainable shouldn’t be surprising: tech has always been somewhat embedded in the very fabric of fashion…no pun intended. But now more than ever, experts are setting their sights quite ambitiously far ahead in order to dream up the next big thing – and this time, it’s for the sake of future generations.
Far from simply utilising and continually improving technology for the clothing manufacturing process, we’re slowly but surely entering an age where technology and fashion are coming together as one to create clothing and accessories that are far more sustainable. Given the energy intensity of producing most fabric, this is a very welcome change.
While it may initially seem that organic cotton or recycled polymers may be a great foundation for the clothing we wear, when you consider the vast land and quantities of water used by cotton or the horrendously energy intensive and highly polluting process of extracting oil to make plastics, it seems high tech may have a lot to offer.
Here are 5 fascinating ways technology is making fashion sustainable, thanks to some key innovations.
5 Ways Technology Is Making Fashion Sustainable
1. Clothing Made From Food
A German microbiology-student by the name of Anke Domaske had a great idea: she used milk, tea and coffee beans in her ‘Grow Your Own Clothes’ project at uni, and it blew her professors away.
So much so, in fact, that she was encouraged to launch a company called Qmilk which produces fabrics not only for the fashion industry, but also for home and car furnishings. Cloth made from Qmilk fiber is very soft and provides a comfortable fit, but that’s not all: the textile also provides reduced bacterial growth and skin-sensory properties, which make it suitable for any activity in any climate.
2. High Tech to Dye For
One of the dirtiest aspects of producing fashion is definitely centered around the dyes used. Luckily, California’s Colorep has come up with an ‘AirDye’ system that uses 85% less energy and 90% less water than conventional dyeing.
Few people seem to realise that the dyeing process is normally a highly polluting process that involves many chemicals, waste, and water usage, but AirDye takes water almost out of the equation completely, and also reduces the emissions and energy used dramatically, since extreme heat is needed to dry the textiles after they are soaked in dye (and most fabrics then require a post-rinse and yet another dry cycle).
AirDye’s process begins with using all synthetic fibers for its material, which can be made from recycled PET bottles. Using dispersed dyes that are applied to a paper carrier, AirDye uses heat to transfer the dyes from the paper to the surface of the textiles, coloring it at the molecular level. All paper used is recycled, and dyes are inert, meaning that they can go back to their original state and be reused.
The system works on all textiles, be they for upholstery, wallpaper or fashion. So far, only one designer, Costello Tagliapietra, has debuted a fashion range (seen below) made entirely with AirDye methods – but we hope to see more designers on board soon!
3. The ‘Fashion Print’ Takes On A Whole New Meaning
3D printed fashion has already appeared on the catwalks of Paris, London and Milan thanks to innovative designers like Iris Van Herpen, and others.
Yes, 3D printing quite often uses polymers rather than natural materials, but it can be considered to be eco-friendly for two reasons: one, it avoids fabric waste, which is so prevalent in the industry. Any time a pattern is cut, there are metres and metres of unused fabric that simply go straight to landfill.
Secondly, outfits made from 3D printing can be produced on a when-needed basis only, as it doesn’t take long to make them. Normally, designers take orders from buyers, who guess the demand for their clients. If they get it wrong, they could have a whole lot of stock on their hands. But not so if clothing is printed – customers can place their orders, and conceivably have them made for them in-shop while they wait!
4. A Brilliant Idea: Lab Grown Diamonds
Technology is making fashion sustainable in the realm of accessories, too: namely lab grown diamonds and gemstones.
One company leading the way is Lark and Berry, who proudly create high quality lab-grown diamonds using a process called Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). In this, a diamond seed is placed into a high pressure chamber with a plasma formed with Methane and Hydrogen, and is then heated to upwards of 2200 degrees Fahrenheit.
The gases attach to the seed and the carbon crystal grows for up to a month (longer for higher carat weight diamonds). Once the crystal is formed, it is removed and sent to a diamond cutter to get the maximum size and brilliance possible.
Lab-grown diamonds require far, far less energy to produce than a natural diamond. Although energy is required to produce the high pressure and temperatures required with a lab grown diamond, it is still approximately a third or less of the energy required to mine a diamond, and of course, less energy translates to less fuel and pollution.
Also, many of the most reputable lab-grown vendors are also using large amounts of solar and wind generated power, and of course, lab grown gemstones and diamonds never rip up the Earth, destroying plants and animal habitats, the way mining does.
5. High Tech Vegan Leather
One of the other ways technology is making fashion sustainable is also saving the lives of animals, too.
We all know that ‘vegan leather‘ can often be a euphemism for ‘plastic crap’. But several companies are now making innovative vegan leathers from 100% natural materials in laboratories. For example, Modern Meadow produces leather from yeast cells that are fermented in ways similar to beer making.
The result is collagen, the protein that gives skin its elasticity – and which can be made into a product that closely imitates leather. The pieces vary in colour, thickness and texture, and the fabric can be used for a variety of purposes, including clothing, shoes, handbags, car and plane interiors and even furniture.
Raising cattle itself is so environmentally damaging, but producing leather is even worse, due to highly toxic tanning and dyeing processes, but apart from the environmental harm, there’s also huge wastage in the industry – up to half of a cowhide can be wasted due to imperfections, and with alligator and crocodile skin, it’s even worse, with up to 90% of the material wasted because of the need for a perfect pattern.
Business consulting firm Grand View Research (GVR) has predicted the global faux leather market will hit $85bn by 2025 due to the lower cost of producing animal-free products along with the increasing number of consumers opting for animal-free materials – and that’s a beautiful thing, if you ask us!
No one could really have envisaged how quickly things would progress over just a few short decades. The only question now being how, if and when all these amazing developments will be used to further matters of universal interest – conservation, sustainability, carbon-reduction, and of course, style!
All images courtesy of the brands mentioned
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