LONDON — The Future Fabrics Expo, which has been running here for nearly a decade, has notched its most successful edition so far.
The Victoria House venue in Holborn was busy, with lines snaking around the exhibition hall for the seminars and visitors from Hermès, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Kering and PVH browsing the stands.
The ninth edition of the fair, which ran Jan. 29 and 30, reached capacity a few times with organizers forced to close the doors because they couldn’t let any more people in.
The expo, which is organized by The Sustainable Angle and spotlights sustainably produced textiles and materials, put the focus on regenerative agriculture and biomimicry which help to lower CO2 emissions.
“A specific focus this year was on regenerative agriculture for farming the raw materials for textiles,” said Nina Marenzi, founder and director at The Sustainable Angle. “Our four main criteria for exhibitors are on water, waste, energy and biodiversity. Not all have to be met at once, however, the materials need to be safe and renewable, you won’t find toxic textiles in the showcase but there are lots of tencel, chemically or mechanically recycled fibres, organic and regeneratively farmed fibres as well as low impact denim.”
Near the main entrance was the Innovation Hub, with two long tables laid out with cutting-edge materials and technologies, including vegan leather made from cactus by the company Desserto. There was another leather alternative made with mycelium by Ecovative, and yarn made with 100 percent polyester by Avery Dennison.
Next to the Innovation Hub were clothing rails hung with thousands of different sustainable materials, all of which are commercially available. They included different types of fish skin and leather made from banana leaves.
These materials may seem niche, but they’re certainly appealing to big brands, manufacturers and individual designers alike.
“We’ve seen a huge shift, we have had such good feedback fro the exhibitors reporting strong sales, the proof is in the pudding! Visitors across the industry from luxury household names to big highstreet brands were thrilled to find a space full of fabrics they can work with to create responsibly produced fashion not costing the planet,” said Marenzi.
Such is the demand for sustainable fabrics that bag manufacturer Qwstion has begun making textiles, too. Qwstion’s proprietary fabric, Bananatex, is made from 100 percent biodegradable banana plants grown in the Philippines and has been a hit in the fashion industry.
“We decided to give the industry access because we saw that there was a lot of potential with this fabric beyond bags. We had a lot of requests from the industry — almost every brand you can think of has approached us,” said Hannes Schönegger, cofounder and chief executive officer of Qwstion. He declined to give the names of brands he’d been in contact with.
“A lot of well-known brands are interested in what we do, which is great on one hand but at the same time it’s sad because it’s not logical that a small brand has to be the pioneer. One would think that someone like Nike — or whoever it is — can spend their R&D dollars in creating something like this,” Schönegger added.
The textile mill Recyctex has also seen a spike in interest.
“It’s our second year here, and compared to last year, we’ve seen a lot more people. There’s interest from everyone in the industry — manufacturers, designers and retailers,” said a spokesperson at the company, which works with more than 100 brands, and which last year partnered with Zara to produce a collection of recycled polyester bags.
There are other exhibitors, too, ranging from finishes to linings, including The Sustainable Sequin Company and a fiber creation company called Circular Systems that uses food crop waste to create regenerated yarn.
Ricardo Garay, project coordinator of Circular Systems, said it was the company’s second time at the fair, “and compared to last year, people seem more interested and knowledgeable and eager to start a discussion. We’ve seen a lot of smaller designers and brands who are looking to start their first collection and who are interested in us.”
While new entrants to the market appear to be putting sustainability first, larger brands are still slow to get on board.
Beyond Surface Technologies, which provides sustainable finishing alternatives and which has been part of the exhibition for five years, said it has only just started seeing big corporations approach.
“The exhibition was a bit nervous moving to this new venue and wondering if they could fill it up, but it’s very busy and we’ve noticed more and more big brands coming up — and not just textile students and start-ups. It’s really the big guys like PVH and Hermès, so in our eyes, it has really grown,” said a spokesperson for Beyond Surface Technologies.
“Many people don’t think — or talk — about finishing. Adidas was our first customer and they use our product in all of their synthetic football shirts but they don’t talk or even mention it. Other brands are starting to take notice but it’s still not enough,” the spokesperson said.
The process for companies to incorporate Beyond Surface Technologies into their garments takes a minimum of two years, from first contact to producing a finished product with the sustainable finish on it.
While the fair may have been a sell-out success, with lots of innovation on offer and VIP brands in attendance, one thing is clear: The fashion industry needs to move at a quicker pace to patch up years of damaging the planet.