Next-gen materials are receiving a lot of buzz.
Commonly, next-gen materials take inspiration from nature but are tailored with modern technologies for multi-industry use, be it in apparel or medical fields. Material can be grown to shape like fungi or fermented to appear as silk spun by spiders, in the case of some of the top funding recipients for innovative materials. Next-gen materials share an aim to cut the environmental footprint of existing textiles (particularly those like virgin polyester) — reducing carbon footprint, water and chemical use.
While many materials support next-gen values on animal welfare and environmental good, not all next-gen materials are the same. Here, WWD presents an A-Z catalogue of some of the latest materials on the market that are prioritizing sustainability.
AirCarbon is made by Huntington Beach-based Newlight Technologies, and has collaborated with the likes Nike for its material that sucks carbon from the air.
The secret to “AirCarbon” — a material 10 years in development — is found in nature: methane-loving micro-organisms. AirCarbon is certified carbon-negative by SCS Global Services, resulting in a net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere through production. It subs out both supple and firm plastic for uses in eyewear, wallets and bags (and is already being used in each of these ways for Newlight’s own brand “Covalent”).
AirMycelium is a mycelium material (mushroom root) from New York-based innovation firm Ecovative. The material has a production capacity of 100,000 pounds a year and is biodegradable over time — with its raw mycelium materials being at-home compostable in soil.
B-Silk is a proprietary clean beauty breakthrough from the team at Bolt Threads. It is bio-based, biodegradable, vegan and cruelty-free and is used as a replacement for ingredients like silicone and keratin in skin and hair care products. Eighteen B, Bolt Thread’s own brand, is the first to demonstrate its use.
BioFiber is made entirely from food crop residues from producer Agraloop Bio-Refinery. It is meant to replace high-quality knits and woven fabrics. The Agraloop processes waste from various food and medicine crops including oilseed hemp/flax, CBD hemp, banana and pineapple, while incentivizing the waste among communities in need. BioFiber is blended with other natural staple fibers to produce a range of ring-spun and open-end yarns.
Agraloop was awarded the first prize by H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award in 2018.
BioSteel is a biotechnologically produced high-performance version of spider silk which debuted in 2015. It is produced by German biotech company AMSilk and has been used notably in the upper material in Adidas’ Futurecraft Biofabric sneakers. Properties include being 15 percent lighter than conventional synthetics as well as being completely biodegradable. The material has been certified by the Hohenstein Institute and the SGS Institut Fresenius.
C-Fiber is a blend of eucalyptus pulp and seaweed powder from material innovation firm Pangaia. The material is biodegradable in both a natural and industrial environment and is certified by German research institute TITK (Thüringisches Institut für Textil-und Kunststoff-Forschung e.V.) for biodegradability and has the “OK Compost” certificate from Austrian certification body Vinçotte.
Circulose is a patented fiber made by chemically processing 100 percent cotton fabric waste or other cellulosic textiles (like viscose). It is produced by Renewcell, a technology company founded in January 2012 by a group of cellulose researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology. The material cuts down significantly on water and carbon footprint and is closed loop. H&M was the first to debut the Circulose material to consumers.
Desserto is made of 40 percent organic cactus fiber, protein, pigments and 60 percent polyurethane. Backings are made with different fiber blends. The material is made by Adriano di Marti for leather replacement in handbags, footwear and apparel. Brands like Karl Lagerfeld (with its Amber Valletta capsule), Fossil and H&M have used the material.
Econyl is made from 100 percent regenerated nylon waste (from sources like fishing nets and carpet fibers). It can be regenerated an infinite number of times without any loss in quality, according to the Italian yarn-maker Aquafil, which produces the innovation.
Evrnu is the firm behind the commercially available regenerated NuCycl fiber from post-consumer clothing waste streams via its proprietary NuCycl technology. The process has been tapped by brands like Levi’s, Adidas and Stella McCartney. The fiber helps tackle the abundance of waste in fashion.
Flocus is 100 percent biodegradable and 100 percent recyclable, made from a yarn blend of fibers from the kapok tree. It is used for a wide range of fabrics and insulation materials being that it is lightweight, hypoallergenic and soft to the touch — all without any additives. Moisture management, temperature regulation and insect repellence are other qualities. Montreal-based Frank and Oak uses the material for outerwear.
Flwrdwn is a plant-based down alternative created with natural wild flowers and biopolymer from biomaterials company Pangaia. The company has yet to publish the life cycle assessment tests for Flwrdwn, but trade organization Textile Exchange affirmed the material is a fully biodegradable alternative to goose down.
Frut is a less resource-intensive alternative to cotton, also made and used by Pangaia in its clothing. It is a blended material of 60 percent bamboo lyocell and 20 percent pineapple leaf fiber.
HeiQ textile technologies include fabric offerings such as Eco Dry, Real Silk and Clean Tech, aiding the performance and sustainability of fabric manufacturing by subbing out less eco-friendly chemicals. The Eco Dry process, for example, eliminates the need for fluorine and makes a water-repellant layer for footwear and clothing applications. It complies with EU REACH and ZDHC chemical protocols, as well as Oeko-Tex.
Infinna fiber comes from 100 percent textile waste, transformed at the molecular level (separating cellulosic material from non-cellulosic material) by Finnish producer Infinited Fiber Co. Patagonia, Adidas, Bestseller and H&M are among the companies buying into the fiber.
Infinited Fiber Co. plans to open a flagship factory in Finland with annual production capacity of 30,000 metric tons (roughly 100 million T-shirts made with 100 percent Infinna) in 2024.
Inner Mettle Milk is a 100-percent natural fabric produced by apparel company Inner Mettle. The IM Milk fabric is a biodegradable fabric made from a blend of surplus milk from the Italian agricultural-sector and 60 percent Lenzing-produced Tencel Micromodal. The fabric is manufactured in Italy and employed in Inner Mettle’s innerwear collection (which is manufactured in Macedonia).
Biodegradability is estimated to be three months for the milk component of the fabric and six months for the Tencel. Similar in thought to IM Milk, Reformation debuted an animal-free “cereal leather” (by Italian manufacturer Coronet) which taps grains and other organic inputs rather than plastics.
Koba is a partially bio-based faux fur developed by DuPont and Ecopel of which Stella McCartney and Maison Atia are loyal fans. Because it is also recycled polyester, it is not biodegradable, but the companies tout recycling options at the material’s end of life.
Lycra boasts a number of Gold Level Cradle to Cradle-certified eco-textiles with alternatives to feather down (Thermolite T-Down Ecomade) and sustainable stretch denim with Ecomade (partly from pre-consumer waste), among them. American Eagle is one brand that works closely with the firm.
Lyocell is a form of rayon produced by textile firms such as Lenzing AG and Birla, among others. The biodegradable material replaces a chemically intensive process for conventional viscose and boasts a 99 percent solvent recovery rate in its process. Tencel, a branded lyocell, boasts incredible absorption characteristics: 50 percent more than cotton.
Malai is a bio-based material grown atop coconut water through fermentation, a leftover from the coconut industry in South India. The jelly is harvested and enhanced with natural fibers, gums and resins to create a more durable and flexible material. Although in early stages, the leather alternative is biodegradable and compostable.
Mirum is a welded 100 percent natural, biodegradable plant-based leather alternative made by Natural Fiber Welding. The material comes from a slurry of raw materials like cork, coconut, vegetable oil and natural rubber. With certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture BioPreferred program, the company also counts investments from brands like Allbirds and Ralph Lauren Corp. The material is never coated in polyurethane or PVC, and is fully biodegradable with 40 percent lower carbon impact, per the company’s assessments. In addition to having a low carbon footprint, Mirum requires no water during manufacturing and dyeing.
MuSkin is a material that comes from a parasitic fungus or the Phellinus Ellipsoideus, which grows in the wild and attacks the trees in subtropical forests. Hong Kong-based vegan accessories brand VElove uses the material for its cruelty-free handbags, wallets and bracelets.
Mylo is Bolt Threads’ answer to mycelium (mushroom root) leather which is grown and harvested in under two weeks. Mylo is one innovation sending new products with brands Adidas and Lululemon, among others, to market in 2022.
Of note, Adidas’ iconic Stan Smiths are the first footwear silhouette to take on Mylo mushroom-derived “leather” at scale. Mylo is certified bio-based and nontoxic. In 2022, a full LCA will be released on Mylo’s impact and until then, the company uses statements on bio-based testing and certification by DIN CERTCO, a 40-year-old French certifying firm.
Nativa wool is a 100 percent traceable wool fiber launched by Chargeurs Luxury Materials, a leader in luxury combed wool. The firm’s blockchain technology records transactions in a digital tamper-proof and decentralized database. Finnish outdoor brand UphillSport switched to all Nativa wool in 2020.
Nullarbor fiber is derived from sustainably grown microbial cellulose that is high in yield and produced within 10 to 15 days using Australian biotech company Nanollose’s waste-to-clothing technology. Garment prototypes were unveiled in 2018.
Orange Fiber is a luxe fabric made out of waste citrus juice byproducts. It makes use of the otherwise more than 700,000 tonnes of citrus juice byproducts that would normally end up as waste. The Italian company (which collaborated with Lenzing) was the winner of the H&M Global Change Award in 2015. To note, Salvatore Ferragamo launched a capsule collection with the fiber in 2017.
Piñatex is made from agricultural pineapple waste, including the plant fibers found in the waste leaves and stalks. Since its commercialization in 2016, Piñatex has been tapped by more than 500 brands, including Rombaut, Hugo Boss, Edun and Lancel.
Q-Nova is a recycled fabric (from nylon, elastane) employed in clothing like underwear and innerwear. It boasts the GRS certification and is used by brands like Hanky Panky and Mack Weldon.
R-TWO is a textile formulation from Isko that blends reused cotton fibers with recycled polyester, reducing the need for polyester. Italian brand High has employed the material in its denim jackets and jeans.
Reishi is a non-plastic, non-animal leather alternative from biotech startup MycoWorks. The material is grown rapidly from mycelium and agricultural byproducts in a carbon-negative process. Hermès is one notable brand partnering with the company to work on its own material dubbed “Sylvania.”
Repreve is a fiber made from recycled plastic bottles by maker Unifi. Repreve, was confirmed to reduce global warming potential related to greenhouse gases by 21 percent compared to generic, mechanically recycled polyester and 42 percent compared to virgin polyester, according to technology firm Higg (a partner to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition).
ReVisco is a viscose staple fiber made from 50 percent post-consumer recycled content dissolving pulp, made by viscose producer Tangshan Sanyou.
Roica EF is a recycled elastane produced by Japanese firm Asahi Kasei, a top textile producer of recycled elastane. It has been certified with the Global Recycled Standard since 2015. (Everlane’s clean denim line was a recent demonstration of the material’s use.)
Samatoa is a small-scale production microfiber derived from lotus flowers. It boasts natural soft hand and anti-bacterial properties. A Cambodian social enterprise, the fiber producer received the UNESCO Seal of Excellence for quality handicraft products made in accordance with social and environmental stewardship.
SeaCell is a lyocell (wood pulp) blended with seaweed powder sustainably harvested from Icelandic waters. It is biodegradable, with absorbent and antibacterial properties that make it ideal for activewear. German designer Luisa Kahlfeldt has used SeaCell in her designs, as has activewear brand Rhone in its Gotham SeaCell hoodie and tights set.
Sertex is a 70 percent corn-derived, bio-based leather alternative made in collaboration with BioAmber and DuPont. The manufacturer claims Sertex touts improved scratch resistance and a softer hand to currently available petrochemical-based synthetic leathers.
Sorona is another from DuPont designed to be a corn-based alternative to spandex (with about 37 percent of the polymeric fibers being made of renewable plant-based ingredients). The material touts comfort, stretch and recovery properties but is entirely free of spandex. The North Face, Club Monaco, Helly Hansen and Stella McCartney have released products with Sorona.
Spiber Brewed Protein fiber is a form of silk fiber that is microbially fermented with applications not just in apparel, but many other industries. The material can be made in filament fibers for a silky sheen or spun yarns akin to cashmere or wool.
Spider Silk is patented by Kraig Biocraft Laboratories and used in a variety of military, industrial and consumer applications. The material boasts being “stronger than steel” in its testing, absorbing 120,000 to 160,000 joules of kinetic energy compared to steel’s 2,000 to 6,000 range in material toughness.
Spinnova is a 100 percent natural, biodegradable and recyclable alternative to cotton made of wood and waste without the use of harmful chemicals. It is free of microplastics and harmful chemicals and uses 99 percent less water than cotton. While the material has not made a brand debut yet (it anticipates product releases in 2022), The North Face and H&M are already partners, as is the world’s largest wood pulp producer Suzano.
Texloop RCOT is made with up to 50 percent Global Recycle Standard-certified recycled cotton, blended with other natural fibers, including Global Organic Textile Standard-certified organic cotton and Tencel Lyocell. Brands from H&M to Lee have utilized the material to create more sustainable denim.
Ultraleather Volar Bio, produced by Ultrafabrics, is a blended, layered leather-like material with 29 percent bio-based content (derived from corn). The backing consists of 65 percent polyester and 35 percent rayon.
Vegea is a leather alternative that uses the seeds and the stalks of the wine grape bunch left over after winemaking. A bio-oil is extracted from the seeds that is then polymerized using an innovative patented process. Brands like H&M and & Other Stories have used Vegea, producing accessories like sandals and clutches.
Werewool is a small-but-mighty DNA-programmed color and performance textile from distinguished scientists, FIT faculty and textile developers. The company won the H&M Global Change Award in 2020, along with a number of biodesign competitions.
Fiber-X has created cellulose-based hydrophobic material to replace polypropylene in face masks and energy-efficient air filters. The firm also specializes in advanced biocomposites and antiviral coatings.
Zoa is a bioengineered leather-like innovation from biotech firm Modern Meadow. Zoa is made from protein collagen produced through fermentation from yeast in a lab and can be easily combined with other materials to accommodate any shape or texture. Modern Meadow is quietly partnering with luxury and consumer goods brands.
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