The New Innovative Materials

  • by Vivienne Austin

The fashion industry has faced criticism for its negative environmental impact, from the production of materials to the disposal of garments. As a result, sustainability has become a central focus within the industry, and the use of innovative materials plays a critical role in this shift. We’ve talked about the importance of spreading awareness of new-gen materials within the industry before with our article “Fabric Innovation: The future of fashion”. But why is it important to shift our focus to these new fabrics?

  • Reduce environmental impact: Innovative materials can be created from sustainable sources such as recycled materials, organic cotton, or biodegradable materials. This helps to minimise waste and pollution in the production process and can lead to a more circular economy.
  • Increase efficiency: Traditional materials such as cotton or polyester require substantial amounts of water, energy, and chemicals to produce. By creating innovative materials that require fewer resources, the fashion industry can reduce its production costs and carbon footprint.
  • Stimulate creativity: The use of innovative materials can inspire designers to develop new and exciting garments that are environmentally friendly. This can result in a broader range of sustainable and unique fashion options.

The development of innovative materials is crucial in addressing the fashion industry's environmental impact, promoting efficiency, and encouraging creativity. Prioritising sustainability can create a more ethical and responsible fashion industry for future generations and for the planet too.

We’ve recently come across three innovative materials that have all the potential to set a new standard for a circular fashion economy.




In a project based near Salford in north-west England, bulrush is being used to create an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to traditional jacket linings. Saltyco, a startup, has developed a new plant-based material called BioPuff from reedmace, which has a similar structure to feathers and offers warmth, lightness, and water resistance. The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester, and North Merseyside has partnered with a local farmer and landowner to test paludiculture, which means farming on rewetted peat, on a 12-acre site to boost the availability of bulrushes.


The project has received a £400,000 grant from the UK government. If successful, the material could significantly reduce the environmental footprint of traditional stuffing and allow lowland peat farmers to earn an extra source of income while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The first rushes are expected to be harvested from the UK site in 2026, with the potential to increase biodiversity and save up to 2,800 tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050. BioPuff has already gained recognition in the fashion industry, winning the H&M foundation Global Change Award last year and has been used in a small collection by the Italian label YOOX. The startup is currently in talks with more fashion houses to promote the use of this eco-friendly material.


Synthesised silk


Traditional silk production, which involves boiling silkworm cocoons, has long been criticised for its cruelty to animals. However, lab-grown silk is an ethically appealing option that requires less energy to produce than industrial silk. One such fabric, Microsilk, is crafted through precision fermentation, a process that involves genetically modified yeast cells, sugar, and water to create a protein that can be extracted, spun, and woven into a textile. It shares physical properties with real silk, including being lightweight, smooth, and biodegradable and has gained recognition in the industry since its development by Bolt Threads. The company received a $700m evaluation from 2016 to 2019, collaborated with Stella McCartney to create two dresses, and released its own branded tie and beanie.

However, the fermentation process is sensitive to changes in temperature and pH levels, which makes it challenging to produce on a large scale. Furthermore, concerns about the materials used to produce the silk remain, as sugar is the primary ingredient for these fabrics, and in an ideal world, the inputs required to brew the protein would not come from industrial agricultural systems that pose a threat to biodiversity.


Another promising material is Brewed Protein, produced by the Japanese company Spiber Inc. This material is also created through precision fermentation and can be used to make a variety of textures, such as fleece, denim, and fur. The company combines synthesised DNA with a feedstock of sugar and corn. Although they have released a limited run of products with The North Face and Junya Watanabe, the company is still building its first large-scale plant in Thailand as they still aim to move towards circular inputs and improve the way their corn and sugar are farmed. Currently, Pangaia is already selling a hoodie made of 12% Brewed Protein and 88% cotton as part of their innovation line. Check it out here!


Lab-grown leather

As opposed to the numerous vegan leather alternatives currently in the market, scientists are currently developing authentic leather in the laboratory with cells of animal origin. The results of this research are expected to share the same properties as genuine leather, which is a combination of fat, protein, breathability, and flexibility that has been difficult to replicate through plants or plastic.

Various companies, including Modern Meadow and VitroLabs, are working on this technology. VitroLabs, for example, obtains a small biopsy from a live cow and combines the harvested cells with nutrients to grow leather sheets that go through a simple tanning process. These nutrients consist of amino acids, proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins. While VitroLabs' manufacturing facility has been active for a year and is actively seeking corporate partnerships, there are no items on the market yet. This is because a commercially feasible product may take some time to develop, as lab-grown meat has taken a long time to become available. 


At this point, it is difficult to make any claim about the sustainability of lab-grown leather versus authentic leather, and data collection and analysis remain essential regardless of the production method. But we stay positive that after the needed research, lab-grown leather may be the ultimate animal derived leather alternative.


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