Created on:
August 26, 2020

Six Sustainable Eco-friendly Materials for Brands

As alternatives to synthetic fabrics become more relevant to the future of the fashion industry, brands and consumers are exploring material options with less ecological footprint. Here at N.A.bld, we find new ways to help brands be more sustainable in their production process as well as the materials they use. We’ve combed the sourcing world for examples of eco-friendly materials and processes to get a better understanding of the sustainable material possibilities.

Here are six eco fabrics to make an impact in your brand or closet this season:

Orange Silk

Orange silk is not your typical type of silk. The process extracts the citrus cellulose from leftover orange peels and spins it into a fiber resulting in a refined and high-quality fabric. By bringing the two pillars of their heritage together (fashion and food), Italinan-based Orange Fiber has developed a silk-like cellulose yarn that can be blended with other materials to create orange twill, poplin, jersey and more. Orange Fiber is using some of the over 700,000 tons of citrus by-products produced every year in Italy alone - giving Orange Fiber an opportunity to turn this waste into a natural fiber with a low carbon footprint. Designers such as Salvatore Feragamo are using it and we are sure that we’re going to see this trend grow even more ;). 

Vegetable Cashmere

Who doesn’t love the soft touch of cashmere? But did you know that the mass production of cashmere, once solely a luxury good, is fueling ecological destruction that has fashion labels searching for new sources of fiber - or giving up entirely. KD New York is a knit design company based in New York that has created dance and yoga-inspired athleisure wear for over 40 years. In 2019, the brand launched Athleisure by KD New York on Kickstarter using a Vegetable Cashmere - an all natural fabric created from soybean plant. 

Bio Dyeing

Using botanical materials to dye fabric has been around since the dawn of fabrics but was labor intensive and was hard to implement at scale with reliability. Seattle-based Botanical Colors sells natural dyes and helps brands scaling natural dye collections. All of their dyes come from plants and other materials that are used on natural fibers. Brands such as Eileen Fisher as well as smaller independent designers, yarn suppliers, artists, home goods retailers and more have begun producing this way. Since 2014 EILEEN FISHER Renew has released an annual overdye collection to help disrupt the business-as-usual approach to industrial dyeing and contribute to a future without waste.

Leather Alternatives

With brands like Chanel and Prada banning the use of exotic skins in their collections and PETA battling against the use of reptile skins at LVMH, leather alternatives might be the new frontier. Not only do these methods reduce the waste and damage done in the tanning process but many of them have natural properties that can make them more attractive alternative.

Fish Leather

Fish leather is a by-product of the seafood industry - less carbon footprint compared to raising cattle for leather - and recycling the waste minimizes landfill and keeps resources in use for longer. Plus, it possesses strength nine times that of regular cow leather of similar thickness owing to its criss-cross arrangement of fibers. Elisa Palomino, senior lecturer at London's Central Saint Martins, believes that a vital step to sustainability involves targeting seafood waste for the development of fashionable leather and has created fish leather garments and accessories at John Galliano and Christian Dior. For their S/S 20 collection, Rick Owens and Courrèges swapped exotic skins for the skin of the pirarucu fish, a staple of the Amazonian diet whose skin would be otherwise discarded. It could become an alternative to endangered species such as crocodile and python.

Pineapple Leather

Originally developed in the Philippines, this futuristic material made from pineapple leaf fiber and manufactured by Ananas Anam for Piñatex was featured in Vogue in 2017. Ananas Anam developed the first automated machine to assist with the process of decortication, which extracts the long fibers from the leaves that turn into a mesh, and is then transported to Spain for finishing touches, giving Piñatex its leather-like appearance. The sustainably-sourced and cruelty-free textile is now used in clothing, footwear, fashion accessories and furnishings - with a low environmental impact and high social responsibility helping the communities that grow the fruit. Moreover, designers such as Hugo Boss, Maniwala, Trussardi, Bourgeois Boheme are using it as well. 

Mushroom Leather

Muskin, invented by the company Zero Grado Espace, is the vegetable leather made from mushrooms. It is an eco-friendly alternative entirely made from natural raw materials, including the cap of a special mushroom - the Phellinus ellipsoideus, a gigantic, inedible mushroom species native to subtropical forests that feeds on tree trunks, making them putrefy. Once extracted, the material is treated in a similar way to animal leather but with completely natural techniques. These include using eco-friendly products such as eco-wax, which adds special characteristics to the leather. Used by designers such as Stella McCartney to produce leather shoes, hats, bags, inserts, it is also a thermal insulator that absorbs damp and releases it immediately, thus limiting bacterial proliferation, and doesn’t trigger allergic reactions.

So what’s next?

Processes and brands like these are helping us gain more insight into what’s good for the Earth and for our closets. While some of these materials may be unrealistic for certain brands or products, it’s important to understand the alternatives available and their value to the environment, customer, and fashion’s future.

Did we miss a new material you think is worth included? Leave a comment below!