Resources are diminishing rapidly and natural fibers such as cotton require many of them for processing. Petroleum-based synthetic fibers are not the most environmentally friendly and it is time to look for sustainable, circular fashion alternatives when producing fibers and fabrics.
There is currently a great deal of research into biomaterials. Interesting materials are beginning to emerge such as compostable yarns, which can form more eco-friendly textiles. Bio-yarn is renewable, “closed-loop” and has a significantly smaller environmental footprint than conventional textiles, providing biologically sustainable alternatives to the footwear and clothing industries.
Seaweed, precisely the laminaria digitate variety, is a large brown alga also known as seaweed. It grows up to 10 times faster than bamboo and is cultivated on water farms around the world in coastal communities, often by fishermen and women, providing them with income during the off-season. Alginate is extracted from the seaweed and combined with other renewable biopolymers to produce thread, which is strong enough and extensible enough that it can be woven by hand or machine and used to manufacture textiles. The final product can be dyed with natural pigments.
From everyday coffee grounds, a fiber is born with excellent and natural anti-odor qualities, protection against UV rays and itdries quickly. This technology blends the coffee grounds into the natural fiber, thus modifying the characteristics of the strand in a low-temperature process that saves energy and offers a 200% faster drying capacity compared to cotton. The coffee grounds used to make the fiber are recycled from common vendors such as the large Starbucks chain, giving a second life to these grounds that would otherwise end up in the trash. It is characterized by a circular production process, with high energy savings, and departing from an already existing raw material where, in the same way, the final product can be composted at the end of its life cycle.
After a long period of investigation, two Italian designers managed to develop different techniques to extract cellulose from orange juice and turn it into a material suitable for spinning. This resulted in a textile that is similar to silk and viscose in appearance and quality. Compared to artificial fibers made of cellulose, either wood or hemp and bamboo, this new fiber does not require specific yields as it reuses waste and reduces the amount of land used, water, fertilizers and environmental pollution.
This fiber’s manufacturing process is completely eco-friendly, receiving a special treatment which is then sent to Spain for spinning. When it returns to Italy, it is transformed into fabric to be used pure or mixed with other yarns and materials to create a biodegradable and refined textile. In addition, a very interesting attribute of this fiber is that it releases Vitamin C on the skin, a characteristic that has not been seen before in other eco-friendly textiles.
One of the most versatile natural fibers can be obtained from hemp fibers, which are anti-bacterial, durable, resistant, and work as a natural air conditioning system. In addition, hemp is a fast-growing plant that consumes very little water and requires no herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified seeds.
Due to its classification as a recreational drug, its cultivation has been severely hampered, especially in the Western world. The situation is different in China, where the industrial use of the cannabis plant has never been prohibited. Therefore, China now accounts for more than 50 percent of the world’s hemp production and holds more than half of over 600 international patents for hemp fiber and textile production.
The fiber from the banana plant is one of the strongest natural fibers in the world. It is made from the shoots of the banana tree and it is incredibly durable as well as biodegradable. The fiber consists of thick-walled cellular tissue, bound together by natural adhesives and is composed mainly of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. Banana plant fiber is similar to natural bamboo fiber, but is said to have better spinning ability, smoothness and tensile strength. Banana fiber can be used to make a number of different fabrics with different weights and thicknesses, based on which part of the banana shoot was removed from the fiber. Similar to coffee fibers and pineapple leaves, the material cycle closes when banana fibers are produced, since they are made from by-products － recycled banana stems, which farmers would otherwise dispose of. Banana fibers can be used to make ropes, mats, and fabrics. However, extracting banana fiber is not an easy process, but a labor-intensive one. The banana yarn or fabric is made by boiling strips of the pod in an alkaline solution to soften them and separate them. Once this is done, the fibers are joined together to create long threads that are then wet-spun to prevent them from breaking. The threads can then be dyed or woven.
The use of lotus fibers and textiles may sound exotic to Western cultures, but in countries like Thailand and Myanmar, for example, lotus fibers have been used for special garments throughout the centuries. It’s no wonder, because the manufacturing process produces a luxurious fabric that feels like a blend of silk and raw linen that is also stain-resistant, lightweight, soft, silky and extremely breathable. In this case, the manufacturing process is complicated and long, presenting the biggest obstacle to using lotus fibers. After the lotus stems are harvested, they are cut lengthwise to remove the thin fibers. This should be done within three days of harvesting, for best results. The fibers are then collected, washed and dried beforehand spinning them on traditional looms.
The common nettle, Urtica dioica, is a widely used plant that is easy to grow. To produce the fibers, nettles are harvested in the summer and the stems are dried well. This eliminates the stinging of the fibers. After drying, the stems are broken to separate the woody parts. The plant is then brushed to separate the fibers. After that, the fibers are spun wet and then dried. When linked together, it increases their resistance to tearing.
Similar to hemp fibers, stinging nettle fibers are versatile, keeping the user warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and can be grown with much less water and pesticides than cotton. Thanks to new spinning techniques and hybrid species, nettle plants are obtained with a high fiber content, which are strong and flexible and have a good spinning length. Unlike hemp, there is no legal problem with growing nettles, which has made the plant viable and legal.
There’s a vegan alternative to leather, which is made from pineapple leaves. The revolutionary fabric is made from pineapple leaf fibers, a byproduct of the pineapple harvest in the Philippines. During a process called decortication, the fibers are extracted from the leaves. The fibers then undergo an industrial process to become a non-woven fabric. A by-product of the manufacturing process is biomass, which is converted into organic fertilizer or biogas to be used by agricultural communities, thus closing the production cycle of the material. Pineapple leather is a new type of natural skin, which is one hundred percent vegan and sustainable. In addition, it is also a strong but versatile, breathable, soft and flexible material that can be easily printed, sewn and cut, making it suitable for fashion products.
This new milk-based fabric does not pollute the environment and also prevents skin allergies on those who wear it. Currently, there are textiles produced with this fiber made from casein, the milk protein, but most of them are combined with acrylic fibers and never found in a pure state.
The process reduces the milk to a protein powder, which is boiled and compressed to form threads that can be woven, with the aim of creating a fabric with a silk-like texture. The fabric is called “Qmilch” and can be used for draping and folding, or washed and dried like cotton.
Only two liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram, while more than 10,000 liters are required to produce one kilogram of cotton. In addition, organic milk is used, which in many countries cannot be consumed because it does not meet strict health standards.
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