The fashion industry has historically been (rather fairly) scrutinised for its negative impact on the environment. Fast fashion and the heavy reliance upon nature mean that the industry produces huge amounts of waste, consumes vast quantities of water and demands more raw materials than are often available. Cotton farming relies heavily on pesticides and water, over-farmed animals produce lower quality leathers that are often unusable and large quantities of discarded textiles are left on the cutting room floor.
In response to these environmental challenges bio-fabrication presents a solution to these fashion faux-pas. Bio-fabrication is the process of growing new materials from small organisms such as yeast, bacteria and fungi and engineering these to produce materials with enhanced natural properties. A group of emerging synthetic companies are redefining the materials used in fashion, combining scalable mechanical systems with emerging biological inventions and genetically modified living systems to smarten up the industry, reduce their environmental impact and encourage an eco-friendly image.
Bolt threads have developed a protein thread that mimics spider silk which is then weaved to make fabrics. As the name suggests, the synthetic material replicates the strength and resilience of natural silk yet is soft and pliable. Modern Meadow has developed lab-grown leather by growing collagen, a protein found in animal skin, from which a hide is born. Shrilk is a compostable bio plastic made from shrimp shells and proteins extracted from milk. The material is transparent, light and malleable, as strong as aluminium but half the weight. Fashionista thinks that the material’s real selling point is that an item made from Shrilk could be worn today, recycled tomorrow, satisfying those ecologically minded, but still after a fast fashion fix.
While there are several examples of bio-engineered fabrication units, the mass production of such items remain in the infant stages. Last year, Bolt Threads announced that life-style brand Patagonia had invested in developing its high-performance spider silk fabric. Despite such partnerships, the commercialisation of bio-fabricated products is yet to be seen. Fashionista hopes that designers and retailers alike will take the opportunities that bio fabricated materials offer to provide more sustainable and environmentally friendly clothing. While we may not see the mainstream uptake of these materials in the near future, such technologies should be heralded as providing a sustainable solution to the environmentally reliant fashion industry.