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The evolution of domestic materials has great historical and cultural significance. The manufacture of materials such a cotton and silk have played a major role in cross continental power struggle, whilst nowadays the necessary development of sustainable fabrics has shifted to explore technological landscapes not defined by land and sea. 

Silk, the production of which remained confined to China until the silk road opened in 114BC, has been a symbol luxury and wealth over the centuries. Whilst the Crusades (1095 – 1291) brought silk production to Europe – triggering an economic boom as Italy and France began to manufacture silk themselves – the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) heavily impacted European silk manufacturing. As cotton production brought cheaper manufacturing costs, many manufactures turned their attention away from the costly production of silk. By the 20th Century Japan and China has regained their dominance in supplying the world with silk.  

Cotton rose to global importance as a product of the British empire in the 1600s. By 1664, the fabric extracted from a fluffy orb had become a symbol of global trade, with a quarter of a million pieces being imported from the East India Company. Cotton would go on to represent the human cost of economic power in the American slave trade from the end the 18th Century to the beginning of the American Civil War. 

The induction of synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon in the 1930s has irreversibly impacted the relevance of both cotton and silk. The global trade of these materials, which once enabled countries to rule over others, was significantly reduced by man-made fabrics made within a factory by the process of chemical synthesis. Although the production of polyester does not demand agricultural resources, toxic non-renewable resources pesticides or fertilisers, their production leads to greenhouse gas emissions, the use of non-renewable resources and releases microplastics (European Environment Agency). 

As a product of the catastrophic implications synthetic materials have on the planet, recent years has seen significant progress in the development of innovative, sustainable fabrics. aware_ presents 3 sustainable fabrics on a mission to repair our planet. 

sustainable fabrics
Image courtesy of Bananatex

Bananatex  

As one of the more unique sustainable fabrics on the market, Bananatex is made from naturally grown Abacá banana plants. A collaboration between the Swiss backpack brand QWSTION and a yarn specialist and weaving partner (both based in Taiwan) has brought into existence the first technical fabric made from banana fibre. Cultivated in the Philippine highlands, the first stage of creating Bananatex is to cut the stalk of the Abaca Banana Plant. A fibre is then extracted from the stalk, made into paper and then a yarn is spun in order to weave a usable fabric. The fabric is treated with wax (beeswax and planted-based) to create waterproof and durable sustainable fabrics. 

aware_: what sets Bananatex apart from other sustainable fabrics? 

“Bananatex® is world’s first technical fabric 100% made from banana fibres. its plastic free, biodegradable, recyclable (its actually paper) and therefore a truly circular solution. apart from all that, it grows in a permaculture with no fertilizer, pesticides or even additional water. Last but not least, it gives a stable income to many small farming communities and families and therefore has a positive social impact.” 

sustainable fabrics
Image Courtesy of Algiknit

AlgiKnit 

Researchers have found that seaweed “offers enormous potential as a source of feed, fuel and fertilizer” (UN) and exploring the uses of aquatic plants should be considered an essential part of the aquaculture industry. In an effort to combat the rising number of ocean plastics the New York City-based biomaterials company AlgiKnit have developed yarn spun from kelp (a brown algae). Through using a non-toxic wet-spinning process, AlgiKnit “transforms sustainable biopolymers into a strong, hypoallergenic and compostable yarn” (AlgiKnit). Once the yarn is no longer useable, the revolutionary sustainable material can be bio-recycled and reused to create the next generation of products. 

aware_: Why is your mission as a company in creating these sustainable fabrics? 

“We strive to promote circularity through the regenerative and renewable power of our raw material: kelp. With minimal inputs and outputs, our product is leading the way towards a more eco-friendly future. 

Our proprietary formulation is majority seaweed-derived. Further our process utilizes innovative green chemistry and current manufacturing systems for production, allowing for clean and accessible products.” 

sustainable fabrics
Image Courtesy of Fairbrics

Fairbrics 

Carbon dioxide is responsible for the majority of the global warming effect. Imagine a material that is manufactured directly from CO2. Yes, that’s right, a sustainable material conjured out of air. Leaning into the popularity of the most commonly used synthetic fabrics, the innovators at Fairbrics have developed a method to directly convert CO2 into polyester.  

aware_: what makes Fairbrics one of the more unique sustainable fabrics?

“Polyester as a material to make clothes from is here to stay. Because of its advantages (price, availability, durability, feel) and lack of scalable alternatives, the share of polyester in our garments has more than doubled since 2000, rising to 60% in 2019. Moreover, it is expected to account for 95% of the future growth of the market. 

It is a plastic. Today it is made from petroleum and its manufacturing is associated to nearly 1/3 of industry’s emissions. 

Instead of using petroleum product and emitting CO2, Fairbrics’ technology is converting cheap and harmful industrial CO2 into polyester yarns for fashion brands that wants to reduce their carbon footprint.” 

– By Eliza Edwards