THE HEREWEAR PROJECT AND THE PROMISE OF BIOMATERIALS

In March last year we joined Laetitia Forst for the Herewear workshop at the Centre for Circular Design to explore the ever-growing world of bio-textiles. 

The fashion industry faces increasing scrutiny over its environmental impact and ethical concerns associated with traditional materials. Fortunately with the rise of biomaterial development there is a promising solution on the horizon. 

Members of the Herewear project work alongside scientists, designers, community workers and researchers in a collaborative bid to help fix the deep rooted problems in the fashion industry. A messy system whereby 73% of fibres made every year end up in landfill. The Herewear project exists to empower local, circular, and bio-based textiles by innovating ‘a holistic, systemic approach towards the creation of an EU market for locally-produced circular textiles and clothing made from bio-based waste’.

Laetitia amplifies the importance of designing with the locality and circularity of our supply chain and production lines in mind. This means taking into consideration the existing microsystems in that specific area. In our increasingly globalised and digitally connected world, it can be easy to forget that to be completely sustainable means the overall production of a product needs to promote local wellbeing and nourish the unique natural systems it came from, improving the overall socio-environmental health of an area.

Designers need to be thinking carefully about the different relationships throughout an ecosystem that will be interrupted by implementing our supply chains, manufacturing and logistical processes. For example, microclimates, soil health, local trade, waste streams (including textiles waste), unemployment and types of land-use that impacts available space and workforce.

At our Clean Fashion Summit 2022: aGREENculture, Laetita introduced us to the NOW, NEAR, FAR approach used by Herewear to help brands plan for a greener future, by implementing the practices they can do right here, right now. This strategy proves very handy for consumers too. I found that for the first time (in a long time), instead of getting bogged down by the government’s severe lack of textiles legislation and recycling incompetence, I was able to think positively by getting myself informed on what impressive material solutions are already out there and in development. 

A big part of Herewear’s research is collecting samples of bio-materials from all over the globe. The centre has built up an intriguing collection of samples, from ‘conventional’ bio-based materials; like cotton, flax, wool, hemp, to the more unconventional bio-synthetic materials that are chemically treated to create fibres. We touched and sniffed an incredible range of bio-based plastics and fabrics whilst discussing the pressing need for transparent and accurate labelling to assist sorting for recycling, as well as the benefits of closed loop chemical processes that are used again and again rather than being released as toxic waste.

From seaweed fabric (SeaCell™) claiming positive effects on the skin, chemically modified materials that decompose in landfill and bioplastics made from waste Kombucha, the full colour spectrum of bio-based materials all come with their own set of challenges and opportunities. See below for a list of ready to use biomaterials and those to keep an eye out for in the future…

READY TO USE…

  1. Spinnova® 

One of the more established biomaterials, Spinnova® helps brands source 100% raw cellulose fibres from sustainably sourced and managed forests, whilst boasting brand partnerships with Adidas, The North Face, H&M Group. Claiming the ‘most sustainable fibre in the world’, from source to processing, Spinnova® are committed to only using FSC and/or PEFC certified wood or cellulosic waste streams. The fibre can also be dyed pre-spin, cutting out the need for intensive use of water and chemicals, unlike most commonly used processes. Spinnova® have signed the Fibre Procurement Policy for Protecting Forests by Canopy, while acknowledging that ‘Ancient and Endangered Forests need to be protected and conserved’ and do their best not to ensure sustainable sourcing by supporting a key focus on rigorous certification systems, transparency and traceability.

  1. Naia™ Renew 

Made from 60% sustainably sourced wood pulp and 40% certified recycled waste plastics, Naia™ Renew adds value to hard-to-recycle materials destined for landfill, with hopes to upscale circularity. Naia™ Renew is innovative because it’s created using a closed-loop chemical process, meaning chemicals are contained and re-used again and again. It is also certified biodegradable and compostable, so when the time comes it can be assured that it won’t stick around forever. Naia™ wants to ‘fix the future’ by building a brand with measurable impact. Supporting the EU’s sustainable development goals, they are committed to 3 critical areas; mitigating climate change, mainstreaming circularity and caring for society. Eastman Naia™ aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, pushing a focus on molecular recycling technologies as well as leveraging their award-winning energy efficiency programs to achieve this.

  1. Piñatex®  

Made by Ananas Anam, Piñatex® is an innovative natural textile made from waste pineapple leaf fibre that is now a Certified B Corporation®. The leaves are the byproduct of the pineapple agriculture industry in the Philippines, creating another stream of income for farming communities which improves financial security all year round. As they grow, Piñatex® hopes to work with other pineapple growing communities all over the world. After stripping the fibres, ‘the leftover biomass can be retained to use as a natural fertiliser or bio-fuel, offering a further environmental prospect’. As the fast fashion industry’s demand for cheaply mass produced leathers and synthetics alternatives grows (such as PVC), Piñatex® was developed to provide a sustainable alternative to incredibly polluting production processes. The Herewear project is working with Piñatex® to develop a bio-based protective coating. 

  1. Orange Fiber

Citrus fruits are one of the biggest crops worldwide. Orange Fiber makes regenerated fibres from the by-products of the citrus juice industry. Which today, ‘represents 60% of the original weight of the processed fruits that should be otherwise disposed of’. Partnered with Lenzing Group, Orange Fiber has created the first ever TENCEL™ branded Lyocell fibre made from orange and wood pulp. Manufactured using an award-winning closed loop production process as standard TENCEL™ Lyocell fibres. TENCEL™ Limited Edition x Orange Fiber presents cellulosic fibres that enhance sustainability of mixed-fibre fabrics. Orange Fiber’s process has been patented since 2014 and plans to extend into the main citrus juice producing countries in the hopes of extending their positive impact.

  1. Bemberg

Bemberg™ is a brand of cupro (cuprammonium rayon), a fabric made from regenerated cellulose fibres from waste cotton linter. Cupro is a well known and established material, popularly known as a ‘vegan silk’ option for its shiny lustre. The raw material of Bemberg™ is cotton linter; the tiny cotton fibres that hold cotton seeds, a pre-consumer material obtained from the manufacturing process of cottonseed oil. The short fibres are refined and dissolved to produce a pure cotton regenerated fibre, making Bemberg™ biodegradable and compostable. Currently, the linter is sourced from partner oil mills in India, Brazil, USA and Japan, where Bemberg™ claims to visit regularly for overseeing production and quality of raw material. Bemberg™ have reduced CO2 emissions by using renewable energy and introducing a closed-loop system that recycles problematic copper and ammonia. 

Works in progress…

  1. AlgiKnit©

This impressive bio-material is still under active development and not yet available, but is definitely one to watch! AlgiKnit© is creating a ‘durable yet rapidly degradable yarns’ from kelp seaweed, which is ‘one of the most regenerative organisms on the planet’. Kelp is an incredibly low maintenance crop. It can be grown in cold coastal waters in the northern hemisphere, opening up options for local supply chains and minimising energy and water use – eliminating one of the biggest problems in farming. Kelp farming’s potential for off-land production and as carbon sinks is what makes AlgiKnit© such an exciting choice for environmentalists. Because it’s grown underwater, it doesn’t rely on harmful fertilisers and pesticides. It doesn’t use arable land or need fresh water for irrigation. The farming of Kelp even promises to rebuild ‘economic and ecological communities affected by overfishing and pollution by providing a new income source and improving marine habitats’.

  1. Ioncell®

Researchers have been developing the Ioncell® technology for nearly 10 years. An issue with manufacturing bio-textiles is that it typically requires a lot of harmful chemicals to reform broken up fibres. It is revolutionary because they have found a way to recycle textile waste with environmentally friendly solvent that is non-flammable (unlike many others) and can also be recycled. The Ioncell® process uses ionic liquid; a solvent that dissolves cellulose. Once dissolved, the cellulose is spun into strong fibres using ‘dry-jet wet spinning’ technology. The only chemicals added are non-toxic ionic liquid and water, which are re-circulated within a closed loop. To date there is no widely available technology for recycling ionic liquids, as they are a relatively new group of solvents. Development of the SolvRec project is trying to solve this exact issue so that use of Ioncell® can be scaled-up.

  1. Jackroki®

This material simultaneously feels soft, rough and durable; like leather or suede. Jackroki® is an incredibly versatile material, nicknamed ‘washable paper’, that is almost totally made of waste cellulose from paper manufacturing. The cellulose is sourced from FSC certified forests and plantations; with 80% of the cellulose used being produced from paper mills ‘recovering liquids during the process to produce electricity, steam and secondary chemical products’. To create the material, cellulose is mixed with a small percentage of latex, and then customised in different solutions. The material has been developed into many variations using different solutions, allowing it to be used for a range of specific uses.

The promise of biomaterials cannot be overstated. By utilising current waste streams and presenting opportunities for circular production models, biomaterials offer a sustainable and ethical solution to the challenges facing the fashion industry. Not only do they reduce waste and the need for virgin materials but also provide exciting design opportunities for designers. The success of a biomaterial depends not only on its functionality but also its adaptability, which largely depends on the uncertain future of our climate and its effect on our ecosystems. Biomaterials are mostly still in the early stages of development, and there remain challenges that need to be addressed. For example, the cost of producing biomaterials is currently higher than traditional materials and many are not as durable as traditional materials, which limit their use in certain applications. But with the industry looking like it’s not slowing down any time soon it seems like a good place to start. Despite these challenges that need to be addressed, the potential benefits of biomaterials in fashion remains immense. With ongoing innovation and development, the fashion industry can continue to embrace biomaterials, creating a more hopeful and integrated future for fashion.

Matilda Trevitt

Matilda Trevitt

Matilda is a interdisciplinary creative from South London with a background in visual arts and anthropology. She is passionate about eco-design and creating spaces for positive connections in our increasingly digital + polarised world.

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