Students Create Fabrics Made From Saltwater Plants

This could be a solution to the overconsumption of freshwater.

Apr 24, 2020

A group of postgraduate students on a masters program from the Imperial College of London and the Royal College of art worked together to find and sustainable fabric that would tackle the overconsumption of freshwater in the fashion and textile industries. They came up with a fabric made from plants that thrive in seawater and even launched a new startup called Saltyco in only six months.

Fashion has not been thought of as a sustainable industry. Half of all textiles produced are made of cotton according to the World Wildlife Fund and over 20,000 liters of water produce one kilogram of cotton – the amount needed to make just one T-shirt and pair of jeans – and the planet is running low on fresh potable water. The WWF is currently working with a coalition called the Better Cotton Initiative to make cotton more sustainable but this will take time.

The interdisciplinary team was concerned with the amount of fresh water being used to grow cotton and that is why they thought about using salt-tolerant plants. The results are very promising and the new fabric could potentially be used for a variety of products according to Dezeen.

"We were initially shocked by the vast quantities of resources that currently go into the fashion and wider textiles industry, specifically freshwater," SaltyCo's mechanical engineer Julian Ellis-Brown told Dezeen.

"We've been pushing our planet to the limit of its resources and are now starting to see the effects of wells drying up, lakes and reservoirs being replaced by deserts and more and more people suffering from water scarcity on a daily basis."

While people and companies in the fashion industry are discovering plant-based leather alternatives to leather, materials made from repurposed plastics, and the use of waste products in producing shoes. All of this will help turn the industry around. But SaltyCo is not interested in replicating those efforts. 

SaltyCo’s website says that the they are looking to achieve freshwater freedom by using the other 97 percent of available water, the water that is in our oceans. That’s why they are working with saline farmers to grow salt-tolerant plants that can used to make high quality textiles.

There are three steps in the production of the fabrics: saline farming, fiber extraction, and then textile manufacturing. All of the end products are vegan friendly, have a low carbon impact and are fresh-water free.

SaltyCo is currently working on three different fabrics, one is a woven fabric, one in non-woven and that last one is can be used as a stuffing product for things like insulating jackets. The stuffing one is the closed to being market ready said Deezen. The non-woven fabric has been showcased for use in accessories but the woven fabric needs further development and the team is working on it. They hope to be ready for sales soon.

SaltyCo is a finalist in the Imperial Enterprise Lab Venture Catalyst Challenge 2020 that allows Imperial students to develop innovative ideas in one of five tracks that can be marketed. The final round has been delayed due to the coronavirus.

The world has to become more sustainable and these new innovative fabrics will help to reform an industry that has been known for its wasteful and polluting practices that range from the growing of cotton, to the manufacturing and dyeing processes. Some innovative students are leading the way.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.