Your New Clothes Will be Made of Living Organisms!

Biotechnology is creating exciting organic fashion materials.

Feb 8, 2021
Special Collections: REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE

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Your New Clothes Will be Made of Living Organisms! | Biotechnology is creating exciting organic fashion materials.

It seems impossible to imagine a world without clothes. We wear them all the time for protection from the elements and to express our individuality. And the apparel industry is a key sector in the global economy, providing a livelihood for hundreds of millions of people around the world. 

However, the greenhouse gas emissions from textile production total 1.2 billion tons per year, more than those produced by all international flights and shipping together, according to a report from the sustainability-focused Ellen MacArthur Foundation. So the current clothing supply chain system, strongly associated with the fast fashion trend, requires the extraction of copious amounts of non-renewable resources for its production. Not to mention that garments are usually worn for only a short period of time and discarded right after, ending up in landfills. 

But here’s some astonishing news: the emerging biotechnological revolution is promising to disrupt the status quo by creating clothes made of living microbes, according to labiotech.eu. Such cutting- edge innovations can greatly help reduce fashion’s environmental impact and there are already several remarkable scientists leading this trend worldwide.

From worn-out clothing to circulose
Circulose, created by Swedish startup Re:newcell, is a new natural material that is a true game-changer. The company takes worn-out garments and turns them into a slurry, explained chief marketing officer Harald Cavalli-Björkman to Positive.News. After shredding and removing all dyes and plastics, what is left is cellulose, “a biodegradable organic polymer that all green plants are made out of.” The outcome or pulp is then turned into natural fibers, and these into textiles. 

The company’s first commercial garment was the result of a collaboration with H&M, one of the fashion industry’s giants.


Spider silk
Given that farming spiders on an industrial scale is extremely complex, Japanese biotech startup Spiber has found a way to grow spider silk in a lab. “The process begins by genetically modifying the DNA of microbes to create proteins”, Spiber’s Thomas Threlfo told Positive.News. These microbes are then fed with sugars and other nutrients to produce a fermentation process. The substance created in this process is then dried into a powder to create sustainable fibers, gels and synthetic leathers, among other products. 

The company has already collaborated with brands like North Face and Adidas to create some of their most innovative and sustainable items.

Algae pigments
It is well known that fashion is one of the most polluting industries. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation report points out that 20 percent of industrial water pollution alone comes from the dyeing and treatment of textiles. 

To reverse this fact, the industry can replace non-renewable petrochemical dyes, with the use of microorganisms, reducing the level of water and toxic chemicals used in textile production. Algalife, for example, explores the holistic and sustainable development of non-toxic new fibers and pigments from algae to positively affect both the environment and human skin.

Wearable mushrooms
It may sound like science fiction but it is very real. Scientists are using mycelium, the vegetative part of fungus and so harnessing the production of mushrooms to create clothes. According to The Washington Post, durable garments and accessories can be made from fungi which generates a lower negative impact than traditional animal leather or plastics. 

MycoWorks and NEFFA are two of the companies that are growing fungus textiles. “The process for growing is pretty similar to what you would find in agricultural processes used to cultivate mushrooms, or as an analog, to create fine wines or cheeses,” Wang, co-founder of MycoWorks told The Washington Post. 

 
 
 
 
 
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The way the fashion industry has evolved in recent decades implies real sustainability challenges. But these new bio-discoveries are changing the way clothes are designed and made, helping reduce fashion’s environmental impact. In a few words, nature is becoming the source through which science can literally grow the future. 

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DAIANA BROJT, CONTRIBUTOR
With a love for fashion, technology, self-development, nature and communication, Daiana is a freelance writer. She is the creator of an online community platform dedicated to providing inspiration and information on trends, developments and positive impact initiatives in the world of Sustainable Fashion.
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