Next-gen materials, alternatives to animal-derived materials, and synthetics, which are often simply dubbed “next-gen”, are on the rise in the fashion industry. And experts say the demand is only increasing.
According to the nonprofit Material Innovation Initiative’s annual State of the Industry report released in March, $2.3 billion has been invested in next-generation materials since 2015. Additionally, nearly a billion dollars last year.
Nicole Rawling, managing director of the Material Innovation Initiative, which joined Fairchild Media’s recent sustainability forum, said the focus was on alternatives to animal-based leather, but added that scientists, entrepreneurs and investors should also start thinking about hardware components such as binding. , coating agents and end-of-life strategies.
Dr. Amanda Parkes, Director of Innovation at Pangaia, designer Nicholas Kirkwood, and Billy McCall, CEO and Founder of Kintra Fibers Inc., were all on hand to discuss the importance of researching new materials.
Showcasing a range of sustainable bio-based resources such as its Flwrdwn, a down made from wildflowers, biopolymer and airgel, Parkes said of Pangaia: “We’re really focused on thinking about getting back to natural systems. , a bioeconomy where balanced and circular processes are natural.
Parkes also noted mycelium, algae, and algae as primary material targets. “[With algae,] you can do everything from cellulose base to getting cotton alternatives, but also have things like lipids, which can be more like plastics and synthetics.
Pangaia is working on a collaboration with materials science company Kintra Fibers that recreates a bio-based, biodegradable synthetic from the ground up by re-engineering the molecular structure to help eliminate microplastic pollution.
For McCall, collaboration is key as he works with brands to design for the value chain.
“We need to start designing for end-of-life before we even start making the material,” he said. “So, is it compostable? Does it fit into chemical recycling schemes, which seem to be the future? Many brands and entities collaborate to recover clothing waste and chemically recycle to obtain virgin monomers again, and go straight back to the beginning. So it’s really exciting to work with brands.
On the luxury front, a shift in production is underway with brands like Gucci and Hermès using next-generation materials. However, many are only scratching the surface, and Kirkwood, who began his journey to create more durable footwear four years ago, says the industry needs a “radical overhaul in shoe design. for the hereafter”.
“[Designers] are perpetuated at [create and produce], we just need more, new and everything. And ultimately, with the speed of that development, you can’t refine the product enough to be able to fix a lot of those issues,” he said.
So how do you get the fashion industry to make such drastic changes? Rawling said it starts with the consumer.
“In our analysis, we do see that consumers are asking for it. In China, which is expected to account for around 44% of global fashion revenue over the next few years, 90% would prefer next-generation leather to animal-based leather,” she said.
Panelists agreed that with innovation also comes the need for education. Kirkwood said that while he believes animal leather will eventually be replaced, his concern is that it cannot be replaced with plastic.
“I can’t just talk about apple leather and cover it with plastic. It’s really misleading. And sometimes that plastic is equal in quantity to biomass,” he said. “There needs to be better wording and actual labeling on the product, almost like the food industry.”