The Textile Innovation Changing Fashion Forever
A New Wave Of Non Perishable Textiles That Could Bring An End To The Disposable Nature Of Our Fashion Consumption
Fast fashion. Many of us partake in it; getting the latest piece of clothing and wearing it once, then buying the next piece for next weekend and so on. The availability and cheap price tags in many high street stores make it so easy. And it isn’t just the unwillingness of many to be seen in the same thing twice that makes us toss clothes aside after one wear. It’s the quality of the fabrics, often unable to withstand even a 30-degree wash cycle without shrinking or twisting. We get what we pay for, without a doubt. But it's ok, right? Fashion moves so quickly that it would only be going out of vogue, and I only paid the price of a coffee for it, so it's ok. Isn’t it? The thing is, it isn’t really ok at all. This is where textile innovation offers major change to our wasteful habits.
Unlike food waste, or leaving the tap running, or using the car for short journeys, all things that we know we shouldn’t do; textile waste isn’t spoken about much. But it’s a big problem. Over 15 million tons of used clothes are thrown away each year in the US alone. In the UK, Brits send £140 million worth of clothing to landfill a year. And the biggest part of this problem, aside from all the people across the world that could benefit from these clothes, is that much of it is made from synthetic materials that can take hundreds of years to fully decompose (and that send microfibers into waterways when we wash them, but that’s another topic). That fluffy jumper or super soft tee that feels so soft and nothing like plastic probably contain polyester and acrylic, both derivatives of plastic. Responsible consumerism this isn’t.
So what’s the answer? Well, it’s a two-pronged question to start with. How do we change the minds of those who think it’s just not cool to wear the same outfit twice? Take a look at Kate Middleton. The tabloids go crazy at her when she recycles an outfit. I, on the other hand, salute her. Perhaps I don’t wear designer price tags like the Duchess of Cornwall does, but I sure am proud to be seen in the same outfit numerous times. And I don’t even mind if I’ve been seen on Facebook in it on different days.
But the answer to the sustainability question, making clothes that last and don’t need to be thrown away, lies in non-perishable fabrics and textile innovations. Durable fabrics that increase sustainability, and self-healing textiles that can withstand, and even self-repair, wear and tear.
Intelligent, Sustainable Fabrics and Textile Innovation
Fortunately, innovative clothing and textile manufacturers are shaping a whole new future for fabrics, fabrics that focus on durability as a means to increas the sustainability of the clothing industry.
Imperial Motion, a company based in the US, have developed a revolutionary new fabric called Nano Cure Tech. This fabric, that they’ve so far made into jackets, backpacks and duffle bags, has self-healing properties that are so impressive, they almost defy logic. If your Nano Cure Tech jacket or bag develops a tear, or you make a hole in it, a quick rub between two fingers and the damage is gone.
The practicalities of textile innovation like this are endless. Safety clothing and high impact workwear need to be durable and dependable. Outdoor wear used on hikes and expeditions needs to be sturdy and reliable. Self-healing fabrics are certainly the way forward here.
Canada’s well-loved Hershel Supply Company have developed Sealtech, another self-healing fabric. Minor punctures can be healed by again rubbing the area between two fingers. They’ve also used this water-resistant rip-stop fabric in bags, ideal for anyone carrying pens, pencils and other (legal) sharp objects that can annoyingly poke through fabrics.
These types of fabrics are made from ‘grids’ of threads that can take the strain of being separated and are able to regroup and recover with a little heat and friction. Amazing!
And then there’s liquid fabric coatings. One, inspired by the strong rings of teeth that line the suction cups on squid tentacles is made from bacteria and yeast. This liquid, that doesn’t yet have a name, can be applied to any fabric. This fabric can then repair itself if it gets torn or punctured using a touch of pressure and some warm water. Coated fabrics are indistinguishable from uncoated versions and yet prove more durable. The next step for the team at Pennsylvania State University is to add the liquid to threads prior to them being made into clothing, making it ready to wear.
Adidas is also forging ahead in the environmental stakes, with their biodegradable sports shoes. The sneakers can break down in under 36 hours; all you need to do is add a special enzyme to them once they’ve lived out their days. They’ll then naturally degrade, with no landfills in sight. They’re made from 100% biodegradable ‘Biosteel’ silk polymers, with no hindrance on performance because they’re 15% lighter in weight than shoes made with conventional synthetic fibers and they’re also more durable too. So even if you really don’t want to wear the same high performance, well-loved yet durable shoes forever, then you should at least be able to say goodbye to them in a way that doesn’t add to a landfill or harm the environment, right?
Elsewhere in the textile innovation space, Scandinavian researchers at SINTEF (Stiftelsen for industriell og teknisk forskning) have developed waterproof clothing that uses microcapsules of a glue-like substance to repair holes and snags. The microcapsules are added to fabrics as a liquid during manufacturing and can release their glue when upon disruption, such as tearing. This glue then hardens when in contact with water and air, and fills the gaps within the fabric created by tears and holes. Although invented with sea farmers and fishermen and women in mind, the possibilities are endless.
In fact, all of these technologies could be adopted by the fashion industry. If we’re serious about the future of our planet, breaking free from our addiction to throw away fashion has to be part of that. We have tremendous power as consumers. If we demand these kinds of sustainable fabrics, then how long can it be before they leave the practical wear arena and enter the high street?
Perhaps clothing that lasts physically longer than the mass-produced stuff everyone is wearing, and standing out from the crowd in last year’s clobber, is the "real" fashion statement.