As humans become more aware of the harmful impact our daily living activities sometimes have on our environment, we are frequently encouraged to use non-polluting materials. Different kinds of eco-friendly fabric and textiles are now being developed and those who are ecologically aware are keeping watch of these innovative and sustainable fabrics.
Indeed, those who adhere to “green living” tend to stay away from traditional cotton or polyester, the production of which can be deemed environmentally harmful. Cotton uses a huge amount of water and chemicals to grow and polyester comes from non-renewable petrochemicals. And as scientists try to find more ways to minimize our carbon footprint, amazing discoveries and innovations in cloth production have also emerged. These new “green” super textiles may be the fabrics of the future.
First, however, let's have a quick look at what might be considered more traditional eco-friendly fabric and textiles and then we can move on to the more exotic stuff..
Traditional Eco-Friendly Fabric
Hemp Fabric is made from plant fiber from the Cannabis sativa plan and has served mankind for thousands of years. Materials made from hemp have been discovered in tombs dating back to 8,000 B.C.E. The plant grows without the use of any chemicals or pesticides. It is quick to grow so is replanted and harvested annually. Providing all the warmth and softness of a natural textile, hemp fabric has a superior durability that is seldom found in other natural materials.
Bamboo Fabric is made from the natural fiber of Bamboo plants. Bamboo brings new meaning to the phrase “it grows like a weed” and is the world's fastest growing, self-regenerating plant. You can almost see bamboo growing it grows so fast. Bamboo fabric is naturally anti-bacterial, hypoallergenic and very soft so often used for baby clothes. Like most plant-based materials, it is also biodegradable.
Organic Silk Fabric – my favorite– is naturally sustainable and is different from standard silk because the silk worm is not killed when making it. It has a fantastic luxurious look and feel.
Soy Fabric is made from tofu and soybean oil manufacturing waste if you can believe it. Our society uses a huge amount of soy so there’s a lot of waste! It takes some chemical manipulation but in the end, the fibers are incredibly soft with a feel similar to cashmere and it is often combined with organic cotton.
Linen Fabric is made from the fibers of the flax plant and it is durable and strong. Often considered a luxury fabric, linen is highly absorbent and good for garments to keep you cool.
Now on to the new and fascinating stuff..
Polyester Fabric from Recycled Plastic Bottles
Giorgio Armani used polyester fabric made from recycled plastic bottles to create a fashionable and eco-friendly gown, which was worn by Livia Firth at the Golden Globe Awards. And this year, an estimated 400,000 college students will be accepting diplomas wearing gowns made from this environmental-friendly fabric. Now produced in large scale by a growing number of companies, polyester fabric from recycled plastic bottles is slowly invading the mainstream textile and fashion industry.
Sometimes known as Eco-spun, production of this eco-friendly fabric starts with the collection of plastic bottles which have been shredded into plastic flakes by recycling companies. These plastic flakes are converted into small pellets which are further melted, extracted and spun into polyester threads. This is certainly good news to environmentalists around the world because they can soon opt to wear fabrics that are produced with minimal damage to the natural environment.
Spider Silk from Metabolically Engineered Bacteria
Spiders produce thread-like proteins called spider silk. Strong and versatile, it is used to make webs to catch other animals and nets to protect their offspring. Since decades, researches have tried to find ways to utilize this silk as thread and fabrics. Recently, Bolt Threads, a company based in San Francisco, California have announced that they aim to make spider-silk clothing available to the market late this year. This nature-made textile is actually made from spider silk that is produced in the laboratory. Using genetically engineered yeasts, the company is able to produce spider silk through fermentation. As the yeast cells ferment, protein fibers are released and centrifuged to produce threads which can be woven into fabrics that is thinner than human hair but stronger than steel. This scientific breakthrough means we could soon be sewing clothes made of spider silk.
Yarn and Fabric from Hagfish Slime Thread
One of the creepiest creatures in the world, the hagfish is a bottom dwelling fish that protects themselves from predators by producing gooey materials made of slimy thread cells and mucin, a type of protein. When dissolved in water, these threads become strands of super tough fibers.
Researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada are now trying to develop this slime into a functional materials by reassembling the thread and spinning it into a fabric that is as strong as nylon. They have been able to harvest the slimy threads and are now looking for ways to transplant the genes that make the slime into into bacteria. If they are successful, the hagfish thread can be cultured on an industrial scale and would be made available to the general market. While it is still a long way to go but the possibility of producing eco-friendly fabrics in this way is quite real.
These amazing eco-friendly fabric innovations will surely continue to develop. And as new discoveries are announced all the time, it is interesting to imagine how the textile and fashion industry will evolve in the next couple of years. And for sewists like us, the possibility to work with these fabrics is definitely an exciting idea.
Please let us know your thoughts on these eco-friendly fabrics. Would you ever sew with fabric made from hagfish slime??