What does the future of sustainable materials in fashion look like?

From the outside the sustainable fashion landscape may seem full of brands touting natural materials, like organic cotton and linen, in all shades of beige. But rest assured, that’s not all the eco-clothing space is about — as a visit to the Future Fabrics Expo will definitely show you. 

The world’s largest sustainable fabrics showcase organised by non-profit The Sustainable Angle, it’s the place that brands owners and buyers flock to seek out new sustainable materials for future collections.

Held in London, the exciting showcase demonstrates all the ways that labels can change and ‘green up’ existing areas of their supply chain and manufacturing. Each of the materials at the event are vetted and chosen using a set of key environmental criteria, established in consultation with the Centre of Sustainable Fashion at LCF. 

Make no mistake, this is the place to rub shoulders with the world’s leading experts and suppliers in material innovation, and a brimming hub of sustainability information, certifications and patents. 

From trims made from recycled plastics to lab-grown silks, nanotechnology embedded in garments to innovative solutions to combat waste, it paints a picture of what the future of fashion looks like. 

This year, the expo featured a number of companies researching and developing vegan fabrics made from fruit and vegetables, like prickly pear cactus. Cultivated in Zacatecas, Mexico, Desserto raises an organic plantation fed on rainwater, to prepare the mature cactus leaves for processing, leaving the plant undamaged. Beyond fashion, the material is even durable enough to be used in furniture and automotive production! 

To promote circular economy and turn organic waste into fabric, pineapples again took centre stage through Piñatex Original, which has now evolved into New Generation Piñatex. 

Another cool creation to watch, this time by Central Saint Martins graduate Renuka Ramanujam, is Cebolla Veneer, turning onion skin into fabric. The skins, collected from supermarkets and households are boiled and bonded with a bio-adhesive before creating delicate sheets. Even the wastewater from the boiling was reused for dyeing. 

The expo also explored sustainable evening wear, emphasizing light and shiny fabrics and trims from TENCEL™ Lyocell, Chul Organic Thai Silk, Modespitze’s organic lace and The Sustainable Sequin company. Having been certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), all of these fabrics are socially responsible and environmentally friendly.

Combating waste in agriculture, Circular Systems is making yarn and textiles from food crop waste. Talk about one man’s trash being another one’s treasure! Also killing two birds with the same stone, they also create Orbital™ hybrid yarns for highest-performance knit and woven textiles using organic and recycled fibres. 

What we loved the most about Future Fabrics Expo was the level of creativity on display; not even conventional plastic hangers were spared from reinvention. A brand that has been developing coat hangers since the 1960s, Cortec, came up with hangers made from field grass. The so-called ‘Agriplast’ hangers are made from regional grass fibres and recycled plastics paired together. Impressively, their coat hangers have proven CO2 savings of up to 64% in comparison to an average plastic hanger. 

When it comes to creative ways to embellish garments and shoes, look no further than sustainable material innovator Alice Potts who designs ‘sweat crystal high heels’ using natural processes, inspired by our sweat’s ‘decorative’ potential. 

This event highlights so much cool innovation, but what struck home the most was the level of thought and care that is going into the future fabrics in our clothes. It’s high time for change, considering fashion production’s impact on our planet — from landfill to ocean pollution. Future Fabrics Expo is a much needed event that showcases exactly the type of creativity that will shape the future of fashion into one that’s more kind, just and sustainable. 

All images courtesy of The Sustainable Angle.

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