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12 materials of the future that could change the face of fashion

Given that the production and processing of materials makes up the majority of fashion’s carbon footprint, it’s no wonder there has been a renewed focus on textile innovation across the industry of late. Just this year, we’ve seen Stella McCartney launch its first bag made from Mylo, an alternative leather made from mushroom roots; Zara unveil its first products made from LanzaTech’s carbon-capturing material; and Gucci-owner Kering investing in lab-grown leather start-up VitroLabs.

It’s a welcome development for Nina Marenzi, founder of the Future Fabrics Expo, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. “Ten years ago, it was just not understood why there was a need in the first place to have materials that have a lower environmental impact,” she tells Vogue. “[Now] it’s become very clear that unless you really are involved in these discussions [and] trying to establish these partnerships, you’re going to be left behind.”

Finding an alternative to traditional leather is one area that’s seen a large amount of innovation, given that the cattle industry as a whole is responsible for an estimated 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Among the frontrunners are mycelium-based materials, such as Mylo and MycoWorks, alongside plastic-free alternatives such as Mirum. “We’ve always said that if you move away from leather, you have to really look at what you are replacing it with,” Marenzi says. “And if you’re replacing it with plastic, that’s not right.”

There’s also been a drive towards developing recycled textiles using post-consumer waste, which has been a huge challenge for the industry to date (often, recycled materials used in fashion come from manufacturing waste or other industries, with plastic bottles being a prime example). “Even five years ago, when there was talk about textile-to-textile recycling, people were thinking that’s something [for further] in the future; it’s too far away,” Marenzi continues. “But if you show them pioneering trials, and say, ‘Look, this is possible’, then we can actually scale it.”

Meanwhile, bio-based alternatives to synthetics, including Clarus, which turns natural fibres into high-performance materials, and Kintra, a corn-based polyester that’s fully biodegradable, are also on the rise.

Below, see 12 of the most exciting materials of the future you need to know now.

Leather alternatives


Backed by Stella McCartney, Adidas, Gucci-owner Kering and Lululemon, Mylo is an “un-leather” made from mycelium, or fungi roots. Large sheets of fluffy foam are grown from fungal cells, before going through the regular tanning process that animal hides undergo. While primarily made from bio-based materials, Mylo is not completely plastic-free – although it has set a goal of eliminating synthetic content altogether.


Like Mylo, MycoWorks’ Reishi material is made from mycelium sheets, which are grown from specially-engineered cells and fed using agricultural waste. The sheets are then treated via a chromium-free tanning process, with no synthetic materials required. MycoWorks launched its first products with Hermès last year, as well as securing $125 million in funding to help it grow in January.


Created by Natural Fiber Welding, Mirum is a plastic-free alternative to leather produced from plants and minerals. According to the company, the material can be endlessly recycled, making it fully circular. Allbirds and Pangaia are among the first brands to create products from Mirum, while Ralph Lauren are also investors in the company.


One of the early alternative leathers to emerge on the market, Piñatex – made from pineapple waste – has been adopted by a wide range of brands, from H&M to Hugo Boss. At the moment, the vegan leather also contains a bio-based plastic, PLA, and is finished with a PU coating for durability.


Another plant-based leather is Vegea, made from grape waste from the wine industry. Since winning the H&M Foundation Global Change Award in 2017, the material – which still contains 45 per cent PU – has been used by the likes of Ganni, Pangaia and Calvin Klein.


After raising $46 million in funding earlier this year, VitroLabs’s lab-grown leather – which replicates traditional leather’s look and feel – is produced using just a few animal cells. With Kering being among its investors, it’s definitely one to watch.

Recycled textiles


Renewcell’s Circulose material is made using 100 per cent discarded clothes. Using renewable energy, the cotton content from garments is separated out and dissolved into wood pulp, before it’s turned into a type of viscose. H&M was the first brand to launch a product made out of Circulose in 2020, while Levi’s created its iconic 501s using the textile earlier this year.


Also made from 100 per cent recycled clothing, Evrnu’s NuCycl material is also primarily made from post-consumer cotton waste. The fully-recyclable textile has already been used by the likes of Stella McCartney, which launched its Infinite Hoodie with Adidas back in 2019.

Bio-based fabrics


Finding a 100 per cent bio-based alternative to synthetics such as polyester and nylon is a crucial step for the industry moving forward, with Kintra among the new innovations looking to fill that gap. Made using sugar derived from corn and wheat, the company has partnered with Pangaia to develop and scale a biodegradable alternative to traditional polyester.


Natural Fiber Welding’s Clarus technology turns natural fibres such as cotton, hemp and wool into high-performing textiles with the same properties as synthetics. Earlier this year, Ralph Lauren launched its first polo shirts using the innovative fibre.

Carbon-negative materials


Excitingly, Newlight Technologies’s AirCarbon material is carbon-negative – meaning it actually absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere. The leather alternative is created by replicating a process that happens in nature: marine organisms converting methane and carbon dioxide into a molecule that can then be melted down. With the company announcing a partnership with Nike last year, expect to see much more from AirCarbon in the future.


Another carbon-capture innovator to keep an eye on is LanzaTech. The company converts CO2 emissions from steel mills into a form of ethanol, which is then turned into a polyester yarn. Zara launched its first clothes made using technology this year (20 per cent of the garments were made from carbon emissions, while the rest was PTA, traditionally found in polyester), while Lululemon also partnered with LanzaTech in 2021.

This article was originally published on Vogue UK.

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