We’ve already spent some time writing about fashion tech and innovation (here) so hopefully, everyone is up to speed on this huge wave shaping our industry! However, we want to delve a little deeper into the area of innovative materials and fashion production processes. It is no surprise that low-cost, low-quality manufacturing has become an issue throughout the industry, mainly due to the large quantities of waste produced each year. Materials such as polyester, nylon and acrylic are a mainstay for garment manufacturers despite being non-biodegradable. While on the other hand, producing, spinning and dyeing raw materials such as cotton requires large amounts of water and often involves pesticides and dyes. The problems are apparent, and brands are searching for answers.
Shift in consumer behaviour to focus on sustainable fashion
Sustainability has become a hot topic within the fashion industry, inspiring brands to launch new initiatives, share more information with their customers, and set targets to do better. While sustainability issues have been around for some time, it is actually customer behaviour which is driving change. Since the start of 2020, Lyst has seen a more than 35% increase in searches for sustainability-related keywords, with over 30,000 hits a month. Young and emerging brands recognise this shift and are looking to capitalise on consumer behaviour.
The push to use innovative materials
Recognising the issues with more traditional materials, advanced material technology is starting to have a large impact on the luxury garment and accessories market. At the 2016 Met Gala in New York, a collaboration between Marchesa and IBM produced a high-end dress that lit up in different colors based on the sentiment that viewers expressed in their tweets about the dress. This is just one example of many In recent years, as technology is increasingly used to create and utilise innovative fabrics. More recently Stella McCartney started to use lab-grown spider silk biofabrics, and even collaborated with Adidas to create a tennis dress with these materials. But what about emerging and independent designers? Here are a few of our favourites.
Marchesa dress at the 2016 Met Gala in New York
“This is an opportunity to redefine business models and build a more sustainable, progressive future for the fashion industry”
Matthew Drinkwater, Head of Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA)
Digital Models and Weaving Technology
UNSPUN is implementing 3D scanning to create your digital body model, and then use weaving technology to produce the perfect fitting pair of jeans. With consumer preferences shifting from big-name brands to tech-inspired and sustainable fashion, we think UNSPUN is one brand to keep an eye out for. They are making jeans with a small impact and long life span, promising minimal damage to the planet through zero waste manufacturing technology. Using smart software, they make each jean unique to the customer's body shape and design, with a mission to reduce global carbon emissions by 1% through this process.
3D Printing and Fashion
Although 3D printing has been around for some time, the technology is still a while away from mainstream adoption in the fashion industry, due to high unit costs and limited production capabilities. Despite this, the potential applications for garment production are immense and several designers have started using the technology. In 2018, Julia Daviy unveiled one of the first-ever wearable collections made of entirely 3D printed materials. Despite the fact it took over 300 hours to create, it resulted in less waste and proved far less labour-intensive than other types of manufacturing. It is estimated 3D printing garments on-demand could reduce fabric waste by about 35%, so any increase in adoption would have a large positive impact on the industry.
Light up Clothing
Streetwear label XO, formed in 2011 by Nancy Tilbury and Ben Male is a “fashion laboratory” creating light up clothing. They have dressed celebrities like Lady Gaga, and created “interactive clothes” for the Black Eyed Peas and the “digital mermaid bra” for Azealia Banks, stage clothes that blink and flash in controlled sequences, and outfitted JLS with boots dotted with LEDs and screens. XO are creating interactive collections of fibre optic apparel and accessories, which enable the wearer to change the colors and patterns in response to music via an accompanying app. Once reserved for music videos and movie scenes, light up clothing is starting to see increased popularity, both on the runway and in everyday lives.
Alternative Fabrics and Technology
Perhaps one of the most exciting areas for innovation relates to the materials themselves. Similar to Stella McCartney’s work with Adidas, Japanese brand SACAI released a limited edition T-shirt made with a sustainably developed Brewed Protein™ material (produced by Spiber Inc., a Japanese biotechnology company) made from structural proteins and looking to replicate spider silk. This production process primarily utilises plant resources and does not rely on petroleum or animals for its raw materials.
Bolt Threads is another brand introducing technology into the fabric development process.They are on a mission to “create better materials for a better world”, and have two such materials under its belt already – Mylo leather and Microsilk. Mylo is a leather-like material made from mycelium, which is a part of a fungus. Its threadlike cells make it a supple, durable and biodegradable material. The company can grow Mylo in days, saving time and the land, resources, livestock and chemicals needed, and the waste produced, to create leather or its synthetic substitutes. Microsilk is also biodegradable and is made by bioengineering yeast to produce silk proteins through a fermentation process. After spinning and knitting the fibres, the material demonstrates properties of silk, such as elasticity, durability and softness.
Fashion technology, where to next?
As we’ve said before, we are big supporters of innovation and technology and believe the future is bright for our industry. The rate of change and progress is accelerating, which in turn is driving brands and designers to rethink existing processes and come up with new and exciting alternatives. The fashion industry will always have its roots in traditional production processes and materials, however some of the above examples provide a small glimpse into where the industry is heading. Spider silk jumper anyone?
by Neri Dijokaite