Textile Innovation – Part 2: Biosynthetics

Reading time: 02:10 minutes

While we often think of synthetic fibres as petrochemical-based polyesters, groups are working toward renewable versions of these man-made and very durable fibres.

Biosynthetics are polymers that have been derived from renewable sources like sugars, biomass, agricultural industry waste, fungi, algae and even lab-grown bacteria.

At the moment, only some of the biosynthetics listed above are available for commercial use. Applications of biosynthetics range from performance outdoor fabrics and athletic wear to feminine bio-silks derived from milk proteins.

A few of my favourites that are or will be soon commercially available:

Spider silk– Companies like Spiber in Japan and Bolt Threads in the U.S. are synthesizing spider silk from yeast protein. Its strength, durability, and flame resistance is unmatched, drawing interest from the military, not to mention the outdoor market. Collaborations with The North Face and Patagonia, respectively, show the potential for commercial use.

MOON PARKA™ Prototype (2015), made of engineered spider silk, by Spiber Inc., in collaboration with GOLDWIN, The North Face’s Japanese distributor. Image credit: Spiber, Inc.

Yulex® – Neoprene is a wetsuit staple reliant on the use of petrochemicals. Patagonia transitioned in 2016 to natural rubber-based wetsuits made from latex tapped from hevea trees grown on FSC-certified forests. The trees don’t have to be cut down in order to be tapped, so the process does not contribute to deforestation.

EVO® is a performance fabric derived from castor oil (from castor beans) and requires little water to manufacture. It is a great replacement for conventional, petrochemical-based polyesters or nylons and actually outperforms its archaic competition in elasticity, wicking and weight.

It is important to note that while these innovative performance fabrics are not dependent on petroleum, the processing of biological matter into fibre and fabric demands a lot of energy. Additionally, biosynthetics are often blended with petroleum-based materials. This is an evolving area of innovation; I expect developers to move away from blending with virgin poly as other options become available.

The potential for redirecting waste back into the manufacturing cycle and for biodegradability gives us good reason to support further research and development of biosynthetics. Another concern is the use of genetically modified feedstock, or raw materials. Again, I think this is an area where manufacturers may consider non-GMO partnerships as the demand grows.

With these drawbacks in mind, designers and fabric sourcing professionals should have their finger on the pulse of biosynthetic innovations, especially those in outdoor and active markets.

That being said how do your sourcing teams look at the bio-synthetic options and how do you think your customer’s would receive these exciting innovations? We’d love to hear from you. If you’ve enjoyed this article look out for more and if you’d like direct access why not sign up to our mailing list for exclusive updates and insights?

Body images from Goldwin, Spiber & Adidas, with Title image Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

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