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What are “smart normal”, sustainable solutions? Bio-sourcing & Biomimicry.

18 June 2020

Over the past few weeks, we’ve noticed an unexpected level of creativity within society and industries, who are looking to adapt to the situation, become more sustainably agile, and find a certain balance within the “New Normal”.

As part of our overview for Interfilière Paris, we’d like to offer a “Smart Normal” approach to sourcing, where intelligent manufacturing processes and the rationale behind the product respect the natural operation of the ecosystem and biodiversity, in order to avoid waste and offer the most “virtuous” fabric possible.  The notion behind this is frugal innovation (a concept recently identified by futurists & trend forecasters), which may foster the creation of hybrid, multipurpose garments and underwear that will reflect the principle of doing better with less.

 

“Frugal innovation is a new way of innovating with flexibility, by learning to repair things in a simple way…it’s a process of reducing the complexity and the cost of a good and its production…”

Cécile Poignant, source

 

For the rest of this series on sustainable, forward-looking sourcing, we’re going to address Bio-sourcing & Biomimicry for eco-design, which are living proof that nature & innovation go hand-in-hand, and that science can support fashion in its post-COVID rebirth.

BIO-SOURCING

Bio-sourcing brings together innovation and biology, placing naturally derived technologies at the service of raw-material creation for fashion and textiles. This refers to natural and biodegradable sources, which are made into so-called “clean” or properly developed fabrics, using bio-manufacturing in a lab.

Bio-manufacturing makes use of living micro-organisms (yeast, proteins, algae, bacteria) and transforms them into cells that multiply and form a textile substance (fibers, yarns, fabric, biopolymers). These can thus be crafted into cellulosic material. Though it is a well-known method in medical research and 3D printing, in fashion, it was Suzanne Lee who first used bio-manufacturing when she created BioCouture, “the art of growing clothes”. The finest characteristic of all that is bio-sourced is that its yarns are biodegradable as compost (whether industrial or household) and thus provide a solution to the major issue of end-of-life-cycle disposal. On the other hand, as technically revolutionary as it is, bio-sourcing may still appear experimental and reserved for an elite.

 

How can this technique be scaled up for industrial use?

On the supply side, prime examples include Orange Fiber and Circular system , which has developed the Agraloop technique. Their innovative systems breathe new life into agricultural waste (using citrus fruits, for Orange fiber, and sugar-cane waste, pineapple leaves, and hemp seeds, for Circular system) by regenerating them into sustainable cellulosic fabric. Thus, one of them offers silk-alternative jerseys, and the other, cotton/Spandex, Tencel, or recycled polyester bases. Initially targeted mainly to ready-to-wear, this solution can be adapted for the loungewear, activewear, and home-leisure sectors.

On the spinning side, a process created by Franco-Belgian research group Composens may very well revolutionize the world of bio-polymers. Indeed, their work developing lightweight, recyclable bio-composite materials, wood-polymers or botanical fiber-polymers (Hemp & linen) with a low environmental footprint, seeks to generate a high-performance, sustainable material that can be easily scaled up to an industrial level. Currently designed for the transport, construction, and sports sectors, this innovation will be presented in the Autumn 2020. Among its applications for the broader textile industry, we can envision this technology providing a solution to blending with excessively short recycled fibers, or that this durable bio-polymer sheath might host a recycled polyester yarn, which would limit the emission of micro-plastics during wear…

 

BIOMIMICRY:

According to CEEBIOS, (the Thinktank and Center for the Study of Biomimicry), biomimicry is defined as the art of taking inspiration from living beings in an ethical and sustainable manner. Materials that are considered biomimetic are often part of the family of bio-sourced products, and have major functional (water-repellent, healing, etc.) potential for the life cycle, because they are biodegradable and often meet modern eco-sustainable criteria (for waste management, energy savings, etc.).

Whether inspired by fauna, flora, or the human body, biomimicry brings to the technical design of a yarn, then to the fabric, a certain approach, an aesthetic, and functional characteristics that are truly unprecedented. Here are a few concrete examples already on the market:

Bolt Thread, whose motto is “Inspired by nature and crafted for our future”, is a concept that provides a botanical alternative to silk and leather.  Microsilk is a silk-inspired yarn made from proteins present in spiderwebs and has been in use for several seasons now within Adidas x Stella McCartney collections. It retains silk’s properties (suppleness, thermoregulation, and softness), with a process that avoids any cruelty to animals and has a low environmental impact, because it is biodegradable.

Celliant is a bio-inspired material that uses infrared light naturally produced by the human body to add innovative properties to a botanical viscose fiber, making it an alternative to synthetic fibers. Celliant viscose is 100% biodegradable and FSC® or PEFC™-certified. These properties make it a thermoregulating material that dries quickly, regulates sleep, and assists blood flow. Particularly well-adapted to medical use, Celliant is also very much in use by activewear and loungewear brands (Lunya | Rhone | Under Armour).

One final, stunning example from a brand is that of the 100% biodegradable algae and plant-based Vollebak T-shirt. And last, but not least, to find out more about biomimicry, the Institute of Desirable Futures offers a training course in applying this concept to eco-design and CSR.

In conclusion, bio-sourcing and nature-derived technologies are major catalysts for sustainable, efficient development, as well as a crucial pathway to adding value to natural waste. They are raising new questions about manufacturing and industrial property, which is often put to alternative use with open source “recipes” that are available online (one example of this: Biocouture). Often used in the sports and activewear industries, the bio-sourced materials available may well fulfill the growing demand for antibacterial fabrics and the need for reassurance in the current period.

To pursue your quest for the perfect supplier amongst Interfilière exhibitors, please have a look at the list at Interfilière Paris. In our next article, on innovative sourcing tools, we will dive into the flexible, digital solutions available to brands.

 

Ref. quotes:

“Frugal innovation is a new way to innovate by being flexible and learning how to fix things in a simple way… the process of reducing the complexity and cost of a good and its production, for instance by removing nonessential features” – Cecile Poignant, Source LinkedIn

 

Aude Penouty
Entada Textile

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