Future's fashion is taking form

Designers, such as Danit Peleg, are using 3-D printers to make fully customised and personalised...
Designers, such as Danit Peleg, are using 3-D printers to make fully customised and personalised 3-D-printed garments. Photos: Supplied
Sustainable style is back on the agenda after british MPs announced an inquiry into "fast" clothes. Lucy Siegle takes a look at what a greener clothing future might look like. 

To forecast the fashion of the future is a perilous business. Many years ago I road-tested compostable clothes. The corn-starch separates promised much: they potentially allowed us a guilt-free way of consuming fashion at a frenetic pace without the nagging thought of them festering in landfill for eternity. Unfortunately, the garments I dutifully wore all day - praying that they would not begin composting while I was in them - never caught on. Surprising, that.

But I'm back with bigger, bolder predictions. There is growing awareness of the social and environmental impact of disposable "fast fashion". We produce 100 billion new pieces of clothing each year, mainly from virgin resources. And, according to a recent report from environmental NGO Stand.Earth, the fashion industry is responsible for 8% of global climate pollution.

If the garment business were a nation, it would be the fourth largest climate polluter on the planet. So here are my (hopeful) suggestions for what your wardrobe might look like in a decade's time if fashion's sustainable revolution succeeds.


Our wardrobes are dominated by cotton, a thirsty crop saturated in pesticides, and polyester, which is derived from petroleum. These will be displaced by so-called "wealth from waste" fibres, including "banana sylk" (from the stems of banana plants) and fruit "leathers", especially from pineapple. The Spanish brand Pinatex has already brought the latter to market; a square metre of pineapple leather uses 480 waste pineapple leaves and is half the cost of traditional cow leather (and, its proponents claim, comes at a fraction of the environmental cost of raising livestock).

This Laura Strambi outfit is made from pineapple leather. Photo: Supplied
This Laura Strambi outfit is made from pineapple leather. Photo: Supplied

Modern Meadow, based in New Jersey in the US, has caused a stir by applying sugar feedstock to yeast cells that have been engineered to create collagen. It is then pressed into sheets and tanned (in an eco-friendly process) to create cow-less leather. This clever bio-leather will become available commercially in 2020, but small sample pieces have sent the fashion pack into a frenzy with their low-emission, animal-friendly realism. Meanwhile, on the west coast of the US, Bolt Threads is perfecting the art of brewing silk from yeast cells.


Expect an increasing number of brands to ditch toxic chemical dyes and switch to those that siphon pigments from plants, sugar molasses and micro-organisms, to eliminate heavy metals, acids and solvents. According to trials, these techniques also use a 10th of the water of conventional dyeing. If you're a fan of a lairy colour palette, don't worry. These next-generation dyes also include the wilder tints of nature, not just porridge-hued neutrals.


When you want to slip into something special, you'll be wearing organic cotton and wool. Naturals will be prized and precious fabrics, to be cared for, protected and handed down as heirlooms. (They'll also be prized for not shedding microfibres.) A new appraisal of naturals will favour regenerative wool growing: keeping sustainable-sized flocks of sheep and goats on grassland, it is claimed, helps to sequester carbon, restore watersheds and benefit wildlife habitats.


If you're trying to map this brave new textile culture, it's wise to follow the patents and the investment, and they seem to be pointing to Silk Inc. A process of creating silk protein in water has been shown to change silk from water-repellent to water-wicking (essential for sportswear). It can also be used to coat cashmere or nylon to make wool and other materials shrink-resistant.


First you'll 3-D scan your body; then, for a precise fit, you'll buy a file with your preferred design and 3-D-print or 3-D-knit your clothes at home or at a designated store. Designers such as Danit Peleg are already pioneering this approach, which takes wasted stock and excess production out of the equation. A 3-D-printed Peleg design was worn by Olympian snowboarder Amy Purdy at the Rio Paralympic opening ceremony to great fanfare. Last year Peleg produced the world's first fully customised and personalised 3-D-printed garment for sale online. Admittedly, pieces took 100 hours to print, but advances in printing technology mean this process should be up to speed in a decade.


A big chunk of your wardrobe will probably be refurbished or remanufactured by your favourite brands. "Recommerce" is already taking off: outdoor brand Patagonia has teamed up with online reseller Yerdle and gently launched the website Worn Wear. You return your pre-worn clothes to a shop, where you get credit. They are processed (and waterlessly washed), reinvigorated and sold online at a lower cost than new.


At the moment we can't get a grip on our fashion consumption: a survey by the fashion recycling app reGAIN found that 27% of Londoners chucked unwanted clothes straight in the bin. Imagine if that were reversed and there were such a global demand for your spent threads that you were contacted daily by an organisation asking if you'd finished with your trousers. It's going to happen.

At Penn State University in the US, squid teeth proteins have been turned into liquid and used to coat materials. When torn, the textile can be repaired by placing the two ripped edges together. It's seamless, glue-free and threadless - just add warm water. The minuscule volumes of the proteins currently being produced are slated for medical applications, but in a decade this could have branched out to apparel, meaning you can throw away your needle and thread (if you are one of the few that still bothers to make do and mend, that is).

- Guardian News and Media


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