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13 June 2022

9 Interesting Sustainable Textile Innovations

The road to an eco-friendly fashion industry is still long but great steps have already been taken. Fortunately, continuous technological evolution allows truly committed companies to develop sustainable textile innovations that can change the game. The creation of new materials, new designs, new production processes will reduce the ecological footprint without affecting the final products.

What Is A Sustainable Textile?

Textile production is one of the most polluting human activities. It requires a large consumption of water and the use of chemicals, such as dyes. Also the cultivation of fibers, such as cotton, requires great quantities of fertilizers and pesticides. Furthermore, only 1% of garments are recycled, while the rest are destroyed or end up in landfills.
Therefore, the need to turn towards a production that is more attentive to the ecological impact is clear.

With sustainable textiles we mainly mean fabrics that are produced:

  • with sustainably grown fibers or recycled materials
  • through processes with a low environmental impact

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9 Interesting Sustainable Textile Innovations

Let's take a deeper look at some of the most interesting sustainable textile innovations.

       1. New Alternative Fibers

There are myriads of natural resources that can provide sustainable fabric fibers. Some of these are hemp, banana, nettles, pineapple and seaweed! But let's take it one step at a time.
Choosing these fibers has 4 advantages:

  • it helps to cope with the decrease in raw materials,
  • their production and processing is less polluting than those of cotton or synthetic fibers;
  • it helps to differentiate crops avoiding ecological damage due to monoculture,
  • they can replace products of animal origin. Indeed, agricultural waste from plants and fruits can be transformed into materials that resemble leather in every way. But their production is decidedly less heavy than that of synthetic leather and more ethical than that of real leather.

Even coffee grounds and waste from the food industry can create yarn!

       2. Recyclable Materials

In addition to the possibility of recycling old fabrics, the textile industry can now count on technologies that make it possible to transform other materials into yarns. An example is plastic.
Old plastic bottles can be fused together and then spun together with other natural or synthetic fibers. Also, the recycled polyester itself can be transformed into fibers! And what about all those fish nets floating in the sea? They can be a source of nylon for making clothes and accessories.

       3. Yarn From Marine Animals

Do not worry! The safety of the animals is not in question.
The Tandem Repeat company of Philadelphia (US) produces squitex, a material based on squid genes from which thermoplastic fibers can be extracted. These fibers create a 100% biodegradable and recyclable fabric. But because genes have self-healing powers, the tissues are more resistant to washing and durable. This means they won't go to landfill anytime soon!
On the market there is also a fabric made from shrimp waste. Shrimps contain chitosan, a substance which, when mixed with linen, cotton or wool, creates an anti-allergic and biodegradable fabric.

       4. Natural Dyes

One of the most polluting phases of textile production is finishing.
Approximately 15,000 chemicals are permitted in Europe for textile finishing, which includes dye, crease, waterproofing or fire retardant treatments.
The problem is that the large amount of dirty water is often not treated before being released into the environment.
In this case, sustainable innovations aim to reduce both water use and pollutants. For example, one solution is plant-based dyes. Another is to dye the fiber at the time of spinning (especially for polyester).

       5. 3D Printing

Let's now move on to sustainable textile innovation concerning production methods.
Today it is possible to 3D print fabrics.This type of production completely eliminates the waste of raw materials. In fact, you only use what you need. Nothing more and nothing less. Furthermore, it is also possible to use special yarns that would not be possible with traditional machines.
Finally, 3D textile printing allows for faster production and reduces the need for manpower. While it's hard to tell whether this is good or bad, it will lead to changes in corporate social responsibility.

       6. Digital Printing On Fabrics

Printing on textiles requires a lot of water too. And then the colors can damage the environment. But digital printing offers the same results with less impact and less waste. In fact, the inks are often water based. Moreover, the finishing post-print is a mostly dry process.

       7. Virtual Sampling

For the textile industries, sample production is crucial. It requires the same efforts as fabric production, but in the end it will only produce waste. In fact, the samples will end up in the archive taking up space and nothing more.
For this reason, the use of virtual samples is becoming widespread.
These are realistic digital representations of the fabrics. Through PCs, tables and smartphones, the customers of textile companies can see the fabric in detail and make their decisions. Of course, in the end they will want to touch the fabric firsthand, but a first skimming through virtual samples will limit the production of physical ones.
In the future, thanks to virtual reality, a greater interaction with the digital fabric will probably be possible.

       8. Self-Cleaning Clothes

Sustainable textile innovations also concern the characteristics of the final products. Indeed, part of the environmental impact of the fashion industry depends on the very use of T-shirts, trousers and skirts.
For example, every time we wash our clothes, we consume water. In the case of synthetic garments, micro-plastics end up in the environment.
But things would be different if self-cleaning clothes existed.
Well, we're almost there!
Inserting tiny copper or silver structures between textile fibers can remove dirt when exposed to sunlight. These nano-structures absorb solar energy and excite the metal atoms causing the breakdown of dirt on the fabric. All this in 6 minutes!

Dr Rajesh Ramanathan, a materials engineer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, has led research on these nanotechnologies. He said: "There is still a lot of work to be done before we can start throwing away our washing machines, but this progress lays a solid foundation for the future development of fully self-cleaning fabrics.”

       9. Rechargeable Fabrics

Let’s keep talking about energy. The future of fashion lies in smart clothing [articolo certilogo smart clothing], that is clothes that interact with electronics. Unfortunately, these clothes need energy to function. At the moment, this energy comes from batteries or from recharging systems. But soon, the clothes will be able to recharge themselves.
Georgia Tech researchers have created yarns that gather energy. They exploit the static electricity from the friction between two different materials.
When inserted into fabrics, socks, sweaters and pants, they can collect energy from body movements!
Isn't this one of the best sustainable textile innovations? We will no longer need to plug our smartphone into the socket. We just have to go out for a walk wearing our favorite shirt.
It will benefit the world and our health as well!