Amidst all the green-vocabulary being passed around within the fashion industry, ‘vegan fabric’ is one such catch-phrase making itself known in a tactile manner. From conscious consumers to plain old peer pressure, fashion brands are finding ways to design more eco-friendly and ethical collections, feeding into the demand for biodegradable textiles.
Leather is the most experimented with; from plastic-made pleather to Piñatex, a fabric made from pineapple leaves, used by brands like Hugo Boss and H&M. In addition, sustainable shoe brand Veja, had also launched a collection made of corn leather in 2019.
However, 2020’s vegan leather choice is Desserto, the brand name for a ‘cactus leather’ that was showcased at Lineapelle Milan in 2019 and nominated for Germany’s Green Product Award 2020.
Founders Adrián Lopez Velarde and Marte Cázarez started the eco-conscious initiative to pioneer a type of durable leather that was atleast partially biodegradable. With a life expectancy of ten years, Desserto is manufactured from the Nopal Cactus (common name: Prickly Pear), part of Mexico’s natural vegetation, making the cultivation process minimally resource-draining as no irrigation system except natural rainwater is needed. The company claims that, “Desserto is a highly sustainable plant-based vegan-leather, often distinguished by its great softness at touch while offering great performance for a wide variety of applications and complying with the most rigorous quality and environmental standards.”
Meanwhile in India, religion paves the path to sustainability with ‘Fleather’, decomposable leather made from flower-waste generated in temples and dumped in rivers. Developed by a flower-cycling start-up PHOOL, attempting to purge rivers fed with tonnes of used floral waste, the fabric was discovered due to a chance observation of a fibrous material mimicking leather’s elasticity and tensile strength, growing on non-recycled flower piles. Research began in 2018 and two years down the line, fleather began to sell under the brand name phool.co.
Founder, Ankit Agarwal says, “We’ve been able to grow 1x1 sq.ft of fleather in seven days in a lab and are in the process of setting up a production plant with a capacity to make 9000sq.ft a day. The process involves manual labour, employing a team of more than 73 rural women who separate flowers by species and hand-pluck petals to form a flower-based nutritive substance.”
“A consortium of organisms is allowed to grow over the nutritive substrate and over a period of three weeks, Fleather is formed,” co-founder Srivastava explained.
The brand has received PETA’s Innovation in Fashion award and UN’s Sustainability award and has already signed contracts with three Italian luxury brands and Indian fashion house Anita Dongre.
Though both Fleather and Desserto are pioneering plant-based fabrics that have various levels of biodegradability, not all vegan fabrics are sustainable; most utilise PVC or other synthetic materials that are harmful to the environment. However, they deserve a huge applause for leaving animals out of the equation!
Apart from decomposable textiles, another means of combating the hazardous trend of use & throw clothing is bio-garmentary. Fabrics are essentially living organisms, namely, a type of single-celled green algae that is spun together with nano-polymers, resulting in a non-woven, photosynthetic textile that respires, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Designer and developer of this project, Roya Aghighi says, "The living aspect of the textile will transform users' relationship to their clothing, shifting collective behaviours around our consumption-oriented habits towards forming a sustainable future."
Clothing made of biotextile needs TLC, since they are living garments that require sunlight and can’t be shoved into dark corners of overflowing wardrobes. The garments can be disposed via composting and have a month-long life expectancy which can be extended based on levels of care.
This innovation allows a user to form an intimate bond with their clothing and transform attitudes of ‘buy, use and dispose’ to ‘buy, care for and compost’.
Recent years have already seen fashion consumers’ consumption habits changing in favour of the environment, making both biodegradable-vegan fabrics and bio-garmentary added catalysts for a colossal behavioural change within the industry.