By Theresa Hegel | asicentral.com
A number of fashion brands are looking at ways to get fossil fuel-derived fibers and pigments out of their clothing, experimenting with new materials and techniques to create more environmentally friendly apparel. Here’s a roundup of a few interesting developments in the realm of sustainability.
Sustainable shoe brand Allbirds is taking on the activewear market, releasing a line of running apparel that includes high-waisted leggings, biker shorts, a running tank and moisture-wicking tees. The twist? The clothing isn’t made of polyester or other synthetic fibers. Instead, Allbirds created the apparel using eucalyptus tree fiber and merino wool, two materials also found in its slip-on sneakers.
The company says it’s been developing the collection for more than two years, working through over 70 iterations before launching.
“For us at Allbirds, the disconnect between what we wear to improve our personal health and its negative impact on the health of our planet seemed like an important space for us to tackle,” co-founder Tim Brown told CNBC. “Running apparel is typically made of synthetic materials, derived from barrels of oil.”
The company first expanded into clothing in 2019, starting with socks. Late last year, Allbirds debuted a line of four garments, including a T-shirt made of discarded crab shells and a wool puffer jacket.
U.K.-based Vollebak is taking a different approach to get fossil fuels out of apparel – tackling the pigments used in the dying process.
According to Vollebak, the process for making the textile color “carbon black” hasn’t changed for over a century: “At mass scale the process begins with a fossil fuel-like heavy petroleum which is fed into an industrial furnace and allowed to partially combust. This creates a black powder that looks a bit like soot.” It’s used to color everything from inks to plastics to rubber.
Vollebak worked with Living Ink, a U.S. biomaterials company, to create a black tee using ink derived from algae – a better alternative to carbon black since it absorbs carbon dioxide through photosynthesis while producing oxygen. “Algae is a fascinating material for many reasons, including that it stores carbon,” Steve Tidball, Vollebak co-founder and CEO, told Fast Company.
Black algae has been used to make food coloring and screen printing ink, but this is the first time it’s been used to produce an entirely black garment. Vollebak made its $110 tee from fibers derived from eucalyptus, beech and spruce trees in sustainably managed forests. Then, it worked with Living Ink to print the fabric with UV-resistant, non-fading black algae ink. For the final step, the shirt is washed with a softener made from mangos.
The T-shirt is also biodegradable, breaking down in 12 weeks if you bury it in soil.
Another benefit of using algae is that it’s plentiful and easy to grow. Living Ink partnered with an algae farm in California that grows the organism as animal feed. After the feed’s removed from the water, the remaining black waste is used as the base of the algae ink. “We believe this is the future of sustainable dye because you don’t need any chemicals or complex processes to grow the algae,” Tidball told Fast Company. “The algae grows exponentially in days with just water, sunlight and carbon dioxide.”
It’s not the first time Vollebak has experimented with alternative dyes. The brand also has a biodegradable hoodie that’s dunked in a giant vat of pomegranate peel dye to get its color.
TRANZEND, an apparel company founded in London, recently released a dress shirt created from a patented fabric that’s derived from recycled coffee grounds, which the company says gives the garment thermoregulation properties. The Ultra Shirt, as it’s called, is breathable, stretchable, moisture-wicking and odor-controlled. It was created with ultrasonic stitchless sewing and laser-cut techniques, and features magnetic cuffs and a snap-on button design.
“Our goal at TRANZEND is to produce stylish yet timeless and sustainable clothing by implementing advanced material technology into unique, versatile designs,” said William Chen, creative director. “We aim to change the way people dress, and we want people to know that clothing can be stylish, functional and ethical all at the same time.”
The Ultra Shirt is currently available via Kickstarter, where early bird pledgers can order one for $89 (ahead of an expected retail price of $179). As of Tuesday, Aug. 17, there were 30 backers raising more than $5,000 toward TRANZEND’s $8,000 goal.