Published 3 years ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Agraloop transforms ag waste into textiles. | Agraloop/Mold
New report reveals how emulating nature’s lessons in the fashion industry can enhance ecosystems to boost biodiversity, build soil, support communities, and clean up existing pollution.
What a circular economy looks like and ideas on how to get there are constantly
evolving, informed by experts all over the world. Now, the Biomimicry
Institute aims to add to the evolution by answering the
question: What would the fashion industry look like if it acted like a natural
The Nature of Fashion: Moving Towards a Regenerative System — a new report
from the Institute, with support from the Laudes
Foundation (formerly C&A Foundation),
offers a dramatic yet entirely possible approach for investors, funders,
innovators and fashion brands to enable a new fashion industry to thrive, while
respecting our planetary boundaries and operating in synchronicity with local
The report offers an in-depth analysis of the material flows that underpin
natural systems, compares them to the flawed industrial system that exists
today, and explains how the fashion industry can work with existing technology
and nature to jump-start the transition right now — by leveraging these natural
material flows, rather than working against them.
The Nature of Fashion echoes the findings of a similarly bold report that
environmental NGO Canopy released back in January, which outlined a 10-year
to save the world’s forests and avert the climate crisis — by overhauling the
textile and paper industries to remove 50 percent of forest fiber (which fabrics
such as rayon and viscose come from) from pulp manufacturing, and replace it
with next-generation alternative fibers such as agricultural residues.
The Biomimicry Institute report highlights materials innovation by companies
including Allbirds, which makes
its shoe upper from Merino wool and the foam sole through fermentation; and
which uses the protein DNA from sources such as coral, oyster
shells and jellyfish — to create next-generation fabrics without harming
the organism. And mushrooms hold a lot of promise as a biodegradable textile
are just a few companies transforming fungi into fabric.
The Nature of Fashion also highlights agricultural residues as a major
solution for a responsible fashion industry. The report highlights the work of
Circular Systems’ Agraloop™
Biorefinery, which transforms ag
waste into fibers useful for yarn, paper and textile manufacturing. The company
claims that six crops — oil-seed hemp, oil-seed flax, banana,
pineapple leaves, rice straw and sugarcane bark — currently offer
more than 250M tons of fiber per year, or enough to meet 2.5 times the current
global fiber demand. The system also produces organic fertilizer and, by
removing plant waste that would otherwise be left to rot or be burned, it
reduces agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Scaling of
these and similar technologies would go a long way towards addressing existing
waste streams without the need for developing any new land.
The Biomimicry Institute not only points to regenerative agriculture as a
leading source for the alternative-materials market — it could be the nexus for
symbiotic, regenerative ecosystems that could benefit multiple industries: The
report quotes Rebecca Burgess, Executive Director at
Fibershed, who posits: “It could be fairly easily
assumed that [an] integrated agricultural system would healthfully yield wool,
hemp, wheat, lamb and dairy; and would generate an additional
112 million tons of natural fiber per year in (the US) alone, without converting
any additional land to agriculture.”
Naturally, the report argues that we must phase out non-compostable,
petroleum-based materials. Infinitely recyclable
is often cited as a holy grail of a circular economy, and a material that many
textile producers and brands have
But even the most durable plastics eventually leak into the
— and textiles made from recycled plastic still shed plastic microfibers into
the world’s water
at an alarming rate; and they contain toxic chemicals that were never meant to
be worn close to the skin.
Companies such as Worn
have developed technologies to separate previously unrecyclable polyester
blend textiles; but the report warns that new fibers, however recyclable, should
not be developed if they do not naturally decompose (though, we’re pretty
excited about the potential of Fairbric’s
which converts CO2 emissions into sustainable polyester). As the report points
out, polyester currently has a cost advantage rooted in oil subsidies, scale and
decades of invested R&D. By shifting those economic drivers and increasing R&D,
the industry can make natural fibers — such as color-grown
hemp and even green nettles — cost
Speaking of cotton, it’s an incredibly land- and water-intensive crop, which
makes it inherently unsustainable as a linchpin for a regenerative fashion
supply chain. But companies such as GALY are growing cotton in a
— and it grows 10x faster, using only 20 percent of the resources of
conventional cotton production.
A key insight from the report is that the “leaky loops” observed in nature
also present an opportunity. Decomposition is inevitable, yet we failed to
account for it when designing our systems. Embracing decomposition will lead
to new business models and opportunities, and can help us clean up existing
waste in the process.
The Biomimicry Institute, together with leading fashion collaboratives and
circular economy consortia, will engage in pilot projects that create
resiliency in the supply chain while contributing to ecosystem restoration
and local jobs. The pilots will focus on bio-compatible fibers, from
sourcing through decomposition.
Read more and download the report
Published Jun 30, 2020 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST