Product, Service & Design Innovation
Textile Startups’ T-Shirts, Purses Clean the Air, Fight Food Waste

While many aspects of the textile industry have notoriously harmful effects on people and the planet, we’re seeing a variety of solutions emerge that could shape the future of fashion. Two of the latest examples are KlotersRepAir t-shirts and Malai’s vegan leather-style accessories.

More than 2 billion t-shirts are sold each year, and Italian fashion startup Kloters thinks it’s time these wardrobe staples start helping rather than harming our environment.

RepAir is a genderless cotton t-shirt produced entirely in Italy that cleans the air using a patented material called The Breath, a mesh fabric that traps and reduces pollutants in the air that comes in contact with it. Developed by an Italian company of the same name, The Breath is described as “an energy-free system which needs no electrical nor fossil energy source to purify the air.” It is composed of three layers: two printable, water-resistant and anti-bacterial fabric layers, and a dioxin-absorbent fiber enhanced by nano-molecules enclosed between them. The Breath works by trapping pollutants and systematically lowering the bacterial load of the air.

By using a The Breath insert in an anti-bacterial mesh pocket on the RepAir t-shirt, Kloters claims that every RepAir t-shirt can remove the annual air pollution created by two cars, based on laboratory test results.

The shirts will come in a “timeless” design in black and white versions. They are expected to become available on Kickstarter by the end of this month and in stores and on the Klosters website in June.

Meanwhile, an Indian-Slovakian duo has created a startup and biocomposite material made from food waste called Malai. Based in Kerala, India, the company is producing accessories such as purses and jewellery that are vegan and have a feel comparable to leather or paper.

A product designer with experience in the papermaking industry, Susmith C. Suseelan saw a need for leather alternatives. “Nobody thinks of the harm done to the environment and the number of animals that are slaughtered in the process. It’s high time that an eco-friendly substitute for leather is introduced in the market,” he told The Deccan Chronicle.

Zuzana Gombosova, a designer and material researcher from Slovakia, was in India exploring the potential of bacterial cellulose grown from coconut water in India as a material for use in the fashion industry. “Coconut water, which is of no use in the [food] industry, is what serves as the raw material for making bacterial cellulose,” she said.

The pair decided to combine their ideas and expertise and collaborate on a new leather alternative. They began working with coconut processing units in Kerala to procure coconut water, which was being discarded from factories.

“It was after trying around 150 different formulations that we finally got close to what we wanted to create — a new sustainable and eco-friendly product that can be used commercially,” Gombosova explained.

During this process, they discovered that using natural fibres along with bacterial cellulose can enhance the quality of the end product and decided to utilize another food production by-product. “We procure natural fibres from banana farmers, who otherwise discard the stems after the fruit is harvested,” Suseelan said.

Now that they’ve developed the process, Gombosova adds that the process “is definitely not as tough as killing an animal to make leather!

“Once the coconut water is collected and sterilised, the bacterial culture is made to feed on it. The fermentation period takes 12 to 14 days after which Malai can be harvested, which then undergoes a process of refinement. It is enriched with natural fibres, gums and resins to create a more durable and flexible material so that it can be moulded into sheets of different thicknesses and textures. Natural dyes can be added to give colour. The final stages include leaving it to air-dry, and then softening by applying gentle water-resistant treatment.”

The final product can be made to meet a wide range of specified thicknesses and textures. Unlike other vegan leather alternatives on the market, Malai is all-natural, with no plastic coatings or other synthetic ingredients.


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