Fashion – Biodegradable materials and fabrics: the list

bisso silk

The list of biodegradable materials and fabrics 

As you may know, in my role as a consultant, I help brands to discover sustainable materials. We define sustainable materials as those which can be put back into the life cycle of our planet, and can be digested without causing any damage, as they derive from the planet itself. In most cases, garments made of sustainable materials (biodegradable materials) are made from materials that derive from our environment, as well as deriving from human activities such as pastoralism, agriculture and (more in general) from any kind of crafts. These are fully ethical activities, and they embody great values.

Synthetic materials, on the other hand, do not derive from the environment or from positive human work. Synthetic fabrics are fabrics such as acrylic, polyester, faux leather, fake fur, wool mixed with synthetics. These fabrics are all slowly killing our planet, and it is because of their excessive use that important figures such as farmers, shepherds, artisans are doomed to extinction. And, moreover, synthetic materials are poisoning the waters of our planet, as well as the animals, our food and finally us.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I have put together a list of environmentally friendly, biodegradable materials that could replace synthetic materials. Not only are these materials sustainable,  they are even more sustainable than cotton because, unfortunately,  it requires a lot of water to be produced, in order to satisfy our vanities, and this leads us to dry up entire lakes. Producing a single cotton T-shirt requires 2,500 liters of water: compare this to the 900 liters required to create a bamboo t-shirt, or the mere 2.5 liters needed to process  Milk Fiber.

  •  The Nettle: from the nettle it is possible to obtain excellent textile fibers such as Ramper or Allo Fiber, which is obtained from species situated in Nepal. In Europe, specifically in Italy, we can obtain an excellent fiber from Urticica dioica. Because this nettle is considered a weed, and it can grow up to 150 cm high, it does not even require any special precautions (such as excessive water demand) to reproduce. A soft, resistant, breathable fiber like linen and a shiny silk can be obtained by using this special plant. Initially, in order to extract the fiber, the ammonia stems were first macerated but thanks to the patient studies of researchers from CNR in collaboration with the Department of Pharmacy, it was possible to replace this procedure with two natural methods: Maceration in water: the stalks are macerated in water at room temperature for a week and then peeled. Maceration in the air: a layer of freshly eroded nettle plants is left to macerate in the air, resting on the ground for a few months until the outer cuticle of the stem begins to degrade. The fabrics that derive from the use of nettle fiber are hypoallergenic and eco-sustainable.  The plant of the nettle does not require chemical treatments to grow and develop, and to extract the fiber you can also use completely natural methods, without recurring to the use of substances harmful for the environment and for humans, too.
  • Orange Fiber.  Orange fiber is obtained from the citrus paste that remains at the end of the production of citrus – fiber juice. The use of this fiber has a precedent in the fashion industry, as it has already been used by Salvatore Ferragamo in a past capsule collection.
  •  The Jusi, which is obtained from the stems to which the bunches of bananas are detached and which is still used for the manufacturing of the Japanese kimono. Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antipruritic.
  • The incredible QMilk or milk fiber. This fiber is extracted from the caseina, but it is important to note that this is made by using only the expired milk, so the whole procedure is totally sustainable and even pretty smart in terms of recycling. To produce this Wool-like fiber, only 2.5 liters of water is needed per kilo of product.  This is very different from cotton, silk and wool, which require large quantities of highly sustainable water as part of their production process. Milk fiber also needs no chemical agent and produces zero production waste.
  • Silk from Bisso, which derives from the tassel of the Pinna Nobilis, a mollusk that looks like a mother-of-pearl sculpture and which, in addition to furnishing the sea, also acts as a water purifier and food for polyps. Chiara Vigo, a Sardinian lady, uses to plunge into the depths of Sardinia to collect the precious tassels of the Pinna Nobilis, which once worked become the Silk of Bisso, a precious material that creates unique artworks that are arousing the interest of the entire world.
  • The Orylag thread. In the incredible Poitou Charentes region in France, an extraordinary and special species of rabbit is bred, special both for the characteristics of its flesh and its fur: The Rex de Poitou. Its meat, besides being very tasty, contains very low cholesterol levels and is an essential part of many specialist diets as well as coveted by world-renowned chefs. The fur of this rabbit is called Orylag, and it is warm and soft like chinchilla. From this precious fur it is possible to produce a very luxurious and resistant yarn. The sustainability in the use of this rabbit species is total. Nothing gets wasted and everything that is produced has exceptional characteristics.

It may seem incredible to replace currently used materials with these fibers, and it may seem economically expensive and impractical. If nobody begins doing so, then this could well be true.

So, which brand will be the first to revolutionize its supply chain?

Who will change the rules first?

Whoever arrives first always wins.

The dilemma faced by brands now is how to use sustainable materials and satisfy consumer demand for fast fashion.

The reality is that Fast Fashion cannot exist as ethical fashion.

If fashion wants to regain value and credibility, it must first educate consumers and explain them how much a cotton shirt really is worth. The fashion system must learn how to give up on making money by producing garments using toxic materials.

We should produce less but ethically, by consequently raising prices. Because producing ethically costs. The middle and poor classes would buy only the necessary and not useless clothing just to have some likes on Instagram by following wrong models as super paid top models or celebrities.

In addition to all this, finding valid alternatives to toxic materials is not a mission impossible, given that, technically, it is possible to extract natural fibers from every product that exists in nature.

Samantha De Reviziis

biodegradable materials
Pinna Nobilis

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