Sustainable alternatives to the natural fabrics you already know

Nettle or Bennessel (auf Deutsch) or Urzică (în română)

Apparently, Nettle fibers have been around for over 2000 years, but because of the low degree of fiber content of the Nettle plant (around 10%), they lost ground in the capitalist battle for survival to other natural fibers such as flax (20% fiber content) and hemp (30% fiber content). Plus, in the 16th century cotton started to become more and more popular, due to its easier harvesting and spinning process.

Image result for nettle fibers

A German company has managed to discover a method through which they can obtain from the stinging nettle 20% fiber content.

Nettle fiber can be processed to obtain low heath transfer for winter and high health transfer for the hot summer. Stinging nettle grows where you least expect it (as we’ve all experienced), with a fast pace and requires very little water, which makes it a perfect raw material for the textile industry.

Where can you get it? They seem to sell it here, but by the price, we can tell it might still be early to find it in mass market.

Coffee grounds & recycled polyester

It turns out that from 3 cups of coffee grounds and 5 recycled plastic bottles you can create a fabric that is UV protective, has a superior odor control and fast drying. How? We don’t know exactly, but the fabric exists and it is produced by a Taiwanese company called Singtex (which has too many patents and trademarks to not find it credible).

The coffee needed to create the fabric is the leftover obtained after preparing the day to day cup of coffee (wondering if decaf is of any use). For hundreds of years we’ve been throwing away coffee grounds (or used them for DIY enemas), when we could have saved it to create new fabrics.

From the combination of coffee grounds with recycled polyester from plastic bottles, Singtex developed quite a range of fabrics, each with specific properties and uses in the clothing industry: the stretch series ( a range with increased flexibility), a dry series (with increased humidity control) and a cool series (with high temperature performance).

How can you get it? It’s not very clear. Check the website of the company here.

Pineapple Leather

Pieapple leather or Piñatex, as the product is officially registered, is created from the fibers found in the leaves of the pineapple plant (By the way, did you ever think pineapple grows in the ground and not in a tree?).

After the harvesting of the pineapple fruit, the remaining leaves are put through a process called decortication, using a special machine patented by a Spanish company called Ananas Anam. Through this process, fibers are obtained, which are then processed into a non-woven mesh, which is then turned into pineaple leather through a special finishing (all the process illustrated above). Because no new plant needs to be cultivated and also because it creates new job opportunities for farming communities in Philippines, Piñatex is considered one of the good guys.

“Piñatex Original is inspired by the natural surface of full-grained leather. It has a unique texture with a softly crumpled appearance and is strong, lightweight, breathable and pliable”, says the description on their website. We touched it two years ago at fashion week and the expectation was to feel something soft and moist, but it has a pretty dry touch.

How can you get it? Check the website of the company here.

Kapok fiber

Made from the dried fruit of the Kapok Tree (see picture of the fruit here), this fiber has a silky soft touch, is lightweight, insect repellent, antibacterial, waterproof and quickly dryable. It has been used in the past mostly for insulation (or stuffing those creepy plush toys) and recently, it has been discovered to have great properties also as a fiber for clothing. Because of the fiber’s structure, Kapoc yarn cannot be yet processed into 100% Kapoc fabrics, but it can be blended with other natural fibers – this would reduce the production of textile fabrics with a bigger impact on the environment (like cotton, the thirsty bastard). “Kapok trees need no irrigation, no pesticides, and no fertilisers. “They can grow on hills, in a biodiverse environment, and on land which is not suitable for agricultural purposes – resulting in 100% positive impact on the environment” claim Flocus, the producers of this fabric. Cutting trees to make clothes is still a bit of an absurd concept, but until we meet one of the Flocul employees, we’ll give this debate a rest.

How can you get it? Also not very clear, but check the website of the company here.

Mycelium (Mushroom Leather)

“Leather grown rapidly from mycelium and agricultural byproducts in a carbon-negative process”, as MycoWorks, it’s producers would describe it.

After 20 years of research, a team of engineers, designers and scientists managed to create this strong, flexible, durable, breathable, sewable alternative to leather, which can be grown in any dimension and dyed in any color and all in the fraction of the time it takes to produce leather. The fabric is made from mycelium a colony of bacteria that spread like a branching tree in a filamentous structure, which makes it perfect for creating fabric.

Here is a really cool short video where you can see the fabric.

How can you get it? At the moment probably only someone like Stella McCartney might have the financial means to use this fabric, but maybe, hopefully, we peasants will be also able to touch this miracle of biology soon. If you’re interested, follow their updates here.

In conclusion, after a quick research one can discover it’s still pretty hard as an individual entity to get access to these new sustainable fabric sollutions. If you truely want to create, while keeping a reduced footprint, the only viable option at the moment is upcycling. It’s a more than accessible route. As we speak pretty much anyone of us has some clothes stacked somewhere for a “you never know when” future. That’s where we can start: learning to sew, going to the basement/attic, picking up the old stuff and getting creative. Who’s up for truely making a change, while having loads of fun?