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New Textiles Technology Defies Belief

It’s not often we find textiles made from tree bark or a fabric production process with a carbon footprint less than zero, but the future of fiber looks inventive–and eco-friendly.

With greener global development in mind, NASA, Nike, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Department of State got together to form LAUNCH, a global initiative to identify and support innovative approaches to making society more sustainable and less polluted and the garment industry is getting special attention.

Discovery News reported that materials extraction, processing and manufacturing of products accounts for over one-third of mankind’s carbon emissions according to Alan Hurd, Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State.

LAUNCH has turned its focus to fabrics this year as a result. The group held a forum for their 2013 Systems Challenge last week, addressing its goal to find “innovators that will transform the system of fabrics to one that advances equitable global economic growth, drives human prosperity and replenishes the planet’s resources,” according to a statement.

They’ve named ten innovators at various stages of development–from prototype to deployment–who will be helping create fabrics that enable recycling, use new materials and can be made in eco-friendly ways.

Qmilk, one of the selected innovators, takes surplus milk that’s not good for human consumption and produces a bio textile replacement for cotton.

Tree bark textiles are BARKTEX’s answer to friendly fabric. They strip bark from Ugandan Figus trees to make cloth reminiscent of leather and the bark regenerates leaving no negative footprint on the Earth.

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Ambercycle has found a way to turn plastic bottles into polyester by harnessing engineered enzymes to degrade plastic bottles, then turning them into PTA (purified terephthalic acid), the raw material in polyester.

But textiles aren’t just becoming more functional, they are starting to be fun, too.

Smart Planet reported last week that the textiles of tomorrow are getting smart. Tech-savvy designers are producing futuristic fabrics that may never go mainstream, but are at least pointing to a future of functional fabric and showcasing what we can do with our textiles.

According to the article, Barbara Layne has created LED clothing that lights up with words and when two people hold hands, the words scroll across them.

Maggie Orth of International Fashion Machines designed rugs that use heat-sensitive thermochromic ink and change colors when electricity runs through them.

Color-shifting shirts made by Kerri Wallace change hues with your body temperature.

While some of these technologies and processes are just seedlings of ideas and still have some growing to do, they are evidence that textiles are getting smarter as humans get savvier and we could be seeing a greener garment industry in the future.