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‘Weeds as Solutions’: How Staying ‘Curious’ Can Help Fashion Go Ultra-Local With Sourcing

The movement of going local in the fashion industry is more than just manufacturing apparel in the United States or Western Hemisphere, but can be about using materials in the nearby environment as ingredients to make textiles and clothes.

Tricia Langman, a designer, entrepreneur and educator, stressed this and other ideas in “Waste and Natural Fibers: A Pathway to Circularity and Localization in Fashion Industry,” a webinar held Tuesday that was part of the virtual Functional Fabrics Fair.

She said there are many pathways to circularity and localization, but in the current climate a focus on abundant waste is an important starting point. Langman stressed using nature as inspiration to produce the fabrics of the future, instead of continuing to rely on synthetics.

Hemp and flax have seen revivals as natural, abundant materials that can be grown in many locales and easily spun into fibers. “I’m also interested in weeds as solutions,” she said.

Langman cited Project Algae Fabrics, which is working on turning ocean algae into cellulosic fiber, while Biogarmentry by Roya Aghighi is spinning algae into nanapolymers to create a light, woven fabric similar to linen that photosynthesizes like plants.

MycoTex by NEFFA creates sustainable fabric from mycelium or mushroom roots and combined with 3D technology, makes seamless garments, while there are also pilot projects producing fibers from water hyacinth, cattail, nettle and kudzu.

“It’s important to be more curious and consider how things can be more local in your community,” said Langman, who started working this year as an United Nations representative and researcher for the NGO Hecho Por Nosotros, an Argentinian sustainable fashion platform.

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“With what’s been going on in the world with COVID, it’s made the fashion industry realize that having a globalized supply chain is not really the answer moving forward,” she said. “Localization has been lost in the desire to want to make things really fast and done en masse and in our post-COVID world I think we maybe have to think about the catastrophe that’s happened with brands and people in the value chain when it all broke down.”

Another relevant concept concerned recycling and local sourcing as an integral part of the future of design education. This includes chemical and mechanical recycling of plastics like water bottles found in the environment.

Eastman Chemical has developed a circular recycling technology process called methanolysis that breaks down polyester-based products into their polymer building blocks. These can then be reintroduced to the production of new polyester-based polymers, delivering a circular solution.

The movement of going local in the fashion industry can be about using materials in the nearby environment as new textile ingredients.
The nettle plant could serve as the foundation for sustainably local new textile ingredients. Photo by Paul Morley on Unsplash

There’s also research being conducted on using hemp for plastic production to non-petroleum-based plastic that is biodegradable.

Langman also discussed regenerative agriculture, a system of farming that aims to rehabilitate and enhance the farm ecosystem by emphasizing soil health and water management.

“I think our future is in biodegradable things that can go back into the earth,” Langman said. “We also have to be thinking more about what we can do about waste, whether it’s food or textiles. We should be funding research on that, but I also want us as consumers to think about what we can do about reducing waste.”

For example, she talked about the movement to repair fashion instead of discarding it, something that has been going on in denim and jeans for many years, and “to become makers, as well.”