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From Food-Waste Fibers to Natural Dyes, Why Future Fabrics Should ‘Embrace’ Sustainable Innovation

The coronavirus crisis has spurred a greater interest in outdoor and athleisure fashion, but styles should also be functional and durable, said Alexa Dehmel, designer for Active Sports Design.

Dehmel gave a webinar trend presentation last month for the virtual Functional Fabrics Fair, stressing the importance of taking into account environmental factors in creating fabrics and clothing. She also noted how consumers’ tastes and needs have been affected by the global pandemic.

Sustainability is now “mandatory,” Dehmel said, with brands focused on removing harmful chemicals from textile processing, incorporating recycled materials and choosing finishes that have protective characteristics.

Some fabrics now incorporate unusual materials like oyster shells, Dehmel said. “Oyster shell is sourced from the food industry, ground into fine powder and mixed with recycled polyester or recycled nylon. These are often branded as SeaWool and provide thermal regulation, antistatic, anti-odor, moisture management, natural hand feel and wrinkle-resistant properties.”

Additional food waste fibers are being derived from corn, pineapple, clam shells, bananas and coffee bean shells.

In the area of hemp and paper yarn used in performance fabrics, Dehmel highlighted Drirelease’s blended hemp, polyester and spandex; Pontetorto’s blended hemp, cotton, spandex and recycled polyester, and Hemp Fortex’s hemp and organic cotton.

Dehmel said the trend in sustainable dyeing to use natural dyes from food waste, tea, plants, flowers herbs and spices is “starting to scale up,” along with “waterless synthetic dyeing processes, even in floral colors.”

“One moves away from bleaching and allows the presence of optical whites,” she said. “Sustainable dyeing technology will certainly play a role in future responsible product strategies.”

For working or staying at home, so-called “comfortwear” fabrics include cellulosics, recycled synthetics and biodegradable fibers, all offer “sustainable solutions,” she said. These are often in neutral tones that also work for when people decide to go out.

Dehmel recommended that companies should “embrace the anti-excessive and anti-waste movement, as well as the longing for sustainable innovations in textiles” when they design their next textile or apparel collections.