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From Gucci to Ugg to Nike, Next-Gen Materials Gaining Ground

The Material Innovation Initiative (MII) has published its first “Brand Engagement with Next-Gen Materials: 2022 Landscape” report that details how Ugg, Gucci, Mercedes-Benz and more than 100 other companies in the fashion, automotive and home goods industries are using next-gen materials to meet shifting consumer demand, increase environmental sustainability and address growing animal welfare concerns.

Created through a variety of biomimicry approaches, these high-performance, sustainable, animal-free materials replicate the aesthetics and performance of leather, wool, silk, down, fur and exotic skins with environmentally friendly production than current-generation synthetics. MII’s report cites more than 100 examples of partnerships, in-house innovations, investments and advisory services that industry leaders are using to integrate these next-gen materials into their products.

The report noted that some partnerships are exclusive and other material companies sell to all. Some material suppliers only produce one next-gen material, some companies produce a few. Some large material companies have a wide range of offerings, but only one or two next-gen materials. Brands seek partnerships with next-gen material companies for capsule collections as well as for staple and non-seasonal items.

These collaborations include Adidas and Bolt Threads, Allbirds and Natural Fiber Welding, Nike and Piñatex, Ugg and Lenzing, Gucci and Demetra, H&M and Pangaia, Hermès and MycoWorks, Karl Lagerfeld and Amber Valletta and Desserto, and Stella McCartney and Bolt Threads.

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Nike Air Max 95 made with Piñatex from Ananas Anam
Gucci x Demetra Courtesy

“With so many new next-gen material options coming to market, brands and consumers will soon enjoy a plethora of exciting options rather than outdated animal-based leather, wool, silk, down, fur and exotic skins,” MII CEO Nicole Rawling said. “Increased policies, regulations, standards and certifications, while good, are not enough. We need a new solution that gives both brands and consumers the high quality and reasonably priced products they need without the negative effects on the environment and animals. Next-gen materials are that solution.”

Elaine Siu, MII’s chief innovation officer, said animal-free next-gen materials serve a trio of purposes for brands–they meet consumer demand, hit sustainability goals and avoid cruelty to animals.

MII has documented in its research that consumer demand for sustainable and cruelty-free products is high and growing. In the United States, 94 percent of consumers surveyed are likely to purchase next-gen materials, while 90 percent of Chinese consumers said they prefer next-gen materials over animal-based materials.

The study showed that consumers who prefer animal-based leathers do so because animal leathers are seen as having higher quality and performance attributes. These consumers will be open to switching when next-gen leathers are at price, quality and performance parity. Most consumers will even be willing to pay more for products made from next-gen materials that align with their values, the survey showed.

Hermes x MycoWorks
Hermes x MycoWorks Courtesy

In addition, most brands estimated that between 66 percent and 80 percent of a product’s environmental footprint comes from the raw material. MII said animal-based materials have some of the most significant negative environmental impacts, whereas next-gen materials are poised to have lower environmental impacts than animal-derived materials and current-gen synthetics.

“All data we have seen so far shows that next-gen materials, on the whole, are poised to have lower environmental impacts than animal-derived materials and current-gen alternatives,” Sydney Gladman, chief scientific officer at MII, said.

The report concluded that until recently, it has been difficult for brands and consumers to make sustainable choices in replacing animal-based products.

“With so many next-gen material options now coming to market with increased supply, higher quality and lower prices, this choice is becoming easier and easier,” MII said. “Ultimately, brands will no longer have an excuse and consumers will hold them accountable.”

The Material Innovation Initiative is a nonprofit that accelerates the development of high-performance, eco-friendly and animal-free materials for the fashion, automotive and home goods industries. MII serves as a critical connector along the path to market adoption for new materials, partnering and consulting with scientists, startups, brands and retailers to direct the industry toward areas of maximum impact.