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5 Next Generation Materials and how brands are using them

By Rachel Douglass

15 Feb 2022

Fashion

Images: Via Unsplash

As consumers continue to look towards more sustainable alternatives to synthetics and animal-based materials, new breeds of fibre have been continuing to make a mark on the industry.

A new report released by the Material Innovation Initiative (MII), Brand Engagement with Next-Gen Materials: 2022 Landscape, has detailed the most important and progressive materials to have made a mark on the fashion industry.

Labelled as ‘Next Generation’ (next-gen), products highlighted in the report each act as replacements for animal-based materials; leather, silk, wool, down and fur. The innovations have continued to hold an increasing presence in not only the fashion industry, but also in automotive and home goods, with many brands opting to integrate next-gen materials into their product lines.

As part of the report, MII has outlined the brands that have already implemented these next-gen materials into their strategies, why others should consider them and what challenges these innovations could possibly present. FashionUnited has rounded up the most notable information from the report to help gain an understanding of what these materials can actually provide for the future of fashion.

Why introduce next-gen materials into the supply chain?

According to MII’s report, brands mostly take on next-gen materials with the expectation to increase revenue “by exemplifying their positive effect on the environment and animals”. Consumer demand is among the most important factors to implement these innovative materials into collections, with MII stating that most consumers may even be willing to pay more for products made from materials that align with their values. Additionally, each individual next-gen material holds at least over 50 percent potential market share when compared to conventional materials, MII reported.

Despite revenue being an obvious factor, the environmental positives cannot be overlooked when it comes to next-gen. As noted in the report, it is safe to assume that much of a brand’s environmental impact comes down to raw materials, leading many to turn to animal-based products instead. However, MII suggests that animal-friendly products should be the route to consider instead. It goes on to say that independently certified materials from trusted companies can guarantee both environmental and ethical qualities of the product at hand. In fact, animal welfare has seen an increase in importance among consumers, making it MII’s third most prominent reason to utilise next-gen materials.

Investigations into supply chains have continued to uncover troubling cases of animal cruelty within brands and many fashion houses have taken to banning animal products altogether. As more guidelines and industry standards are put in place, fashion is beginning to look towards a more animal-friendly future, something its consumer group is increasingly demanding.

The materials

Leather

Vegan leather has been implemented into many different retailers’ strategies, making it the most used material within MII’s line-up, with many material innovation firms adopting alternative methods to leather production. Piñatex, one of the more widely available next-gens, is made from the waste leaves of the pineapple plant. The company has partnered with many leading retailers on product selections that implement the pineapple leather, including H&M, Hugo Boss and Nike, which each created vegan shoe lines and clothing items from the material.

Image: Karl Lagerfeld x Amanda de Cadenet

Cactus leather is another popular leather alternative, adopted by many brands into accessory lines. Karl Lagerfeld, Fossil and Adidas are among those that have previously partnered with Desserto on just that, with each releasing vegan products alongside the LVMH and Capri Holdings-backed cactus leather manufacturer.

Fur

With many countries introducing bans on fur farming, the growth in faux fur has only increased and with it comes concerns regarding the environmental impact its production has. Lenzing, and its flagship brand for textiles Tencel, is a company providing solutions to this specific area of faux fur production. It had previously worked with Ugg on a line of distinct shoes, replacing the brand’s typical sheepskin with its animal-friendly fur. Similarly, Ecopel’s Koba uses plant-based fibres and recycled polyester to produce a soft fur, which has been implemented by the likes of Stella McCartney for a fur free line.

Silk

As highlighted in the report, and according to the Higg index, silk has the highest environmental footprint across impact categories when compared to any other material. When considered alongside its impact on animal protection and human rights, the material has been a continuous area for reinvention for textile manufacturers. Italian firm Orange Fiber is one of those taking on this challenge, producing the fabric from citrus fruit by-products. Salvatore Ferragamo was one of the first to work with the innovator, launching a capsule collection using the natural production method, with H&M and E. Marinella also previously collaborating with the innovator.

Image: Spinnova x Bergans

Wool

Since its peak in 1990, wool has continued to be replaced by synthetics and cotton blends, with other replacements also now including more sustainable and ethical options too. Adidas-invested Spinnova is one of those that creates wool-like material from cellulose-based, FSC-certified fibres, refining raw ingredients to create its final material. The company has worked with a cohort of established brands, such as Bestseller, The North Face and Marimekko, on sustainable fabrics for eco-conscious collections.

Down

In contrast to polyester microfibre, next-gen down uses plants, recycled PET or other sustainable materials to create the pillowy feeling many retailers and customers are looking for in their products. While many, like H&M and Jack Wolfskin, have incorporated the production method into their product selections, Pangaia and Save the Duck are two retail brands that have also set up a business-to-business line selling their eco-friendly alternatives to other brands.

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MATERIAL INNOVATION INITIATIVE
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