Rotterdam - This year’s MaterialDistrict event held in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, showcased the latest innovative materials both in the fashion industry and further afield. Fur coats made from hemp, bags made of bananas and shoe soles made of chewing gum were just a few of the exhibits displayed in the Textiles & Fabrics section of the event which ran between 12-14 March - a section that, while showcasing the aesthetic qualities of innovative new materials, also served a more important role: to offer a glimpse at a more circular approach to the fashion industry.
“In the future we need to aim to consume less fashion in general and opt for looks with longevity,” said founder and director of Amsteerdam’s Stijlinstituut, Anne Marie Commandeur, during her presentation at the event. “There’s a lot of waste garment being produced, so what's the next step? This exhibition looks at ways of approaching that problem through innovative new materials.”
So how is that problem being tackled? In a number of ways, according to Commandeur. Recycling and reusing garments, and using otherwise ignored or newly created ones is becoming an increasingly popular means for companies to tackle the issue of excessive waste. According to the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), the country is throwing away over 300,000 tonnes of textile waste each year, while a measly one percent of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing. But recycling isn’t the be-all and end-all, according to Commandeur. “Recycling is a growing topic in the industry, but we are very much aware that the overall goal is not to recycle more - the overall goal is to produce less.” This challenge, Commandeur says, can be approached through mono-materiality and the implementation of closed-loop systems in the fashion industry.
In the Material District section of the three-day trade fair, companies were showcasing innovative approaches to the current issue of mass production and excessive waste in the fashion industry both through the use of new materials, and the reimagined applications of old ones. Here’s a selection of FashionUnited’s top picks from the event.
After graduating from the Design Academy Eindhoven, designers Audrey Werthle and Eloïse Maës founded atelier La Gadoue in Brussels, where they created their Tchouc bag collections made from Tchouc textile - a vegetable based composite material and an alternative to leather. The material is the outcome of the pair’s research into natural rubber coating on linen canvas. The result is a material that is waterproof and robust with versatile implementations.
In her Interwoven project, ethical fashion designer Diana Scherer collaborated with biologists and ecologists from the Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, to create fabric made from the root system of grass. Scherer uses subterranean templates as moulds for her piece, through which the root systems of plants are channelled, weaving and braiding themselves, and forming a textile-like material. While the garments are not yet ready for practical use, the end goal for the project is to be able to grow complete items of clothing underground.
If the name hasn’t already given it away, Bananatex is an innovative material made of banana plants. Swiss brand Qwstion creates the material by cultivating plants of the banana tree family known locally as "Banana Hemp” or “Abacá” in the Philippines within a natural ecosystem of sustainable forestry, before processing them into a material offering a viable alternative to synthetic fabric. The fabric is made from 100 percent natural banana fibres and is topped with a natural beeswax coating for a water-resistant finish.
Tech-wear label Senscommon collaborated with Japanese textile company Uchino to develop On-journey, a garment created from an innovative textile made from activated ubame oak charcoal powder that has been kneaded into cotton/rayon fibers before weaving. Led by Latvian designer Laura Šilinska, the garment’s fabric is self-purifying and can eliminate odour, moisture, bacteria and environmental chemicals.
As more and more fashion brands veer away from the use of animal fur in their collections, faux fur continues to gain popularity. But the fake fur alternative is often made from synthetic polymeric fibers like acrylic, modacrylic and polyester, which are all harmful to the environment. Ukranian textile producer Devohome has come up with an alternative, creating a winter coat lined with hemp fur. The vegan, hypoallergenic and biodegradable fur is made from 50 percent hemp and 50 percent viscose - an alternative to faux-fur but with no synthetic composition in it.
As well as showcasing innovative new materials, the exhibit also showed ways traditional materials can be used in a more circular way. In her project Weave (K) not Waste, Sarah Brunnhuber set out to create a minimal waste garment production technique by weaving pattern shapes directly to eliminate cutting waste and by knotting each piece together to avoid sewing waste. Her classic striped shirt emphasises the knotted fringes zigzagging their way around the seams and hangs next to the original uncut fabric.
Recycled textiles specialists Loop.a life and It Erfskip have partnered to create Fryske Trui, a collection of sweaters made from a combination of old woolen sweaters and locally grown flax in Frisia. The collection aims to shine a spotlight on the possibility of a more circular fashion industry, by simultaneously demonstrating to the Frisian community the value of their own textile waste while revitalising local flax production.
For this piece, Dutch fashion house Viktor & Rolf has used leftover fabrics from its past Autumn Winter 2016 collection to create new haute-couture garments, reflecting a growing focus on conscious design in the fashion industry. Last year, Viktor & Rolf launched their debut conscious collection for German etailer Zalando which saw the design duo create a collection made from recycled Zalando overstock.
Made with at least 50 percent recycled natural leather fiber, Nike Flyleather tackles the leather industry’s problem of excess scraps. Released in 2017, the material is created by combining the scraps with synthetic fibers and can then be dyed and put on a roll to be cut like pleather.
Explicit Wear and sustainability company Gumdrop collaborated to design a shoe, aptly called Gumshoe, with soles made from recycled chewing gum. The soles are made of recyclable compounds known as Gum-Tec produced by Gumdrop, and made up of 20 percent gum.
Photo credit: FashionUnited