5 innovative materials that won the Global Change Awards

Fast fashion is a major problem for our planet. In a survey, it turned out that three quarters of British people throw out old clothes, instead of recycling them or giving them to charity. The numbers will not differ much in other parts of the world, no doubt. In addition, producing the textiles costs a lot of water and energy. It might be surprising to hear that one of the chief suppliers of fast fashion, H&M, has created an annual award for sustainability, the Global Change Awards. Last week, the awards were handed out to 5 inventors of innovative and, more importantly, sustainable materials.

As H&M is the initiator of the award, it is good to meet the prizes with a healthy dose of cynicism. After all, it is a thinly veiled excuse to keep doing what they are doing, namely, produce fast fashion, in a sustainable way, but producing fast fashion nonetheless. However, it should also be said that having sustainable fast fashion always should have the preference over non-sustainable fast fashion. H&M also seems to be headed in the right direction, having committed to use 100 per cent recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030 and switching to renewable energy only by 2040, according to their sustainability report. (And yes, to the sceptics amongst us, we still have to see if they actually live up to those promises.)

However, the Global Change Awards do fund innovative ideas for sustainable materials, which Materia is excited about. Below, you find the five winners, of which we hope see a lot more in the future.

Grape Leather
There are various types of vegetarian leather available, which are not made from animals, but rather vegatatal sources. Examples at Materia include Fruitleather, made from unsellable fruits and vegetables, Piñatex, made from pineapple leaves, and Muskin, made from fungus spores. Thanks to the Global Change Awards, a new player has entered the field with Grape Leather, made from grape skins and stalks.

The inventors of the material point out that producing animal as well as synthetic leather costs a lot of water, chemicals, and energy, polluting the air, water and ground. Synthetic leather uses oil as raw material.

To create a green and animal free alternative to leather, the teams uses the skins of grapes and stalks, a waste product from the wine industry, which is usually burned.

This material is the overall winner of the Global Change Awards.

Content thread
One of the biggest barriers to textile recycling is that we often don’t know what the clothes are made of. While clothes are often have a label with the washing instructions and what a garment is made of, these can itch or irritate, so people are inclined to cut them out. And even if the label remains where it is, the words on it can fade, so they are still of no use at the recycling plant.

One of the winners of the Global Change Awards was a team that designed a thread that functions as a digital tag. This tag is in the form of an RFID thread, and looks and feels like a normal thread. This tag lasts over the garment’s lifetime, driving economic improvements that reduce waste throughout the entire supply chain, and powering the recycling process at end of life. When the garment is recycled, the fibres can be sorted according to material, which ensures recycled clothes of high quality.

A prototype of the threads has been produced and is successfully being introduced by manufacturers.

Solar textile
Many types of fabric, such as nylon, are made from oil in processes that pollute the air, are energy intensive and emit greenhouse gases.

The aim of the Solar Textile project is to make nylon only using water, plant waste and solar energy. Ideally, the textile would also binds greenhouse gases into fashion fabrics, instead of releasing them into the air, contributing towards a zero-emissions world. If successful, the material would be identical to the existing nylon, but created from renewable resources and in a sustainable way.

Unfortunately, this is a only conceptual idea for now. The next step will focus on developing a proof-of-concept prototype that could later be expanded for large scale production.

Since this material has not been made yet, we will have to see if it is possible to actually produce it. There would also have to be a solution to the CO2 captured by the garment so that it will not come into the water when washed.

Manure couture
Manure is seen by many as one of the most disgusting forms of waste, and due to intensive farming it causes an urgent environmental crisis. Yet, with this innovation manure is transformed into valuable new material.

Since cow manure contains cellulose, there is an opportunity to extract raw material from manure which can create a biodegradable textile. Through this process, methane gas production is reduced and contamination of soil and waters are prevented. This opens up for a new take on textile production.

We have written about this material before (here), as the team can also make bioplastic and paper from cow dung.

Denim-dyed denim
Jeans are one of the most iconic styles in fashion. Therefore, it’s no surprise that denim is one of the most widely used textiles in the fashion industry. Unfortunately, the traditional process of dyeing denim requires large amounts of water and energy, and produces substantial amounts of dye waste, which can contaminate waterways.

However, through this method, old jeans can be broken down and used to colour new undyed jeans. By using old denim and breaking it down into fine particles, a colouring powder can be produced to colour new denim or make prints on other textiles. This way the denim is recycled instead of going to landfills, and it also significantly reduces the amount of water and energy being used. The result is a cost saving eco-friendly production process.

There is already a prototype of this process. Scaling up and finding denim producers and fashion brands that will adopt this idea on a large scale is the next step.

Images: Global Change Awards