A future for sustainable fashion? Materia at State of Fashion

From 1 June until 22 July, the first ever State of Fashion is held in Arnhem, the Netherlands. Materia went to check out the current state of fashion for you.

There are a lot of problems with the current fashion industry, from CO2 emissions to enormous amounts of waste to abominable working conditions. However, the future is not all doom and gloom, according to State of Fashion, or at least, it doesn’t have to be. Under the theme ‘Searching for the new Luxury’, the event admits not to have the answers yet, but it does show possibilities for a sustainable future of fashion.

When it comes to material usage, the exhibition, which includes individual designers, start-ups and large brands like H&M, shows us the latest trends: using new technologies, like 3D printing, (locally produced) natural materials, and recycled materials.

3D printing
One of the most striking designs of the exhibition was a 3D printed dress by designer Iris van Herpen, from the collection Ludi Naturae. The dress, inspired by artificial and natural landscapes from a bird’s eye view, is made from a material called foliage, which was developed in collaboration with Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Leaf-like patterns of about 30 by 30 cm were 3D printed. Next, pieces of tulle were put in the 3D printer and pressed directly onto the fabric, creating exceptional softness. The dress was finished by hand.

For the process, watch the video below.

Natural materials
Natural materials are generally better for the environment, but non-organic cotton for example needs a lot of water and soil to grow. In addition, there is much organic waste available that can be turned into fabric.

Examples showcased at the exhibition include leather-like material made from pineapple leaves called Piñatex, fabric spun from yarn made from waste orange peels called Orange Fiber, and yarn spun from recycled cotton by Ioncell.

The project Going Eco, Going Dutch by students from ArtEZ and partners investigated the production, design and branding of textiles made from locally produced hemp fibres, while the project Transient Nature focused on developing non-wovens made from hemp, dyed with tulip pigment.

The exhibition also showed us Algae Fabric, developed by Tjeerd Veenhoven, and a leather-like material made from fermented tea by Emma van der Leest. There are also several fabrics made from mycelium, the root system of mushrooms, on display, MycoTEX by Aniela Hoitink and Mylium by Iris Houthoff.

Not only vegetable materials offer possibilities, however. Osklen and Instituto E reuses the skin of the pirarucu, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world to make fish leather accessories. Until recently, the material was thrown away.

Recycled materials
You have no doubt heard of brands using recycled PET bottles to make clothing and accessories. The brand Ecoalf uses reclaimed fishnets and ocean plastic to make their products.

But there is more to fashion than recycling plastic (one can wonder how sustainable plastic, even recycled plastic clothes are, as they release microplastic into the environment when washed), or recycling organic waste. There is 50 million tons of e-waste produced each year, which contain precious metals and is not always properly disposed of. The company Fashion4Freedom uses recycled e-waste to make jewellery.

So what is our take-away about the current state of fashion from our visit? Granted, there are still a lot of problems with the fashion industry. Throughout the exhibition, State of Fashion provided us with some shocking facts, like that only 30 per cent of clothing is sold at full price, 35 per cent is sold in the sale, and the rest is never even sold at all! This is waste of labour and resources, especially since the leftover clothing is often burned rather than recycled.

However, there is hope on the horizon. The exhibition showcased a lot of designers who are making people aware of the problems surrounding fashion. In turn, people are starting to demand transparency in the supply chain, sustainable materials and humane working conditions. The company Ananas Anam, the manufacturer of Piñatex, started out small, but is quickly growing and starting to work with large fashion labels like Hugo Boss. And it’s the large fashion brands that can make the difference in the end. So the fact that brands like H&M and G-STAR are represented in an exhibition is a good sign.

We still need to hold brands accountable, but one thing is for certain: the new luxury will definitely be a sustainable one.

About State of Fashion
State of Fashion is a quadrennial event about sustainable fashion, held at De Melkfabriek in Arnhem, the Netherlands. You can visit the exhibition until 22 July. For more information, click here.

Photos: Sigrid Lussenburg