The 10th Anniversary of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit presented a host of new innovations proposing potential solutions to some of fashion’s most difficult problems. The newly expanded Innovation Forum and Future Lab added a tangible element to the summit, which presents two days of thought-leadership and panel discussion from brands, manufacturers, NGOs, and other fashion industry stakeholders. A key focus area for the Future lab, unsurprisingly, was materials science. Aiming to address the resource strain placed on the planet by virgin fiber production (both synthetic and natural) and toxicity of some chemicals used in textile production, the solutions spanned the use of waste, byproducts and ‘bio-intelligence’.
In the ‘bio-intelligent’ realm, Dimpora – recent winners of the H&M Global Change Award -have created a ‘functional membrane’ that can be adhered to the surface of other textiles to provide breathable waterproofing – think eco-friendly Gore-Tex. The best aspect? The membrane has been created using a newly developed chemical solution that removes harmful polyfluorinated chemicals typically used in such membranes (which are harmful to humans and the environment and are not easily removed from nature). Dr. Anna Beltzung, a chemical and bioengineering graduate of ETH Zurich and CTO of Dimpora explained that she and Dr. Mario Stucki (CEO) had created a membrane structure that allowing the laminated membrane to be permeable to air but not water, making it breathable and waterproof without the use of toxic fluorines. They summarise this as a “pore-forming strategy”. They have created a membrane that is fully biodegradable, but their main product right now is polyurethane-based, so not biodegradable but 100% fluorine-free.
As with any materials science advances, this is not a circular solution – yet. The adhesive ‘glue’ between the membrane and the base fabric is not biodegradable. The duo is looking for creators of non-synthetic adhesives to collaborate with on the next phase of development towards a full biodegradability solution.
Also in the Future Lab was Nature Coatings whose motto is ‘wood waste is the new black’. The company was founded in 2017 by Jane Palmer, who has worked with pigments and dyes in the apparel industry for over 15 years. Their solution transforms wood waste into black pigments for inkjet and analog printing, coatings, dope dye, paint, and the apparel industry. The pigment can be used with existing printing equipment and infrastructure, meaning the barrier to adoption is low.
The company’s renewable and bio-based pigment is available on the mass market, at a comparable cost to traditional pigments (which are made by burning petroleum, releasing 1.38 kilograms of CO2 air pollution for every kilogram of pigment produced). Nature Coatings create their pigment in a closed-loop system that has the potential to save millions of tons of CO2each year from entering the environment.
Palmer was also the “Pitch Stage Winner” after presenting Nature Coatings to a judging panel for the best innovative solution at the summit. During the pitch, she stated that around 40% of clothing created globally is black, meaning the Nature Coatings pigment could immediately and dramatically reduce the garment industry’s carbon footprint if adopted in favour of traditional pigments. Nature Coatings are alumni of the Fashion For Good accelerator (as are Dimpora) and are now part of their scale-up program.
Piñatex, the textile made from pineapple leaves is not new, but it has recently leapt from use by premium brands to mainstream accessible fashion via H&M’s latest Conscious Collection. The textile features in clothing and accessories and is visibly similar to traditional leather, with a silver metallic finish. This move to high street fashion is significant because it demonstrates that it is possible for a relatively niche byproduct textile to be scaled – they are flying the flag for new materials startups looking to break into the mass market. Ceri Rees, Sales and Marketing Manager, explained that the next frontier for the company that created Piñatex, Ananas Anam, is the refinement of the textile. Currently, it is a composite of 80% cellulose from pineapple leaves and 20% PLA fibers, the commonly used bioplastic derived from plant starch (it is worth noting that PLA degrades very slowly in ambient temperatures, with no significant advantage versus conventional plastics). The team believe they have identified a potential partner at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit for replacing this 20% with an alternative fiber that has more efficient biodegradability. They are also working with an industry partner to switch the textile coating that gives it the metallic or matte finishing that mimics leather, to a superior bio solution.
With the highest emissions contribution of the fashion industry attributed to materials creation (around 70%), these are welcome developments as the urgency around reducing environmental impact spikes, with global demand for clothing set to continue its exponential rise.
These innovations offer real, practical solutions, in contrast to the hypothetical discussions taking place on stage throughout the summit, providing some much needed dynamism for the road ahead.