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How technology is shaping the future of sustainable fashion

Some of the most exciting developments in fashion aren't happening on the runway — they're happening in the lab.

Bacteria-produced dyes

Chieza is the biodesigner behind Faber Futures and a designer-in-residence at Ginkgo Bioworks, where she is working on a method that uses bacteria-secreted pigments to dye fabric. The technique dramatically reduces water usage, requiring less than seven ounces of water to dye a one-pound piece of silk, and the pigment itself is naturally and non-toxically created by the bacteria. While there are still obstacles to overcome before the results Chieza is able to achieve in a petri dish will be replicable on a larger scale, the sustainable fashion opportunity is so great that she's confident there will be bacteria-dyed clothing on the market before long.

"Interventions that tackle both water use and chemical use in the textile industry are incredibly rare, so this is an area of development many are watching very closely," she notes.

Lab-grown leather

Modern Meadow is a company that's "growing" leather in a lab using yeast fermentation to produce collagen.

"The company was founded because our CEO and co-founder was concerned with the environmental impact of all the livestock that we were raising on the planet," Modern Meadow head of communications Natalia Krasnodebska tells Fashionista over the phone. "Just looking at the numbers, our population growth can't support the herds that we would need to match our current levels of consumption of meat and leather."

Creating leather the Modern Meadow way eliminates the need for raising (and killing) animals, reduces waste by creating "hides" devoid of imperfections or uneven edges that need to be discarded, and cuts back on the negative impact of tanning by reducing the chemicals involved. The first products featuring Modern Meadow leather will launch with brand partners in the luxury and activewear spaces next year.

Kelp-based textiles

Kelp grows faster than almost any organism on earth, including bamboo. So why aren't we harvesting it rather than harder-to-replace resources like trees, which are cut down en masse to create fabrics like rayon and viscose? If AlgiKnit has its way, we may soon make the switch.

The NYC-based biomaterials research group, made up of former FIT and Pratt students who came together to compete for and win the first BioDesign Challenge award in 2016, has developed a yarn made of biopolymers extracted from kelp. Like wool or cotton, the material is durable enough for long-term wear but still ultimately biodegradable. The team hopes their kelp-based yarn might be able to take the place of petroleum-based synthetics someday.

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Source: Faber Futures (2017). Fabric dyed using bacteria .

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