Eco Fabric: 14 Strange and Amazing Textile Innovations

Relying on polluting textile materials like cotton and polyester may become a thing of the past as a new range of eco-fabrics emerge, often made from materials that would otherwise go to waste. Some of these environmentally friendly fabrics are already in use, like those made of coconut husks, recycled plastic bottles, wood pulp and corn, while others are strange and futuristic, sourced from hagfish slime, fermented wine, spoiled milk and genetically engineered bacteria.

Fabric from Fermented Wine

(images via: ecouterre)

A group of scientists at the University of Western Australia has produced fabric by letting microbes go to work on wine. The scientists culture baceria called Acetobacter in vats of cheap red wine, and the bacteria ferments the alcohol into fibers that float just above the surface. These fibers can be extracted and fashioned into clothing. The only catch? Acetobacter produce vinegar as its end product, so the garments have a definite odor.

Naoron, Durable Fabric Made of Wood Pulp

(images via: ecouterre)

This leather alternative is not only animal-friendly, it also eschews the chemicals required to create conventional faux leather. Naoran is a water-resistant textile derived from wood pulp and recycled polyester. It’s soft, flexible, and tear- and water-resistant.

Hagfish Slime Thread

(images via: eco textile news)

The slimy substance in the photo above is defensive goo attached to a hagfish, an eel-shaped bottom-dwelling animal of the deep seas that is the only known creature to have a skull, but no vertebral column. Scientists have discovered that proteins within this slime have mechanical properties rivaling those of spider silk, and can be woven into high-performance bio-materials.

Electroluminescent Garments

(images via: the creators project)

For this unusual fabric in a collection by fashion designer Vega Wang, silk was printed with images of constellations and other space-related themes, and then the fabric was lined with electroluminescent paper. Programmed controllers enable the paper to shine through the silk for a dreamy, ethereal effect.

Spider Silk Made from Metabolically Engineered Bacteria

(image via: carmenn)

Known for its tremendous strength – three times stronger than both steel and Kevlar, yet thinner than a human hair – spider silk is a highly valuable material for textiles. But farming and harvesting spider silk is a definite challenge. Instead, geneticists have found a way to chemically synthesize the silk gene and insert it into E. coli bacteria.

Ingeo, Fabric Made from Corn

(images via: nature works)

Synthetic fibers are most often petroleum-based, but recycled fibers and those sourced from natural substances are on the rise. Ingeo, a fabric by Natureworks derived from fermented corn starches, can be spun into fibers for apparel and home textiles, and also used for bio-plastics.

Silk-Like Fiber Derived from Spoiled Milk

(images via: milkotex)

Few of us would willingly walk around wearing spoiled milk, but it might just become all the rage in the near future. A company called Qmilch makes fabric from protein found in soured ‘secondary milk’ that’s no longer suitable for human consumption, and would normally be thrown away. This zero-waste fabric requires no harmful chemicals to make, and uses less water in the production process than other milk-based fabrics.

Newlife Polyester Yarn Made of Recycled Plastic Bottles

(images via: new life by miroglio)

Newlife is a polyester yarn made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles, which is processed by mechanical rather than chemical means. Made in Italy, the fabric is used in fashion, sportswear, underwear, medical garments and other clothes and furnishings. Georgio Armani used it to create a fashionable, eco-friendly gown for LIvia Firth at the 2012 Golden Globe Awards.

Used Coffee Pods

(images via: ecouterre)

Inspired by the resourcefulness of locals in Kerala, India, who repurpose waste in surprising ways, designer Rachel Rodwell discovered a material that wasn’t living up to its potential: used coffee pods. Rodwell gathers pods from friends and family and smashes them with a meat tenderizer, reconfiguring them into geometric-inspired designs in colors that reflect India’s cultural aesthetics.

Recycled Newspaper Yarn

(images via: ecouterre)

Artist Ivano Vitali tears recycled newsprint into strips and twists it into balls of yarn without the use of glue, dyes or silicone, crocheting them into textile art with custom-made wooden knitting needles and hooks as long as 8 feet. Recently, Vitali has expanded into wearable art, achieving certain colors for dresses, jackets and even bikinis by painstakingly sorting his printed materials by color.

Self-Repairing Textile

(images via: ecouterre)

Once a protective garment like a raincoat or lab wear is ripped or torn, it’s useless. But the total loss of these garments may become a thing of the past with the creation of ‘intelligent’ fabric that can heal itself. Researchers at SINTEF added microcapsules containing a glue-like substance to the plastic polyurethane that is applied to modern rainwear, so that if the garment snags, the capsules release a sealant that fills in the gaps and hardens with contact to air and water.

Cocona, Made of Coconut Husks

(images via: nau)

It was only a matter of time before tough, fibrous coconut husks were made into durable fabric. Cocona is one trademarked example, made of coconut-husk waste disposed of by the food service industry. The fabric is lightweight and breathable, making it ideal for sportswear. It’s used in Nau’s insular jacket.

Lab-Grown Biological Textiles

(images via: biological atelier)

How will biotechnology change the fashion industry? Designer Amy Congdon believes that in the future, we’ll be able to grow textiles like ethical fur in laboratories. Her series ‘Biological Atelier’ imagines a workshop, circa 2082, where high-fashion garments are grown from cells.

Recycled Cassette Tapes

(images via: ecouterre)

All of the strands of cassette tape still floating around in the world could not only be reused for fabrics, but spun into ‘audio textiles’ that play back under a tape head. Artist Alyce Santoro weaves this unlikely material on antique looms in a family-run textile mill in England to produce ‘Sonic Fabric’, including purses made from sound collages based on life in New York City.

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