Could Next Gen Fibres Be the Key to Check the Sixth Mass Extinction of Our Planet?

The sixth mass extinction, the first such extinction caused by a single species – our own, may already be under way. Thankfully, to usher in a new era in fashion that doesn’t threaten our ecosystems and health, some players are coworking on ocean science, circular economy, and textile and materials innovation to evaluate innovations needed to prevent microfibre pollution.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • Species are disappearing at unprecedented rates & ecosystems being degraded due to the growing population’s demand for food, energy, the latest technology, & fashion trends.
  • At the end of the value chain, when we wear and wash our clothing, it continues to shed millions of tiny fibres that persist in the environment.
  • The rising awareness of sustainable materials & technologies are said to be driving the sustainable fabrics market size, which is expected to be $69.5 billion by 2030.
The growing population’s demand for food, energy, the latest technology, and fashion trends are driving extinction; as evidenced in oil spills, deforested land, and mountains of plastic waste. One type of pollution that is spreading far and wide is microplastics, which scientists have found in the Antarctic snow, in the blood of three out of four people, and in animals like hedgehogs and wood mice.
Extinction Ahoy!? The growing population’s demand for food, energy, the latest technology, and fashion trends are driving extinction; as evidenced in oil spills, deforested land, and mountains of plastic waste. One type of pollution that is spreading far and wide is microplastics, which scientists have found in the Antarctic snow, in the blood of three out of four people, and in animals like hedgehogs and wood mice. Andrey Metelev / Unsplash

What do squid protein, orange peels, and seaweed have in common? These materials are used to create next-generation fibres to stop both a fashion crisis – and a major crisis on our planet: the sixth mass extinction.

In case you haven’t heard, the sixth mass extinction is the first mass extinction event caused by a single species – our own. The latest research shows that it may already be under way. Species are disappearing at unprecedented rates and ecosystems are being degraded due to the growing population’s demand for food, energy, the latest technology, and fashion trends.

These demands are driving extinction; as evidenced in oil spills, deforested land, and mountains of plastic waste. One type of pollution that is spreading far and wide is microplastics, which scientists have found in the Antarctic snow, in the blood of three out of four people, and in animals like hedgehogs and wood mice.

With challenges come new solutions. At Conservation X Labs, our team applies innovation and technology to prevent the sixth mass extinction. While new tools and technologies to clean up microplastics are being developed and deployed (like this microplastic-eating robotic fish), it is even more necessary to prevent the issue by “turning off the tap.”

When Conservation X Labs first dove into the microplastics problem, our team quickly became aware of microfibres – which are shed from our clothing and textiles. Much of our clothing, especially performance wear, is made from synthetic fibres derived from petroleum. From the start of the value chain, textile manufacturing is contributing to climate change and pollution – and driving species extinction. At the end of the value chain, when we wear and wash our clothing, it continues to shed millions of tiny fibres that persist in the environment.

It became clear that to make a real impact on the microfibre pollution problem, our team needed to support upstream solutions that have the potential to scale. These solutions included both alternative raw materials and fibres to replace textiles that are sources of microfibre pollution and innovative textile manufacturing processes to decrease microfibre shedding.

This need was met with enthusiasm from brands, and NGOs, and material innovators around the globe, who noted that the time was right for change in the sustainable fashion industry.

“Customers are starting to demand more from their brands, the brands are hungry for new materials because that helps them connect to more of their customers,” said Billy McCall of Kintra Fibers, a finalist in Conservation X Labs’ Microfiber Innovation Challenge. “I think more and more people are going to start realizing how valuable that is because, frankly, the planet’s ability to survive depends on it.”

Sustainable fashion is becoming increasingly important and necessary. Brands that are the most innovative and forward-looking are pursuing changes in fibres and manufacturing to have a sustainable edge over the competition. We are beginning to usher in a new era in fashion that doesn’t threaten our ecosystems and health.

Through the Microfiber Innovation Challenge, Conservation X Labs and partners working in ocean science, entrepreneurship, the circular economy, and textile and materials innovation joined together to evaluate innovations that are needed to prevent microfibre pollution.

Microfibre pollution is not going to be solved through a singular solution. Through our Challenge we supported several start-ups with great potential to get to scale and have an impact on the problem. These are twelve of the top innovations that are disrupting the sustainable fashion space—already raising significant funding, developing partnerships with fashion brands, and are poised to have positive environmental impact:

Outside of the fashion industry, other shifts are needed in how we manage our food, water, and environment in the face of a changing climate and more demands on resources. To make lasting changes, we must stop building economies of the past and start building regenerative economies of the future using science and technology. Only then can we uphold the beauty and wonder of the world – and prevent extinction.

Microfibre pollution is not going to be solved through a singular solution.
More Needed Microfibre pollution is not going to be solved through a singular solution. Bhuwan Bansal / Unsplash

The emergence of new textiles

  • AlgiKnit is a biomaterials company that takes seaweed and transforms it into yarns for textile applications. At the end of June 2022, AlgiKnit closed their $13 million Series A funding.
  • AltMat is an alternative materials company that is repurposing agricultural waste into a natural fiber. AltMat’s Altag material was recently worn on stage at Lakme Fashion Week on Sustainability Day.
  • Kintra Fibers develops bio-based and compostable synthetic yarns derived from sugar. Kintra Fibers’ co-founders had an interview to discuss their innovation and mentioned their biggest goal for 2022 is to launch a small collection with Pangaia (a Microfiber Innovation Challenge winner!).
  • Mango Materials transforms waste methane gas into biodegradable, biopolyester fibres. “Our big dream is to change the plastics industry so it’s not a planetary threat at the end of its life,” said Molly Morse, Founder & CEO of Mango Materials, one of five winners of the Microfiber Innovation Challenge. Mango Materials was funded by the National Science Foundation, and was featured in this recent video about their plastic made from waste methane.
  • Nanoloom is making graphene-based fibres and fabrics for performance wear. “There’s a real space here for us to help brands on their sustainability journeys, where they don’t have to compromise on that mechanical performance side of things,” said Victoria Mataczynski of Nanoloom, a finalist in the Microfiber Innovation Challenge. “You have to look at commercial ways to drive that change. How things are made, what people are using, and it’s not an incremental change, it’s a brand new thing that’s a completely disruptive, revolutionise-your-industry kind of change.
  • Orange FIber creates sustainable fabrics from citrus juice by-products. Orange Fiber was featured in the Fashion For Good Museum in Amsterdam last October.
  • Spinnova turns mechanically refined wood or waste into a textile fibre without any harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process. A new Adidas hoodie made with Spinnova technology just landed in stores this July.
  • Squitex uses genetic sequencing and synthetic biology to produce a unique protein structure originally found in the tentacles of the squid. This June, the Tandem Repeat team featured Squitex at the Biofabricate Summit in New York City.
  • Treekind is a new plant-based leather alternative made from urban plant waste, agricultural waste and forestry waste that uses less than 1% of the water compared to leather production. This April, Biophilica raised £1.2m Seed round to bring Treekind to market.
  • Werewool uses biotechnology to design new fibres with specific structures that mimic aesthetic and performance properties found in nature. Werewool was recently featured in “The Future Of,” a new Netflix series documenting the future of everything.
The environmental challenges that need to be addressed in the fashion industry include developing better processes to recycle clothing and textiles, eliminating the use of toxic forever chemicals in textile production, reducing water use in textile production, and much more.
Challenge Challenges The environmental challenges that need to be addressed in the fashion industry include developing better processes to recycle clothing and textiles, eliminating the use of toxic forever chemicals in textile production, reducing water use in textile production, and much more. Rilsonav / Pixabay

The evolution of new processes

  • Natural Fiber Welding creates bonding networks holding natural fibres together, engineered to control a yarn's form and enhance fabric performance features including dry time and moisture-wicking ability. In April, NFW closed their $85 million Series B funding.
  • PANGAIA x MTIX Microfiber Mitigation is a novel application of MTIX's multiplexed laser surface enhancement (MLSE) technology to modify the surfaces of fibres within a fabric to prevent microfibre shedding. “We were so enthralled by this idea that there was a solution that could apply to many different textile treatments that we were looking to solve without chemistry. That there could be a singular solution, a singular system. It could be inside of any textile production factory and could be the last step of finishing,” said Amanda Parkes of MTIX. “We’re going to take the fashion industry by storm with this technology.” The first physical installation of the latest MLSE platform was installed in Manhente, Portugal, for MTIX Ltd this April.

The rising awareness of sustainable materials and technologies are said to be driving the sustainable fabrics market size, which is expected to be $69.5 billion by 2030. “It really impacts everybody on earth,” said Greg Stillman, General Manager of Natural Fiber Welding.

Of course, there are several environmental challenges to still be addressed. In the fashion industry, this includes developing better processes to recycle clothing and textiles, eliminating the use of toxic forever chemicals in textile production, reducing water use in textile production, and much more. Outside of the fashion industry, other shifts are needed in how we manage our food, water, and environment in the face of a changing climate and more demands on resources. To make lasting changes, we must stop building economies of the past and start building regenerative economies of the future using science and technology. Only then can we uphold the beauty and wonder of the world – and prevent extinction. Our future depends on it.

 
 
  • Dated posted: July 25, 2022
  • Last modified: July 25, 2022