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: