Biodegradable materials are the sustainable future of the fashion industry

By Alma Fabiani

Published Sep 6, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Reading time: 1 minute

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The fashion industry is slowly becoming sustainable, or at least it’s aiming to—not truly because it wants to but because, like the rest of the world, it has to. And while fast fashion may not be completely up for it just yet, new gen fashion designers, which are the ones that will actually build the future of that industry, are pushing for change. First innovation on the never-ending list? A biodegradable fabric that decomposes within a day. What exactly is this new bio-fabric and what potential does it hold for a sustainable future for the fashion industry?

The Decomposition of Materiality is a project from Central Saint Martins graduate Scarlett Yang exploring biodegradable materials. Yang researched and developed a biodegradable textile made with algae extracts and silk cocoon protein. During the project’s showcase, the designer also added 3D simulations of the fabric’s decomposition process, documenting how the wearable objects gradually dissolve while environments change.

Alongside a 3D animation film and an augmented reality experience, Yang created a material archive for people to touch in order to understand the new possibilities this biodegradable fabric could bring the fashion industry. Highlighting four digital wearable pieces, the collection was displayed in a gallery floating above a virtual ocean.

The LVMH-awarded project offers fully biodegradable, glass-like garments that organically evolve as they’re worn, eventually decomposing. The garments can gradually biodegrade in rain, river, and seawater, while soaking them in 60-degrees Celsius water can speed up the degradation process to as little as 24 hours.

Yang’s approach to bio-fashion should not only be seen as a sustainable alternative that could potentially allow us to indulge in our consumerism but more as a first push towards consumers understanding the concept of a material’s life cycle. Yang’s resulting texture and lifespan of each piece is subject to temperature and humidity levels—seasonal changes from hot and humid to dry and cold can also make the garments appear more sculptural. The ephemeral nature of her fabrics echoes our fast-paced consumption of fast fashion.

Many of today’s garments are woven from plastic-based acrylic, nylon or polyester threads. Cut and sewn in factories, all these materials are non-biodegradable. To combat the ill effects of fast fashion, young designers are looking for more sustainable methods. One thing is for sure, the materials of tomorrow will be smarter and less ecologically damaging. What remains unsure is whether we are ready to change the impact of what we wear.

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