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.
In 2015, designer and creative director Matthew Williams decided to channel his vision towards the creation of his own fashion brand 1017 Alyx 9SM. Following an already praised career during which he worked as a creative director with celebrities like Kanye West and other top fashion designers, since the founding of Alyx, Williams has added outstanding collaborations with brands like Moncler, Nike, and Dior Men to his impressive catalogue. Constantly pushing the boundaries of design, technology, and sustainability, Williams announced recently that Alyx was going to be the first brand to introduce blockchain technology to unveil the garment production in a way that is 100 percent accurate.
Sustainability has been part of the brand’s agenda from its start. Alyx uses recycled materials, as well as a leather dyeing process that consumes CO2, and has always been transparent about who—and under what working conditions—the collections have been produced by. Working closely with the worldwide leader in adhesive technologies Avery Dennison and the Internet of Things (IoT) software company Evrythng, Alyx has now implemented supply chain transparency into the brand by launching a blockchain-powered pilot programme on nine of its garments. Taking the brand’s history into consideration, it feels like a natural yet visionary step forward to add blockchain ledgers to its supply chain, making it visible and understandable to clients.
The nine products’ tags now feature a scannable QR code that reveals the entire supply chain history of the garment. According to Vogue Business, the data—which can be accessed by phone—include information about where the materials were sourced, where the product was manufactured, and its shipping movements. With 80 percent of its garments produced in Italy, the process of uploading and tracking the data of the garments is easily doable for Williams. In this transparency procedure, each supplier is in charge of entering the data into the chain.
Not only is this change innovative, but it could also prove the implementation of this feature to be a crucial addition to the brand’s history, and, if it works, to other fashion brands. “That’s what we want to continue to communicate, and that’s what brings value to our pieces,” Williams said. “It becomes a really great storytelling element”. Alyx belongs to that category of brands which promote durability rather than fast-fashion consumerism. In this regard, Williams and Dominique Guinard, founder and chief technology officer at Evrythng, believe that by knowing the digital identity of one garment, or its ‘journey’, customers might get more attached to the product. In an industry where overproduction and exploitation are toxic constants, sustainability and transparency are increasingly demanded by consumers. Alyx’s experimentation with blockchain technology stands as one of the finest examples of fashion innovation. By exposing its own brand’s data, Williams seeks to inspire a new approach in fashion, calling for other designers to follow suit.
The sustainable production process behind Alyx’s collections, which is now traceable thanks to the new technology, makes sure that its aesthetic is coherent with the message. The use of innovative technologies and the emphasis on transparency never overshadow the technical and aesthetic research that makes the brand’s design so on point. Some say that Alyx anticipates design trends, I’d argue that Alyx is doing way more than that. It is paving a path for a new way of thinking about fashion, technology, and most importantly, an industry future that is sustainable.