Textiles made from milkWe start our quest to learn about the most sci-fi like fashion innovations with a product and company called QMilk. Founder Anke Domaske was originally searching for chemically untreated clothing for her stepfather with cancer when she stumbled upon milk proteins called casein. Similar to silk and wool, milk fabric is derived from protein fibers that are spun together into, first a yarn and then a sheet of fabric. Believe it or not, the science behind transforming milk proteins into textiles had been discovered since the 1930’s, though it had never been commercialized at any significant scale.
The manufacturing process consists of dehydrating liquid milk into a powder (think baby formula) which is then dissolved into a mixture of chemicals to separate the protein fibers from all other compounds in the milk. The extracted fibers are then processed in a special machine which spins them together into the yarn mentioned earlier. You may be thinking that using milk for fabric sounds like a wasteful act when there are so many other textile materials out there, but the truth is that each year, thousands of gallons of milk are poured down the drain due to spoilage. This is the exact same milk that goes into producing QMilk. The process is also very natural as it requires little to no energy and chemicals outside of the spoiled milk itself. Who knows, maybe LASSO t-shirts will be made from recycled 2% milk in the future? For now, we’re proud to use 100% organic cotton.
Leather made from pineapplesWe’ll continue the textile-food mashup theme with an innovative leather alternative made from pineapple leaves called Piñatex. Development began when Dr Hijosa was working as consultant in the leather goods industry in the Philippines in the 1990s. She observed the leather produced there was of poor quality, environmentally unsustainable and bad for the people involved in the industry. Dr Hijosa dreamt of a plant-based way of making leather and was inspired by the Barong Tagalog, a traditional Philippine garment made from pineapple fibers, worn untucked over an undershirt.
Nowadays, Piñatex is created by felting the long fibers from pineapple leaves together to create a non-woven substrate. 1 square meter of the material requires about 480 leaves (the waste from 16 pineapple plants) to make and the process to make it further employs pineapple farmers to separate the fibers from the leaves for additional income. The leftover biomass also serves as a great fertilizer for farming again (call that waste-ja-vu).
Denim dyed with wine
Our last innovation takes us to a region in Italy called Abruzzo, where a company called ITV Denim is dyeing denim fabric using, not indigo or artificial colorants, but red wine - yes wine. The process, called Winetex (there’s a trend here with the naming, isn’t there?), uses less water and chemicals than “traditional” artificial dying methods. A huge win for sustainability since the dyeing process is notably one of the most wasteful and polluting processes in making blue jeans. In some regions of the world, manufacturers pour chemical laden dye water straight into the rivers they sit on to avoid the cost of re-purification. Luckily, people are taking note of the irreversible damage being done to the planet and regulations are becoming stricter.
At the end of the day, it’s consumers who have the power to change the way things are done. Clothing made unsustainably and irresponsibly would cease to exist pretty quickly if people stopped buying them. But with great power comes great responsibility: take the first step and make the commitment to learn a bit more about the practices behind the companies you buy from for a better tomorrow.