Biomimicry presents the fashion industry with a multitude of options that can be used to achieve true sustainability, which has turned out to be a bit more complicated than once thought, with the acknowledgment of microplastic pollution and microfibre waste.
The problem is fabrics made of synthetic materials, spilled. Shedding occurs during daily wear as well as during regular laundry. However, waste materials are microplastics that can end up in landfills, water supplies and the air we breathe. According to an article from Princeton University, 35% of harmful microplastics in the world’s oceans come from synthetic materials.
A good first step that many textile and apparel brands are taking to address this concern is using recycled polyester (known as rPET) as the primary fabric ingredient. RPET diverts discarded plastic that often ends up in the oceans and repurposes it into textiles as one solution to the larger sustainability issue in fashion. However, continuous innovation is still needed to develop additional and longer-term solutions. Another step is to explore biodegradable innovations and reliance on all-natural fibers, such as the possibilities inherent in biomimicry solutions.
Biomimicry in fashion (and life)
Biomimicry is not a new concept, but it is increasingly in the press for those concerned about true sustainability in fashion. At its most basic level, biomimicry involves seeking tips and tricks from nature when designing products and solutions. Velcro is a good example of biomimicry, as Velcro is engineered to replicate the way certain types of drills stick to other surfaces.
Biomimicry can be just as practical when it comes to creating natural solutions to replace synthetics and other environmentally harmful products and materials. For example, consider mushroom leather, which is an alternative to animal leather. With mushroom leather, designers can bypass the need to rely on unsustainable artificial leather that would release microplastics and have a negative impact on the environment.
Biomimicry allows creators to learn and develop from processes already established in nature. Biomimicry in fashion can even be used to restore and regenerate damaged ecosystems. This makes it a concept worth pursuing from a natural management perspective. However, biomimicry is not only a good idea because it is good to do. It could also prove to be a popular and profitable strategy that forward-looking brands would embrace.
Consumers are ready to celebrate biomimicry in fashion and textiles
In recent years, consumers have become more aware of the impact of the products they buy on the environment. Many eco-conscious shoppers are taking a closer look at the components that make up everything from their groceries to their clothes. They read labels, ask questions and try to make a difference one purchase at a time.
Forward-thinking brands like Patagonia benefit from these sustainable fashion trends. Patagonia boasts such a loyal following in part because its innovative designs have consistently led the way in the fight for sustainable fashion solutions and sustainable living. Example: Patagonia stepped in to try to reduce microplastics by giving a company a grant to develop a special laundry bag that captures microfiber waste in the washing machine so it doesn’t end up in wastewater.
It should come as no surprise that younger shoppers are the consumer group leading the way in marrying fashion and sustainability. However, more experienced customers also take their place. As noted in a Forbes article, Gen X consumers are influenced by their children and Gen Z peers. Gen X’s desire to buy from sustainable brands has increased by 25% in just a few years, as has their willingness to pay more for sustainable products (42%).
This is a very good sign for established and new brands to consider biomimicry, especially brands that want to be seen to be taking real steps towards greener initiatives. As long as biomimicry processes produce long-lasting, durable and fashionable products, brands can expect consumers to be more willing to buy their goods than others.
What makes biomimicry attractive?
The bottom line is that while consumers may love fast fashion, they don’t love what it does to the environment. They want to be trendy – but not at the expense of the country. By educating the public about the benefits of biomimicry, brands can stand out and introduce consumers to some of the most appealing aspects of biomimicry in fashion.
What are the advantages? First, biomimicry provides highly functional solutions. In other words, the garment or textile is likely to hold up and meet or exceed consumer expectations. This is because the product is designed based on something that already works well in nature. Nature has long been a source of inspiration for all kinds of innovators. Biomimicry is just a more structured approach to harnessing that inspiration.
Another reason consumers may rely on biomimicry solutions is that they feel better knowing they are doing something worthwhile. Many people want to feel that they are helping to solve the climate crisis, not the problem. Biomimicry allows consumers to invest in eco-friendly clothing, bedding, window decorations and several other restorative yet modern textile products.
Finally, biomimicry tends to shorten the time needed to test new products. Because biomimicry-based products are built on natural, proven systems, they are not launched from the ground up. As the saying goes, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Biomimicry often shortens the time it takes to bring innovations to market, meaning consumers can get what they need faster. This is important and could even help circumvent some of the supply chain issues currently plaguing the fashion industry.
Mastering biomimicry as an environmentally conscious fashion brand
If your brand is interested in encouraging greater sustainability in the fashion industry, perhaps you should start exploring biomimicry in your design, R&D workflows. Below are some strategies to make biomimicry an established part of your processes:
Assume that nature may already have the answer for your clothing or textile goals.
Mycelium is an excellent example of nature providing an exceptional solution to the issues of innovation and sustainability. The mycelium comes from mushrooms and is used to make an insulating panel that can keep heat in and out and muffle sounds in the space. However, unlike artificial insulation, insulation made from mycelium is both high performance and carbon negative, including from a manufacturing perspective. Best of all, the mycelium insulation disintegrates when discarded.
Before you think you can only fulfill your fashion and design goals with synthetic material, take a look at nature. Natural solutions often outperform traditional materials from a functional point of view.
Let your team look for bio-inspired solutions to alleviate supply chain issues.
As of 2020, the global supply chain has experienced massive disruption. Instead of waiting to see if they improve, find out if biomimicry solutions can fill procurement gaps.
To help you think outside the box, read about companies like Renaissance Fiber.
Renaissance Fiber has overhauled the process of growing hemp and established a sustainable hemp fiber supply chain. The hemp supply chain is inexpensive, ecologically net positive and based on the natural rhythm of coastal waterways. Because hemp can be grown quickly and then quickly converted into a useful type of fiber, it could be a wise alternative to other similar materials that are difficult to obtain and less sustainable.
Think of ways to replicate the performance benefits of natural systems.
Innovation from a biomimicry perspective does not have to be limited to basic function. You can also rely on biomimicry to harness and scale the benefits of natural materials and processes. For example, garments and fabrics can be designed to provide physiological benefits to wearers or users through bioreactive technologies and bioceramics.
Physiological effects can include anything from recycling the body’s energy output to improving performance to helping the body regulate temperature during sleep — all through the use of natural minerals incorporated into fibers, yarns and fabrics. Nature can provide a springboard for more innovative functionality.
The fashion industry should no longer contribute to global environmental problems. On the contrary, fashion brands can become leaders in the sustainability space. They just need to give more confidence in the biomimicry solutions that nature has already established. They can then adapt natural solutions to create modern, more environmentally friendly consumer goods.
Stephen Kelly is director of global business and supplier development for Hologenix, a materials science company dedicated to developing products that enhance human potential and improve health and well-being. Celliant, its flagship technology, is a brand of infrared ingredients that enhances textile-based products with health and wellness benefits for performance, recovery and sleep.