We’ve come a loooooong way from the ole fig leaf. Discover our 7 favourite sustainable textile innovations that will inspire even more positive change in the fashion industry.

Hemp, milk, bamboo, lotus or even stinging nettle – there is a lot of room for innovation in the textile world.

In the wake of the “green” fashion week Berlin, we’ve decided to stir things up a bit and show you seven fascinating takes on sourcing fabric alternatively. Some will sound familiar – we’ve covered the pineapple-based vegan leather alternative earlier – and some will be new. Some of these are more sustainable than others due to production or finishing methods, but they are all a good leap towards a more eco-friendly and often more animal-friendly wardrobe. Sure there is something for everybody!

Functional: Coffee Grounds

Coffee beans – the source for the raw material "coffee grounds"

Athletes, this one’s for you. The innovative functional fabric called S.Café® (created and patented by the Taiwanese company SINGTEX) is made from coffee grounds and beats synthetic fibres in terms of performance (drying, cool touch), UV protection, and odour control. The fibre is also completely reusable – and made in an eco-friendly factory.

SINGTEX have been working with the technology to create different kinds of fabric with different feel and for different uses, and companies working with the coffee ground fibre include Fjällraven, Moving Comfort, Asics or Hugo Boss.

SINGTEX holds a number of sustainable certifications, such as Blue Sign, Cradle-to-Cradle and Oekotex.

If the use of coffee grounds as a raw material sounds familiar, you may remember the Berlin-based company Kaffeeform using coffee grounds to create an alternative to plastic.

Tox-Free Tanned Leather: Rhubarb & Olive

Question: what’s more sustainable, leather or vegan leather?
Answer: there are truths on both sides, which makes the matter incredibly sensitive.

The problems with leather are obvious; from the ethical problem of killing a living being to wear its skin to the often horrible, cruel ways of obtaining said leather (farm conditions, skinning animals alive), and further down the line – the environmental and health impact of tanning (heavy metal and exposure to poisons and toxins like formaldehyde and cyanide – which affects not only the workers, but also the end consumer). So what’s not to love about the vegan “leather”, then?

To mimic the texture and the quality of real leather, you can use perfectly fine sustainable, renewable materials such as cork, waxed organic cotton, or paper. Unfortunately most faux leathers – many of those uber fancy vegan wallets, bags, belts and boots – are made using toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane. PVC is also often used to “seal” textiles for a leather-like finish. Now, PVC is a known source of toxins and endocrine disruptors (phthalates), and can’t be favoured by anyone who self-identifies as eco-friendly. Polyurethane or PU is not quite as bad but comes with a slew of environmental problems on its own.

Deepmello bi-colour tote bag
Bi-colour rhubarb leather® tote by Deepmello.

So in order to drive positive change, eco-conscious companies can go two ways: they can create alternatives for the toxin-laden tanning of real leather – or come up with sustainable, bio-degradable, renewable leather-like fabrics. There is growing demand for both solutions.

Two interesting Earth-friendly tanning methods for real leather come from Germany: rhubarb-based chromium-free tanning agent by Deepmello (certified with IVN and used by brands such as hessnatur, Lanius, or Und Gretel) and wet-green® by Olivenleder® (certified with Cradle-to-cradle) that deploys olive leaves, basically using the waste from olive harvest to create a completely non-toxic tanning agent.

Leather made using both methods is supple and sturdy and can be used for fashion as well as for interior design.

Vegan Leather Alternatives: Banana, Pineapple, Apple

🍌 While the banana fibre is technically not new at all – the idea dates back to 13th century Japan – its today’s appearance, or comeback if you wish, is new. Banana fibre is a versatile raw material that can be made into fine paper or breathable, sturdy fabric.

🍍 Certified with Peta and Cradle-to-Cradle, Piñatex is a new creation, a crinkled fabric quite similar in texture to leather. Made from a by-product from the pineapple harvest in the Philippines, this multiple award-winning fibre is 80% pineapple leaf and 20% polymer from renewable sources. It can be recycled and is biodegradable in industrial composting plants.
When it comes to the popular glossy gold and silver finishes however, petroleum comes into play – albeit no hazardous and bio-accumulative toxins such as arsenic, chromium, mercury, and no PVC.
Read more about Pinatex and the brands working with the fibre.

🍎 Happy Genie from Switzerland is a new project that initially launched on Kickstarter. We’ll be watching this new brand closely, because its core (pun intended) ideas are just beautiful: creating a leather alternative from apple waste and making it into a clever, modern bag design that’s easily customisable via additional straps and front clutches that can change a bag’s look completely within seconds.

Zest for Fashion: Orange Fibre

Soft, lightweight and silk-like twill and jersey fabrics made from cellulose are maybe not entirely new, but sourcing cellulose from simple citrus juicing waste is new. More than 700.000 tons of citrus waste are produced in Italy each year, and using this as a resource is a brilliant take on bringing together two Italian trademarks: fashion and food.
Italian luxury brand Salvatore Ferragamo have already deployed the fine silk alternatives made by Orange Fiber Brand to create scarves, stolas and clothes.

Orange Fiber Brand
Image: Orange Fiber Brand. Yarn obtained from citrus waste cellulose.

What else?

All the fantastic innovation aside, you can have a super sustainable wardrobe right now by simply choosing clothes made from sustainalbe fibres such as hemp and flax: these are naturally antibacterial, durable and grown in a sustainable and resource-efficient way. Hemp and linen have a beautiful texture and are comfortable to wear throughout the year. However, hemp will often come from China, where the cultivation was never prohibited, while linen is often cultivated basically next door all over the world, wherever you are (for Europe, check out linen from Hessia/ Germany or Belarus).
For an eco-friendly, chic and affordable leather alternative, choose cork for accessories (Mirka) or outerwear (Bleed Clothing).

What matters most of all is your choice and the knowledge you’re willing to share.