Vegan Silk Stronger Than Kevlar! Polyester Made From Methane!

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80% of clothing in America winds up in landfill. Photo courtesy of Prof. Mohammad J. Taherzadeh

Last week, while the world’s eyes were on Tesla’s big announcements, the Cradle to Cradle Institute’s Fashion Positive held a workshop on circular fashion. The workshop featured innovations with EVEN MORE potential to curb global warming! We heard from Lewis Perkins, President of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, then Annie Gullingsrud, Director of the Textile and Apparel Sector. She’s also written the book on the subject — Fashion Fibers: Designing for Sustainability.

The industry’s biggest players are heavily involved in the move toward circular fashion. H&M and C&A seem to be doing the most, as they’ve got the volume to make it worthwhile. Both are putting their money into foundations designed to help the entire industry access these materials. H&M Foundation is helping fund recycling blended fibers, while C&A Foundation is working toward improving the environmental and social impacts of cotton production.

Anne Schauer-Gimenez, Ph.D., of Mango Materials. Photo by Steph Corda

We were treated to a round of pitches from three great startups in the circular material space. Mango Materials, which turns methane into biodegradable plastics (including polyester), went first. Then we heard from Ambercycle, which recycles polyester from mixed fibers, and has developed a robot that can actually discern polyester from other fibers to facilitate sorting. Finally, Bolt Threads showed us their vegan silk, which they can customize by manipulating the amino acid chains.

After the presentations, we were put into three groups. Each group worked with one of the presenters on a visualization project. We were asked to imagine it’s 2030 and the company is wildly successful. Then we were told to discuss how the company had achieved this. It was a very uplifting exercise, and one worth doing for any desired outcome.

Bolt Threads showed us samples of their silks knitted into fabrics. While it’s still a lot rougher than the silk most designers use, it’s also much stronger. In fact, being stronger than Kevlar, Bolt is the perfect material to blend with cotton for abrasion-resistant denim that biodegrades, unlike petroleum-based fibers like Cordura and Kevlar. Although it’s still too pricey for primetime, vegan designer Stella McCartney used it for some pieces in her recent runway collection.

The Brown top and pants are Bolt vegan silk. Photo Courtesy of Bolt Threads

The most exciting pitch was Mango Materials, because it turns a cheap commodity/deadly waste product into a more valuable commodity. And it has massive potential to reduce GHG, since methane is so horrendous. Even NASA awarded Mango Materials a contract because methane flaring in a space station can be kinda risky, and, well, the “air” on Mars sucks bad enough without letting our poop make it worse. And it’s not like there’s oil to drill up and make into plastic on other planets…

Mango currently has a PHA factory co-located with a water treatment plant. So they’ve got a steady flow of methane from any water treatment plant, landfill, or any other source where methane is captured. Now that China is no longer accepting the world’s plastic recyclables, it’s high time we switched to plastics that will easily break down in landfill, or even in the ocean. Which has clearly had more than enough of the world’s PET waste.

Plastic is Forever…

My dream as a motorcycle-riding sustainable fashionista would be for Schoeller and Bolt Threads to meet and make beautiful abrasion-resistant stretch fabrics together. With Schoeller’s commitment to sustainability, it’s high time they started making a fully biodegradable action fabric.

These two slides from the Fashion Positive presentation sum it up perfectly. Here’s the high-level explanation of circular design:

And here’s a much more detailed explanation of how the Circular Economy works:

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