Before material innovation can save fashion, sustainability must save material innovation. And not just any broadly sweeping definition of sustainability: In today’s climate-sensitive milieu, cutting-edge and breakthrough materials made from agricultural waste, biodegradable plastic or mushroom roots must not only tread less heavily on the environment at the outset, but also avoid becoming landfill or incinerator fodder.
In short, they must be designed for the circular economy, where resources are constantly regenerated and nothing is wasted.
Still, material innovation in isolation won’t solve fashion’s systemic issues, said Annie Gullingsrud, chief strategy officer at Eon, a New York startup creating an industry-standard digital identity for authenticating products at every stage of the fashion supply chain. “Circularity should be a systemic shift in the way we do things,” she said. “If we’re isolating these pieces of the chain, we’re not going to the heart of the problems.”
Indeed, fashion’s problems are manifold. By some estimates, the industry produces up to 10 percent of global carbon emissions, consumes 79 trillion liters of water and generates 92 million metric tons of waste every year. Novel materials are designed to attack these pain points by using less water than their existing counterparts, curbing greenhouse gases or diverting cutting-floor castoffs, while providing the same or superior performance.