Three hyper-sustainable materials coming soon to a wardrobe near you

Synthetic spider silk, algae yarn, and leather made from living cells sound like materials Cinderella’s fairy godmother would cook up for Project Runway, but they might be the key to a zero-waste textile industry.

Long admired by textile creators for strength and performance, spider silk has never been producible on a mass scale. By studying the DNA of spiders, Bolt Threads replicated these properties using a plant-based substance. The fiber, which can be knitted or woven, is produced without the negative impact of silk or petroleum-based synthetics. In early 2017, Bolt Threads released its first collection of knit ties, including one currently on view in Force of Nature, an exhibition of plant- and animal-inspired fashions at The Museum at FIT (MFIT).

Using alginate (algae) and chitosan (fungi), a team of FIT students created a filament with incredible strength and flexibility when used for a knit fabric or 3D-printed mesh. Not only is the material biodegradable, it can feed the microorganisms that grow it. Last spring, the team won the national Biodesign Challenge for developing this material. Now graduated, they have formed the biomaterials research group AlgiKnit. Their materials are also featured in Force of Nature at MFIT.

Modern Meadow, a regular participant in FIT’s Summer Institute in Sustainability and Textiles, is another biotech company replacing traditional textiles with renewable resources. Currently they are developing an animal-free leather grown from collagen that is produced by living cells. Traditional leather production is incredibly polluting, from the resource demands and carbon output of livestock to the chemicals used in the tanning process. Animal leather is also constrained by the size of the hide, resulting in large amounts of waste on the cutting-room floor. Modern Meadow’s biofabricated leather can be grown to the desired size, shape, and design specifications.