It’s an open secret that the textile industry is one of the largest polluters in the world. This is one of the reasons why finding sustainable alternatives to traditional textiles has become increasingly important. Biofabrics and grown materials are emerging fields of research with promising solutions to this problem. These alternatives offer several advantages over traditional textiles, including eco-friendliness and more customization options for consumers. Biofabrication uses biotechnology to create unique fabrics by manipulating living cells like bacteria, algae, or yeast. Even though it is an emerging field, biofabrication is a sustainable initiative that could change the way we approach clothing and the textile industry. 

It’s true, some challenges need to be addressed before biofabrics can become widely available for everyone to use. Still, the potential benefits make this area of research very promising and also necessary. Rather than just being a weird form of art, biofabrics and grown materials could become the textiles of the future. Here’s the story in brief.

So, what exactly are biofabrics? 

Before we get more into it, here’s a short definition for those who are new to the subject. Biofabrics or biomaterials refer to materials created using biotechnology. Those derive from living organisms or biological sources. The production of biofabrics involves manipulating the cells of these living organisms. By utilizing their natural biological properties, creating materials for various purposes is possible. Biomaterials, known for their eco-friendliness and sustainability, have unique properties that make them very customizable.

Biotextiles are a specific type of biofabric used in the textile industry. Biotextiles are created using living cells, natural materials, or biometric processes. They are designed to have specific properties for use in various applications. Working with living cells allows for customization. Manipulating the cells can change the properties of the textile to meet specific needs. The fibers “grown” using biotechnology can be spun into yarns and woven into textiles. Those innovative materials are becoming essential in the textile industry. Their biodegradability and low environmental impact are valuable characteristics. The development of these materials has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry, bringing a more sustainable and responsible approach to textile production.

What are the textiles of the future made of?

There are several kinds of biofabrics that are being researched with success. Some of the most interesting ones are the following. 

Algae

Algae textiles have great potential in this new field of research. The fibers harvested from the seaweed can be very advantageous. They can be grown easily with minimal resources and without fertilizers or pesticides. They have anti-bacterial and UV-resistant characteristics. Also, algae pigments are natural alternatives perfect for replacing chemical-based dyes. 

Mycelium

Mycelium, the vegetative part of fungi growing in networks, can be used in the production of textiles and fabrics. Those bio-based materials are lightweight, durable, and biodegradable. 

Mushroom

Mushroom leather, also known as mycelium leather, is a type of leather alternative made from the roots of mushrooms. It is a sustainable and eco-friendly material that can mimic the texture and durability of animal leather without harming the animals and the environment. 

Bacteria and yeast

Some biofabrics involve using microorganisms to produce fibers which are turned into textiles. Bacteria and yeast can be genetically engineered to create specific types of fibers or proteins, which are then harvested and spun into yarns. Biofabrics from bacteria can be customized to have different properties for different purposes. They have tremendous potential to create a base for a more sustainable textile industry. 

Pineapple leaf

Pineapple leaf fiber is a sustainable textile made from the leaves of the pineapple plant. The fibers are extracted from the leaves, then processed and woven into a soft, lightweight, and breathable fabric. It is, of course, biodegradable and eco-friendly.

Milk fiber

Milk protein fibers are a type of synthetic material made using natural sources. They are made by using a protein called casein found in milk. The fabric made from casein has soft and stretchy properties. Milk protein fiber was discovered in the 30s but has been replaced by more harmful materials like acrylic. Today, reintroducing milk fibers to the textile industry is becoming relevant again. 

As a form of art

Art has no boundaries and no rigid definitions. And as a rule, new art is emerging from necessity. And what is sustainability if not a necessity? Research in biofabrics is responding to that. There is growing interest in biofabrics as a form of art, as well as a sustainable alternative to traditional textiles. Many fashion designers are incorporating biofabrication techniques into their work. They are exploring the potential of biodegradable, sustainable materials for clothing and accessories. Some initiatives led by fashion designers in the field are the following.

  • The Biocouture project. It has been founded by designer Suzanne Lee. The project explores the use of bacterial cellulose to create garments and accessories. They are conducting research on kombucha fabric, an exciting material with great potential.
  • The Algae Fabric project. Led by designer Essi Johanna Glomb, this project uses algae as a sustainable material for clothing and textiles.
  • The MycoTEX project. This initiative is led by designer Aniela Hoitink. The researchers and designers use mycelium to create biodegradable and customizable textiles.

These are some highlights of initiatives in the field. Those show that biofabrics are not only a sustainable alternative to traditional textiles. They are also a new frontier in the world of fashion and art. Innovative textiles and techniques can inspire new forms of creativity and expression, leading to new discoveries.

The role of biofabrics in the fashion industry

Biofabrics play a vital role in revolutionizing the fashion industry. They do this by creating sustainable materials that focus on environmental responsibility. The fashion industry’s disregard for the environment must come to an end, and biofabrics could be the key. Sustainability encompasses more than the sum of the materials used. It extends to the economic, social, and ethical implications of production and distribution. Developing sustainable materials for the fashion industry could reduce the impact of harmful substances on the environment. Biotextiles can also address the problem of waste and promote equity. This could have positive social implications for developing countries. By eliminating harmful chemicals from production, biotextiles could cut health hazards for workers.

Conclusion

The use of biofabrics in fashion and art is a fast-growing field with great potential to revolutionize the textile industry. There is a pressing need to shift towards more sustainable and ethical practices. Biotechnology is offering a promising solution.

And while it may be tempting for some to view biofabrics as a niche form of expression for designers, their potential positive impact is undeniable. As concerns about the environment grow, the need and demand for sustainable textiles grows too. The development of biofabrics offers a way to reduce waste and minimize pollution. They also help create a more equtable production and responsible fashion industry. In this vision, creativity and innovation go hand in hand with social and environmental responsability.