In this new MOTIF Talks interview, Jen Keane, materials researcher and designer, shares on her journey in innovative sustainable material design for fashion.
Biomimicry in Fashion: Clothing Inspired by Nature
“Many of our best inventions are copied from, or already in use by other living things.” These simple words by Phil Gates, author of the book Wild Technology, clearly outline a basic truth when it comes to technologies and creative developments—nature is the best mentor of human beings.
If today we can jump on a plane, it is because the Wright Brothers studied large birds in flight. Thanks to George de Mestral copying the design of burs, we can now use Velcro. Even the famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower, has been built because of engineers studying how the thighbone supports the human body.
Basically, nearly everything around us is inspired by designs found in nature, and the clothing industry is no exception. Under the pressure of the drive to be eco-friendly and sustainable, the fashion industry is investing in biomimicry to design and develop new materials inspired by nature.
What is biomimicry clothing?
Biomimetics, also known as biomimicry, is a field of study in which scientists examine nature and borrow elements of design to create new technologies or products. When it comes to textiles, nature provides many examples of color combinations, patterns, and symmetrical objects that have become a source of inspiration for designers.
However, biomimicry, when applied to the clothing industry, goes beyond the look of the textile. Biomimicry clothing aims at applying biological processes and organisms to material that reconnects our body to nature.
In view of this, the new generation of clothing won’t be just a means to cover and beautify our bodies. The new materials will be more sustainable and use natural processes that better protect our bodies and enhance comfort. Moreover, biomimicry is working on fabrics that will be self-repairing, self-cleaning, preserve energy, superhydrophobic, and more. In a way, clothing will interact with our bodies, even reacting to our emotions or the social environment.
Even though there is still a lot to discover and to develop in this field, the results already obtained are an indicator of how fashion may change in the near future to create garments that will become functional and “intelligent’ for both preserving the planet and improving our quality of life.
Latest innovations bringing biomimicry garments to our closet
The application of biomimicry to fashion and garments isn’t brand new. For instance, during the 2000 Sidney Olympic Games, Speedo launched a swimsuit that replicates a shark’s skin to enhance swimmer performance. When 13 out of 15 world records were broken, the new material definitely made it to the news.
The Japanese company, Teijin, has instead been inspired by the Morpho butterflies’ wings to create the Morphotex Fiber in 2007. The wings of these butterflies are a vivid cobalt-blue even though no pigment is present. Thanks to the alternation of 61 different types of polyester and nylon fibers, Teijin has reproduced the same effect. They can use this technique to produce textiles in four basic colors that change in tone and intensity according to the angle light and without dying the fabric. As a result, the production process is energy-saving and environment-friendly.
As the sustainability movement is gaining significant traction in the fashion industry, there are now many startup companies that are investing in this field. The ultimate goal is to combine a circularity angle with biological processes to produce new materials that have the least environmental impact while having specific qualities for their usage goals.
Here are some more recent examples of the advances in biomimicry materials that have been brought to the market.
Fiber from algae
Algalife is a German-Israeli firm that represents a remarkable example of how biomimicry can be applied to protect both the environment and consumer health. The company produces fabrics and dyes from algae using a zero-waste system. To grow the fabrics from algae, only water and sun are needed, generating a dramatic drop in energy consumption and pollution. Moreover, the algae fabric nurtures the skin as the users wear it, and the dyes are completely chemical and allergenic free.
Leather from mushrooms
is a company that has been inspired by nature to create sustainable materials. One of their creations is a new type of leather called Mylo. Inspired by mycelium, the network of thread-like cells that make up mushrooms, the company has invented a highly durable material that is biodegradable and is a valid substitute for synthetic leather.
Waterproof materials that mimic the animal world
Nikwax is a company that started with the study of nature and has created fabrics that make people more comfortable and protected when outdoors. For instance, Nikwax Waterproof is a fabric that mimics animal fur. The fabric protects from rain, condensation, and perspiration by repelling water away from the body exactly as fur does.
Bacteria to create colors
Faber Futures is a company from the UK that has developed a new method for dyeing fabrics and protecting the environment. Using bacteria and a fermentation process, they can create dyes that do not fade over time. Most importantly, the process has proven to use up to 500 times less water than conventional dyeing methods—making the entire process highly sustainable.
Fashion designers and brands inspired by nature
As biomimicry continues to progress, more fashion designers are experimenting with new materials. It is a perfect example of how technology and fashion can work hand in hand to create luxury products that are not simply nice to look at but also sustainable and functional.
This famous fashion house has recently created a line of clothing employing Orange Fiber fabrics. Orange Fiber is a startup company that produces highly sustainable fabrics from citrus juice by-products. Using an idea from orange wastes, the company has patented a new fabric formed from a silk-like cellulose yarn. Salvatore Ferragamo has “Responsible Passion” as its motto says, and it reflects a commitment to innovative and sustainable design. Using fibers made from oranges has been a great choice for them as they try to live by this motto.
Páramo, a specialist outdoor clothing brand that has been in business for a few years now, is a good example among performance clothing brands, where functional excellence is paramount, that have adopted new materials leveraging biomimicry. The company continually searches for innovative fabrics and textiles to produce high-tech equipment that provide comfort and performance in the harshest conditions and natural environments. Páramo thus uses innovative textile systems by Nikwax in its high-performance outdoor directional clothing range.
The future of biomimicry in fashion
Nature is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. It always has been, and it will continue to be so in the future. When it comes to biomimicry and fashion, the potential to create new and more technological material is massive. Moreover, as we see the world demanding more sustainable and eco-friendly solutions, it is reasonable to envision a future where biomimicry will provide new fabrics and garments that will protect the environment and make those who wear them more comfortable without compromising their look. This field which is at the junction of science and design, of creativity and engineering, of sustainability and innovation is thus one where a new blend of skills is needed to grow to serve the Fashion industry.
To upgrade your skills and kickstart your journey in sustainability in fashion, go for MOTIF’s Sustainability in Fashion Online Course. This introductory course is self-paced and relevant for designers and product development team members at a large, whether they are seating in brands, retailers sourcing offices and vendors. It will help you discover the various sustainable strategies that can be explored at each stage of the product lifecycle and as well as make better decisions in product design and development.