At the February edition, Giusy Bettoni, founder and President of C.L.A.S.S, the eco-hub for sustainable fashion, hosted a panel of three innovators leading us into a new age of materials and processes and coming to our wardrobes soon.
With Kenji Higashi, head of Business Development & Sustainability at Spiber Inc, Andras Forgacs founder and CEO of Modern Meadow and Femke Zijlstr, Business Development DyeCoo.
Welcome to the next material age: biofabrication
The next era of materials belongs to those that can be grown in a lab. Two start-ups presented their journeys in biofabrication, literally making materials through biology.
Brewing a new leather – Modern Meadow’s bioengineered collagen
With collagen the main building block of skin, Modern Meadow is brewing collagen to make leather. Like brewing beer, the company feeds sugar to yeast to produce collagen which is then assembled with other bio-based ingredients to create new materials in an entirely animal-free supply chain. “Our goal is a humble one: to transform the world of materials,” says Andras Forgacs. “there is no way we can address climate challenge just by focusing on the energy equation or agricultural footprint, we also have to focus on materials.”
Brewing the new nylon or polyester – Spiber polymers
Spiber, meanwhile, studied the genes of insects, and notably spider silk, to make DNA codes to design proteins for new materials. In a similar process to Modern Meadow, these proteins are brewed in huge tanks like beer tanks, within which microbes are fed sugar to create proteins. These are then separated into powder form before being re-spun into a whole range of materials. “You can think of our Spiber polymers as something like polyester or nylon,” says Kenji Higashi. “You can make fibers, films, yarns, leather-like, fur, resins -that are like a plastic but made of protein, just with these polymers.”
Bio-fabricated clothes are ready to go commercial
Modern Meadow – through partnership with chemicals maker Evonik – will this year bring Zoa – its premium bioleather to market. Durable yet biodegradable, Modern Meadow says Zoa can compete with both traditional leather and synthetics. Spiber, meanwhile, has begun construction on a large-scale manufacturing plant in Thailand, which will begin production in 2021. A major development for the company, which took 15 years to perfect its’ first product: the Moon Parka with North Face, of which 50 were made.
Animal-free, plastic free and lower carbon footprint
With lifecycle analyses planned at both Spiber and Modern Meadow as they move to commercial production, both say their materials look set to outperform animal-based protein materials. As for the Genetically Modified risk, lab-engineered proteins don’t go into nature and proliferate, assure their makers. Spiber uses the same types of microorganisms as the traditional fermentation industry – following regulations to make sure there is no environmental impact. Modern Meadow points to the security of its closed system of steel tanks as opposed to GM crops.
The new way to dye clothes; with CO2 instead of water or chemicals
Dutch company DyeCoo has invented a way to dye clothes without using water or chemicals. Using instead CO2 which dissolves into dye and carries int into the cloth. This CO2 is then recycled and re-used in a Bluesign-approved process that takes half the time. With no processing chemicals, DyeCoos CO2 dyeing reduces costs and water pollution. CO2 is safe, not flammable – and there’s a lot of it to use. “And it’s the same quality anywhere in the world” says Femke Zijlstr.