The future of raw materials

“How can the raw materials industry fit in as part of a sustainable approach? What are the proposed solutions, and what are the advantages and disadvantages?”

Moderated by the Innovation Manager at Vogue Business, “The future of raw materials” conference (Wednesday 18 September, 1pm-2pm, Hall 3, Innovation Talks Area) invited Fernando Bellese, Head of Sustainability and Marketing at JBS, Leather Division; Edward Crutchley, Creative Director of Edward Crutchley; Jamie Bainbridge, VP of Product Development at Bolt Threads; and Michael Beutler, Sustainability Operations Director at Kering Group to share their views and discuss solutions as to meeting the needs of sustainable development, from new uses for natural materials to major technological innovations.

Innovation / tradition

If there was one point on which all the speakers agreed, it was that the future of raw materials will emerge on the frontier of innovation and tradition.

New technologies undoubtedly play a key role in opening up new creative areas – Bolt Threads is on the verge of launching two materials in 2020 that promise to revolutionize the textile market by applying biotechnology to fabrics. The first, Mylo, is a fibre produced from mushroom roots, whose appearance mimics all aspects of leather. Naturally cruelty free, this futuristic material grows in a mere nine days and can also be dyed. Providing a sustainable alternative to leather, Mylo and its specific properties will broaden the scope of possibilities in the leather industry. The second, Microsilk, was inspired by spiders, and creates a 100% natural silk resulting from a bio-manufacturing process. “in my opinion, chemistry is one of the most significant fields to develop in terms of sustainable development, and biology is an area that still remains to be explored,” said Jamie Bainbridge.

While Michael Beutler, Fernando Bellese and Edward Crutchley are aware of the value of these technological horizons, they also point out that traditional materials also offer immense opportunities for sustainable development. “Too often we forget that leather is a by-product of the food industry, and that virtually all leather produced for the fashion market could be sustainable,” noted Fernando Bellese, whose company is a meat and leather producer using an integrated model.

As for Edward Crutchley, he has no hesitation in declaring his unconditional love for wool: “Wool is adaptable, flexible, produced in 6 continents around the world, naturally antibiotic and breathable – it’s an extraordinary material!” he added. “Too often we no longer even consider it, because we see it everywhere, but what can we do with it, how can we change the way we look at it?” The same is true for silk, a material with surprising potential that also needs to be looked at in a different way: “I think a lot can be done with what already exists,”says Michael Beutler, who believes that new uses of traditional materials are also likely to communicate good consumer practices.

Rebuilding relationships

“Sourcing is one of the biggest challenges for those working with leather: companies often find it difficult to know where the skins they buy come from. Fortunately, there is now a range of technological solutions to ensure traceability. But human relationships remain one of the major keys to verifying leather’s origin,” said Fernando Bellese. For this reason, although JBS monitors the farms it collaborates with in real time, human relationships remain crucial to sensitizing farmers to the company’s philosophy of sustainable development.

Edward Crutchley could not agree more on this point. “Fashion is all about partnerships,” he explained. And in this context, discussions are critical to ensure greater transparency, change production practices and support the social responsibility of companies directly in the field and on site.

“Relationships and dialogue are the only way that we can truly change the situation,” says Michael Beutler, presenting the many initiatives implemented by the Kering Group to influence the supply chain and the choice of materials to achieve their ambitious aim of a 40% reduction in the Group’s carbon impact.

“For this reason, trade fairs such as Première Vision are invaluable moments for interaction and discussion throughout the textile and leather sector. Designers, producers, buyers, communications teams, everyone is there, and everyone gets together. Première Vision is a perfect place to discuss and share ideas so that the issue of sustainable development can be highlighted at every level of the industry and a real awareness campaign can be brought to the public’s attention,” concluded Beutler.

Knowing and communicating usage, to help it evolve

” A better knowledge of usage is another key point, but also a major taboo,” continues the Kering Group’s Director of Sustainability Operations, underscoring the important role buying practices play in shifting the market towards higher-quality, sustainable materials and products. Buying less to buy better seems to be key to reducing waste throughout the supply chain in the long run.

Fernando Bellese stressed that such a change in priorities requires a radical change in methodology on the part of producers after the rapid rise in fast fashion, where speed was an absolute priority.

Likewise, communication and public awareness are critical. “When making a purchase the customer should naturally wonder: where does this material or garment come from? How was it made?” says Michael Beutler. “And we have to be ready to provide the answers.”

While upcycling currently looks like a promising option to reduce waste, it’s primarily through the introduction of quality products and materials designed to last – the simultaneous development of good purchasing and consumption practices – that will enable the luxury industry to effectively face the challenges of tomorrow.