Biomimicry presents a range of options for the fashion industry to use to achieve true sustainability, which has been found to be a bit more complex than once thought, taking into account microplastic and microfiber waste pollution.
The problem is fabrics made from synthetic materials, slippage. Shedding occurs with everyday wear and normal washing. However, the shelter materials are microplastics that can end up in landfills, water supplies, and the air we breathe. According to an article from Princeton University, 35% of harmful microplastics in the world’s oceans come from synthetic materials.
A good first step that many textile and apparel brands are taking to solve this problem is to use recycled polyester (known as rPET) as the primary textile component. RPET redirects discarded plastics that often end up in the oceans and transforms them into textile products as one solution to the larger sustainability issue in fashion. However, continuous innovation is still needed to develop further and longer-term solutions. The next step is to explore biodegradable innovations and reliance on purely natural fibers, such as the possibilities inherent in biomimicry solutions.
Biomimicry in fashion (and life)
Biomimicry is not a new concept, but it is becoming more and more popular among those interested in true sustainability in fashion. At its most basic level, biomimicry involves looking to nature for tips and tricks in designing products and solutions. Velcro is a good example of biomimicry because Velcro was designed to replicate the way certain types of cutters adhere to other surfaces.
Biomimicry can be just as practical when it comes to creating natural solutions to replace synthetics and other environmentally harmful products and materials. For example, consider sponge leather, which is an alternative to animal-based leather. With sponge leather, designers can bypass the need to rely on unsustainable synthetic artificial leather that would shed microplastics and have negative environmental impacts.
Biomimicry allows creators to learn and develop from processes already established in nature. Biomimicry in vogue can even be used to restore and regenerate damaged ecosystems. This makes it a concept worth pursuing from a natural stewardship perspective. But biomimicry isn’t just a good idea because it’s a good thing. It can also prove to be a popular and profitable strategy for forward-thinking brands.
Consumers are ready to celebrate biomimicry in fashion and textiles
In recent years, consumers have become more aware of the environmental impact of the products they buy. Many green-minded shoppers are taking a closer look at the components that make up everything from their food to their clothing. They read labels, ask questions and try to change one purchase at a time.
Forward-thinking brands like Patagonia benefit from these sustainable fashion trends. Patagonia boasts such a loyal following in part because its innovative designs have consistently led to sustainable fashion solutions and sustainable living. Case in point: Patagonia jumped into an attempt to reduce microplastics by giving a company a grant to develop a special laundry bag that captures loose microfibers in the washing machine so they don’t end up in wastewater.
It should come as no surprise that younger shoppers are a consumer group seeking to connect fashion and sustainability. However, even more seasoned shoppers have their own opinions. As noted in a Forbes article, Gen X consumers are influenced by their children and Gen Z peers. Gen X’s desire to buy from sustainable brands has increased by 25% over the past few years, as has their willingness to pay more for sustainable products (42%).
This bodes very well for both established and emerging brands to consider biomimicry, especially brands that want to be seen as taking real steps towards greener initiatives. As long as biomimicry practices produce durable, long-lasting and stylish products, brands can expect consumers to be more willing to buy their goods than others.
What makes biomimicry attractive?
The bottom line is that while consumers may love fast fashion, they don’t love what it does to the environment. They want to be trendy – but not at the expense of the country. By educating the public about the benefits of biomimicry, brands can differentiate themselves and introduce consumers to some of the most attractive aspects of biomimicry in fashion.
What are these benefits? First, biomimicry provides a highly functional solution. In other words, the garment or textile is likely to last and meet or exceed consumer expectations. This is because the product was designed based on something that already works well in nature. Nature has long been a source of inspiration for all types of innovators. Biomimicry is just a more structured approach to using this inspiration.
Another reason consumers can get behind solutions created through biomimicry is that they feel better knowing they are doing something of value. Many people want to feel that they are contributing to the solution to the climate crisis, not the problem. Biomimicry allows consumers to invest in eco-friendly clothing, bedding, window treatments and several other regenerative yet fashionable textile products.
Finally, biomimicry tends to reduce the time needed to test new products. Because biomimicry products are based on natural, proven systems, they are not marketed from the ground up. As they say, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Biomimicry often shortens the time to market for innovations, meaning consumers can have what they need faster. This is important and may even help circumvent some of the supply chain issues currently plaguing the fashion industry.
Mastering biomimicry as an ecological fashion brand
If your brand is interested in increasing sustainability in the fashion industry, you may want to start exploring biomimicry in your design, R&D workflows. Below are some strategies for making biomimicry an established part of your processes:
Assume that nature may already have the answer to your clothing or textile goals.
Mycelium is a great example of nature providing exceptional solutions for innovation and sustainability. Mycelium comes from mushrooms and has been used to create an insulating panel that can keep heat in and out and dampen sounds in spaces. However, unlike artificial insulation, insulation made from mycelia is high performance and carbon negative, including from a production point of view. Best of all, the mycelium insulation disintegrates when thrown away.
Before you start thinking that you can only achieve your fashion and design goals with synthetic material, take a look at nature. Natural solutions often outperform traditional materials from a functional point of view.
Empower your team to find bio-inspired solutions to alleviate supply chain woes.
Since 2020, there has been a massive disruption in the global supply chain. Instead of waiting to see if it gets better, see if biomimicry solutions could fill the gaps in purchasing.
To help you think outside the box, read about companies like Renaissance Fiber.
Renaissance Fiber has reimagined the hemp growing process and created a sustainable hemp fiber supply chain. The hemp supply chain is low-cost, environmentally positive and based on the natural rhythm of coastal waterways. Since hemp can be quickly grown and then quickly converted into a usable variety of fiber, it can be a wise alternative to other similar materials that are difficult to obtain and less sustainable.
Devise ways to replicate the performance benefits of natural systems.
Innovation from the point of view of biomimicry does not have to be limited to the basic function. You can also lean on biomimicry to take advantage of and extend the performance benefits of natural materials and processes. For example, clothing and fabrics can be engineered to provide physiological benefits to wearers or users through bio-responsive technologies and bioceramics.
Physiological effects can include anything from recycling the body’s energy expenditure to increasing performance to helping the body regulate its temperature during sleep – all through the use of natural minerals incorporated into fibers, yarns and fabrics. Nature can provide a springboard to more innovative features.
The fashion industry no longer has to contribute to global environmental problems. Conversely, fashion brands can become leaders in sustainability. They just need to trust more in the biomimicry solutions that nature has already put in place. They can then adapt natural solutions to create stylish, greener consumer goods.
Stephen Kelly is director of global business and supplier development for Hologenix, a materials science company dedicated to developing products that expand human potential and improve health and well-being. Celliant, its flagship technology, is an infrared additive brand that enhances textile-based products with health and wellness benefits in performance, recovery and sleep.