Biomimicry presents a raft of options to the fashion industry that can be used to achieve true sustainability, which has been found to be a little more complicated than once assumed, with the acknowledgement of microplastic pollution and microfibre waste.
The problem is fabrics made using synthetic materials, shed. The shedding happens with everyday wear as well as during regular laundering. However, the shed materials are microplastics that can make their way into landfills, water supplies, and the air we breathe. According to an article from Princeton University, 35% of the harmful microplastics in the world’s oceans come from synthetic materials.
A good first step that many textile and clothing brands are taking to address this concern is to use recycled polyester (known as rPET) as their primary fabric ingredient. RPET redirects discarded plastic that often ends up ocean-bound and repurposes it into textile products as one solution to address the bigger issue of sustainability in fashion. However, continual innovation is still needed to develop additional and more long-term solutions. Another step is to explore biodegradable innovations and reliance on all-natural fibres, such as the possibilities inherent in biomimicry solutions.
Biomimicry in fashion (and life)
Biomimicry isn’t a new concept, but it’s getting more press from those concerned about true sustainability in fashion. At its most basic level, biomimicry involves looking to nature for tips and tricks when designing products and solutions. Velcro is a good example of biomimicry, as Velcro was engineered to replicate the way certain types of burs stick 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 mushroom leather, which is an alternative to animal-based leather. With mushroom leather, designers can bypass the need to rely on unsustainable synthetic faux leather that would shed microplastics and have negative environmental impacts.
Biomimicry enables creators to learn and develop from processes already established in nature. Biomimicry in fashion can even be used to restore and regenerate damaged ecosystems. This makes it a concept worth pursuing from a natural stewardship perspective. Yet, biomimicry isn’t just a good idea because it’s a good thing to do. It might also prove to be a popular and profitable strategy for forward-leaning brands to embrace.
Consumers are poised to celebrate biomimicry in fashion and textiles
In recent years, consumers have become more mindful of the environmental impacts of the products they buy. Many eco-conscious buyers are taking closer looks at the components that make up everything from their groceries to their apparel. They’re reading labels, asking questions, and attempting to make a difference one purchase at a time.
Forward-leaning brands such as Patagonia are benefiting from these sustainable fashion trends. Patagonia can boast such loyal fans partly because its innovative designs have consistently led the charge for sustainable fashion solutions and sustainable living. Case in point: Patagonia jumped into trying to reduce microplastics by giving one company a grant to develop a special laundering bag that captures shed microfibers in the washing machine so they don’t get into the wastewater supply.
It should come as little surprise that younger shoppers are the consumer group leading the charge to marry fashion and sustainability. However, more seasoned shoppers are taking their stand as well. As noted in a Forbes piece, Generation X consumers are being influenced by their Generation Z children and colleagues. Generation X’s desire to shop from sustainable brands grew by 25% just within a few years, as did their willingness to pay more for sustainable products (42%).
This bodes very well for established and emerging brands to consider biomimicry, especially brands that want to be seen as taking real strides toward greener initiatives. As long as biomimicry practices produce long-lasting, durable, and stylish products, brands can expect consumers to be more willing to purchase their goods over others.
What makes biomimicry attractive?
The bottom line is that while consumers might love fast fashion, they don’t love what it’s doing to the environment. They want to be trendy — but not at the expense of the earth. By educating the public on the benefits of biomimicry, brands can set themselves apart and introduce consumers to some of the most appealing aspects of biomimicry in fashion.
What are these benefits? For one, biomimicry provides highly functional solutions. In other words, a garment or textile is likely to hold up and meet or exceed consumer expectations. This is because the product has been 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 for leveraging that inspiration.
Another reason consumers can get behind solutions made through biomimicry is that they feel better knowing that they’re doing something valuable. Many people want to feel that they’re contributing to the answer to the climate crisis, not the problem. Biomimicry allows consumers to invest in environmentally sound clothing, bedding, window dressings, and several other restorative yet fashionable textile goods.
Finally, biomimicry tends to shorten the time it takes to test new products. Because biomimicry-based products are built upon natural, proven systems, they aren’t being launched from the ground up. As the saying goes, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Biomimicry frequently alleviates the time it takes to get innovations to market, which means consumers can have what they need faster. That’s important and might even help bypass some of the supply chain problems currently disrupting the fashion industry.
Mastering biomimicry as an eco-conscious fashion brand
If your brand is interested in driving more sustainability in the fashion industry, you might want to begin exploring biomimicry in your design, research, and development workflows. Below are some strategies to make biomimicry an established part of your processes:
Assume that nature might already have an answer for your garment or textile goals.
Mycelium is a terrific example of nature providing an exceptional solution for innovation and sustainability concerns. Mycelium comes from mushrooms and has been used to create an insulation panel that can keep heat in and out and dampen sounds in spaces. Yet, unlike man-made insulation, mycelium-made insulation is both high-performing and carbon-negative, including from a production perspective. Best of all, the mycelium insulation breaks down when discarded.
Before thinking that you can only meet your fashion and design goals with a synthetic material, look to nature. Natural solutions often outperform traditional materials from a functional standpoint.
Allow your team to look for bio-inspired solutions to temper supply chain woes.
Since 2020, the global supply chain has experienced disruption in massive ways. Rather than waiting to see if it improves, find out if biomimicry solutions could fill procurement gaps.
To help you think outside the box, read up on companies such as Renaissance Fiber.
Renaissance Fiber has reenvisioned the hemp cultivation process and established a sustainable hemp fibre supply chain. The hemp supply chain is low-cost, environmentally net-positive, and based on the natural rhythm of the coastal waterways. Because hemp can be grown quickly and then rapidly turned into a usable variety of fibre, it might be a wise alternative to other similar materials that are difficult to source and less sustainable.
Brainstorm ways to replicate natural systems’ performance benefits.
Innovating from a biomimicry perspective doesn’t have to be limited to a basic function. You can also lean on biomimicry to harness and scale the performance benefits of natural materials and processes. For instance, garments and fabrics can be created to provide physiological benefits to wearers or users through bio-responsive technologies and bio-ceramics.
The physiological effects can span anything from recycling the body’s energy outputs to enhancing performance to assisting the body in regulating temperature during sleep — all through the use of natural minerals embedded into fibres, yarns, and fabrics. Nature can provide the springboard to more innovative functionality.
The fashion industry doesn’t need to contribute to global environmental problems anymore. On the contrary, fashion brands can become leaders in the sustainability space. They just need to put more confidence into the biomimicry solutions that nature has already established. They can then adapt natural solutions to create stylish, greener consumer goods.
Stephen Kelly is the director of global business and supplier development for Hologenix, a materials science company dedicated to developing products that amplify human potential and improve health and wellness. Celliant, its flagship technology, is an infrared ingredient brand that enhances textile-based products with health and wellness benefits across performance, recovery, and sleep.