Part 2 INNOVATIVE NATURAL MATERIALS
Surfers’ dirty secret is the wetsuit. Made of neoprene, a material in which everything is harmful. It is made from oil, requires heavy energy consuming production and is non-biodegradable. This is why a lot of surfer brands have been trying since years to replace that material with more sustainable and renewable ones. After years of research outdoor sports brand Patagonia found a solution: responsible sourced natural rubber. Since 2016 the natural rubber of the company Yulex™ is replacing the neopren in their wetsuits. The natural rubber comes from sources that are Forest Stewardship Council® certified by the Rainforest Alliance. The raw latex is first tapped from Hevea trees and afterwards refined by Yulex™ to remove over 99% of impurities, including the proteins that cause latex allergies. The result is a stronger, non-sensitizing, natural elastomer.
Natural rubber is not only more sustainable it is as well stronger and more flexible than its synthetic substitutes, this is why it appears in a wide range of higher performance products like medical cloves or air plane tyres. This is why using Yulex™ natural rubber is a step forward in performance, too. Unfortunately only 0,5 % of all world rubber supply is currently from FSC certified sources, so hopefully more businesses will swap to more sustainable supply chains.
Environmental impact: Polyisoprene polymer is a natural tree-based substance that is manufactured using renewable solar energy saving close to 80% on CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere compared to traditional neoprene production.
TENCEL™ Lyocell by Austrian company Lenzing is a wood fiber used a lot recently by slow fashion brands. It’s sustainable and fully biodegradable and is a great alternative to polluting viscose. The cellulosic fiber is made from pulp of fast growing and FSC certified eucalyptus trees, which require very little water and no toxic pesticides.
The pulp is dissolved in a non-toxic organic solvent, the solution produces fiber while the solvent is 99% recycled in a closed-loop process. The fibers are very versatile and can be combined with a lot of different textile fibers like cotton, wool, polyester, acrylic and silk to enhance their functionality. The fibers have great strength, an efficient moisture absorption and are very gentle on the skin. Furthermore the Lyocell fiber allows the colour dyes to go deeply into the fiber structure, which retain long lasting colour vibrancy more than conventional dyed fibers and fade less even after repeated washing.
TENCEL™ Modal fibers are as well made by Austrian company Lenzing. It is made from wood pulp of sustainably managed beech wood in a slightly different process to Lyocell. However the closed loop production process makes Modal a sustainable fibre. It is very soft and pleasant on the skin. The fibers are highly flexible and offer the naturally soft quality to textiles. They can be blended with other fibers to improve the softness and comfort of fabrics. Compared to Lyocell, Modal feels softer, has a more delicate touch and is often used in lighter and thinner fabrics.
wood fiber meets recycled cotton
To contribute to the circular economy in the textile industry, Austrian company Lenzing is introducing TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ technology. Therefore they are upcycling a substantial proportion of cotton scraps from for example, garment production and adding it to their wood pulp. There the raw material is transformed to produce new virgin TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers to produce new fabrics.
silk-like biosynthetic fiber
Microsilk™ is a material developed by the American company Bold Threads. The company was inspired by spiders, who produce silk fibers with remarkable properties including high tensile strength, elasticity, durability, and softness. After studying the silk proteins spun by spiders, they developed proteins inspired by these natural silks, using bioengineering to put genes into yeast.
Today they produce the protein in large quantities through fermentation, using yeast, sugar and water. After isolating and purifying the silk protein it is then spun into fibers, similar to rayon and acrylic. The great advantage of it is that it’s fully biodegradable.
Environmental impact: Microsilk™ is lasting longer than other fabrics and is fully biodegradable.
Title picture: ©Patagonia, forest of Hevea tree