As part of our sustainable design and innovation series, we scour the world and the web for the coolest products across fashion, textile, industrial and interior design that embrace an earth-friendly ethos, and solve the problem of plastic dependancy, waste and pollution.
In this first of the series we bring you five game-changing innovations— from lab-created shoes to packaging made out of biomaterials— that will transform the way we wash, package food and dress.
This is Grown by Jen Keane
Sustainable fashion grown in a lab? Created by bio-designer Jen Keane in collaboration with synthetic biologist Marcus Walker, This is Grown is a project exploring the role of synthetic biology in the future of sustainable fabrication. Together the pair have grown the first sneaker upper, woven and dyed by a single genetically modified organism. It is 100% compostable and contains no synthetic materials or dyes. Keane employs a spider-free silk grown by bacteria with a genetically engineered self-dyeing bacteria created by Walker. The self-dyeing bacteria produces both cellulose and melanin—a natural pigment found in hair and skin—and squid ink
Soapbottle by Joanna Breithuber
“To reduce plastic waste, the package is the product,” states graphic designer Joanna Breithuber. Soapbottle is a simple idea that is also genius. Plastic waste and packaging is a huge environmental problem, with over 1 billion plastic bottles of body wash ending up in landfill every year. Used for a few weeks these bottles then take up to 500 years to decompose, which is why Breithuber set out to create a zero-waste solution to the plastic problem in our bathroom.
Created as part of her master’s thesis at Berlin University of the Arts, Soapbottle is a prototype shampoo-conditioner-body-wash container, itself made from a bar of soap. The bottle uses no plastic or glass and the small stainless steel closure that covers the sliced-out corner opening out of the bar is reusable. The soap comes in a palette of colours and is fully dissolvable and can be used as hand soap or detergent after the contents are finished.
Sequins are fun, sparkly and festive, but these shiny little metallic palettes are made of plastic, they do not biodegrade, and often they fall off clothing, ending up in waterways and oceans. They are the sartorial equivalent of those annoying microplastic beads found in body and face washes. Berlin-based designer Carolyn Raff has created an eco friendly solution to conventional sequins with her mermaid-worthy biopolymer sequins that are made from agar agar—an algae based gelatin substitute—dyed with spirulina. The sequins are 100% natural and biodegradable and can be produced in a variety of shades and structures.
Denim may be one of the most popular items of clothing, but it is also one of the most wasteful. Producing one pair of jeans uses the equivalent of seven years drinking water for one person. And the toxic brew of chemicals required to dye denim that iconic blue has resulted in environmental pollution and damage to rivers, ecosystems and communities in China, Bangladesh and India, where much of the denim is produced.
Spanish company Tejidos Royo solves all this by employing a waterless dyeing process called DryIndigo. The new technology reduces energy consumption by 65% during production, and uses 89% less chemicals, while almost completely eliminating waste water discharge. Utilising a foam dye that adheres to yarn, the DryIndigo technique produces denim that is similar to traditionally dyed denim in hand-feel, performance, and washability. Since launching in 2018 the technology has been taken up by Gap, Wrangler and other popular denim brands.
MarinaTex by Lucy Hughes
Another solution to our plastic problem has been found in our oceans. Lucy Hughes, a 24 year old graduate at the University of Sussex, was the recipient of the James Dyson Award in 2019 for MarinaTex, a marine bioplastic made from organic fish waste and locally sourced red algae. The material is translucent, flexible and versatile, and functions like regular single waste food packaging plastic but without leaching toxic chemicals. It’s also 100% home-compostable, and requires less energy to produce. Using offcuts from local fishing industry (according to FAO 50 million tonnes of fish is wasted annually), MarinaTex is circular, sustainable and local.