20 May 2022
The alternative materials market is set to become a US $ 2.2 billion industry by 2026, representing 3 per cent of the global wholesale materials market, as has been reported by the Material Innovation Initiative (MII). Compared to synthetic fibres which dominate the industry and require fossil fuels to be made, alternative materials could be the key to achieve fashion’s more sustainable future.
So far, leather alternatives have dominated the next-gen material market largely due to the environmental impact of animal production. In fact, of the 74 next-gen material companies (some of which create more than one product), 49 create alternative leather. This can range from plant-based alternatives such as mushroom leather, to lab-grown technology to growing real animal materials directly from cells.
According to fashion technology company and premium shopping app Lyst, searches for ‘vegan leather’ have increased by 69 per cent year-on-year, averaging 33,100 online monthly searches in 2020, while searches for ‘faux leather’ have remained constant.
This data suggests that customers are responding more positively to the word ‘vegan’ rather than ‘faux’.
This is compelling innovative designers and scientists to turn to food waste, natural sources and other raw materials to produce the same quality and wearability as the materials we currently rely on.
Despite the dent caused by COVID-19 in the fashion and retailscape, the number of brands using next-gen materials in their products has significantly increased along with the supply of next-gen materials.
This market trend is not surprising given the increased consumer demand for animal-free and environment-friendly products and the development of new technologies allowing for significant improvement in the aesthetics and performance of next-gen materials.
‘Next-gen materials’ are livestock-free direct replacements for conventional animal-based leather, silk, wool, down, fur and exotic skins (also referred to as ‘incumbent materials’).
They use a variety of biomimicry approaches to replicate the aesthetics and performance of their animal-based counterparts.
A new crop of scientists, artists and innovators are pioneering next-gen materials that offer high performance, are animal-free and more sustainable.
At the onset, even though brands and retailers might want to adopt next-gen materials, not knowing where to and how to start can prove to be overwhelming.
One way for brands to begin working with next-gen materials is via partnerships with next-gen material innovators and suppliers.
Here it is important to know that some partnerships are exclusive while other material companies sell to all. Some material suppliers only produce one next-gen material, while some companies produce a few. Some large material companies have a wide range of offerings, but only one or two next-gen materials.
In this report, we highlight the key next-gen materials being adopted by brands along with a selection of partnerships between brands and next-gen material companies, based on a report released by MII.
Many retailers and brands across the board have incorporated vegan leather as part of their brand strategies, making it the most used material within MII’s line-up, with many material innovation firms adopting alternative methods to leather production.
In this regard, it is safe to say that Ananas Anam’s Piñatex®, features as one of the more widely available next-gen materials currently in the market and produced at scale.
Piñatex® is made of fibre from the waste leaves of the pineapple plant, which is then processed in the Philippines to create Piñafelt, a non-woven mesh which forms the base of all Piñatex collections, before being shipped to Spain or Italy for specialised finishing.
Ananas Anam currently offers multiple collections created by colouring the Piñafelt using Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified pigments and a REACH46 compliant PU resin top coating which may be bio-based, water-based and/or high solid PU depending upon the formulation. Piñatex® can be used for applications in clothing, accessories and upholstery.
The company has partnered with over 1,000 brands worldwide on products made using the special pineapple leather, including H&M, Hugo Boss and Nike.
The ‘current-gen’ alternative to down is made using polyester microfibre that mimics the pillowy feeling of feather or down at a fraction of the cost. In contrast, next-gen material innovators use plants, recycled PET and similar more sustainable options to create alternatives that are both animal and planet-friendly.
According to the Higg Index, silk has the highest environmental footprint across impact categories compared to any other category of material including cotton, nylon and wool.
Orange Fiber, founded in 2014, is an Italian company that has patented the process to produce fibres and fabrics from citrus fruit by-products.
Since its peak in 1990, wool has continued to be replaced by synthetics and cotton blends, with a variety of sustainable and ethical options also coming to the fore.
Next-gen companies have found in PET and plants a new way of producing yarn with wool-like properties.
adidas-invested Spinnova is one such example that creates wool-like material directly from cellulose-based, FSC-certified wood and waste streams, refining raw ingredients to create its final material.
With an increasing number of countries implementing a total or partial ban on fur farming and sale, the market for faux fur is growing and is expected to flourish in the near future.
Following pressure from both consumers and Governments, brands such as Gucci, Versace, Burberry, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, etc., have pledged to stop the use of animal fur within their collections.
As consumers begin to question the impact of faux fur on the environment, material innovators are increasingly creating next-gen versions by adding bio-based and/or recycled materials to their formulations.
Market innovation leader Lenzing has been producing fibres made from wood since 1892 and their lyocell technology ranks high in the innovation department for the production of cellulose fibres.
As a producer of pulp and fibres, Lenzing is at the beginning of the value chain for the production of textiles and non-woven products and their solutions targeting this specific area of faux fur production are benefiting the industry immensely.
In 2021, Ugg replaced its typical sheepskin with TencelTM’s fur-like upper in its sustainable line, the Plant Power Collection.
Similarly, Ecopel’s KOBA® Faux Fur is made with plant-based fibres and recycled polyester, creating a fur that is soft, versatile and long-lasting.