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What fashion revolution is made of: embrace materials of the future

By Guest Contributor


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For years, consumer demand for sustainable, eco-friendly fashion has increased and every season we are seeing more and more new sustainable materials incorporated into product lines.

Focusing on the sustainability of the raw material is critical. According to Kering, choice of raw material accounts for 72 percent of a brand’s environmental impact, and raw materials from animals rank as some of the most environmentally damaging on the Higg Index. The problem is that few of the current alternatives meet necessary requirements for the fashion industry. The landscape of alternative materials is changing all the time, so let’s look at a few of the latest products made with sustainable materials.

Desserto Cactus Leather

Desserto is the innovative new leather alternative made from nopal, a variety of prickly pear cactus. The cacti are grown organically and sustainably in Mexico, and the resulting cactus leather is made without the not-so-eco-friendly PVC used in many of the conventional leather alternatives. Desserto has some top-secret brand partnerships coming out soon but in the meantime, smaller brands have been quick to incorporate the material into their work. De Gyves, in Desserto’s native Mexico, chooses Desserto for their handmade jackets and handbags because the sustainable material supports their goal of being a socially responsible brand. Far across the world in India, Studio Beej recently added Desserto to their design palette along with Pinatex pineapple leather. Studio Beej’s founder inherited a leather export business, but ultimately founded her own company on a sustainable model after realizing that the materials industry was contributing to dire environmental damage.

Image: Calida / Seacell


Smartfiber AG’s SeaCell is made from cellulose and seaweed using the Lyocell process, permanently embedding seaweed into the fiber. SeaCell is carbon neutral, completely biodegradable, and gives textiles a silky feel. Plus, the raw, organic seaweed is harvested using a method that only removes algae that is able to regenerate. According to Smartfiber AG, the seaweed - which is rich in vitamins, trace elements, amino acids, and minerals - also helps protect the skin against harmful environmental factors even once it’s incorporated into the SeaCell fiber.

Known for their vocal support of sustainability and ethical sourcing, Lucy and Yak introduced a line of SeaCell shirts to give standard t-shirts a comfort and sustainability upgrade.

Swiss brand Calida makes the most of the SeaCell wellness fibers by using them in products where comfort and skin-friendliness is paramount, like underwear, lounge, and sleep wear.


Ananas Anam’s leather alternative is a modern update of a traditional cloth made from waste pineapple leaf fiber. It’s been used in dozens of collections by brands like H&M and Hugo Boss, with which it has a recurrent shoe collection. The latest collaboration with Paul Smith features men’s and women’s sneakers with 100 percent Piñatex uppers.

German brand Luckynelly’s latest line incorporates Piñatex and Desserto, among other sustainable materials, into luxury handbags. The level of quality and craftsmanship associated with luxury leather goods is now a part of sustainable fashion with leather alternatives.

Embrace Materials of the Future

Sustainability is more than just a buzzword – it’s a demand. Consumers consider sustainability in their purchase decisions. In fact, research from NYU, Nielsen, and other groups, reflects increasing willingness to pay more for sustainable goods. To date, the advancement of sustainable fashion materials has not kept pace with the demand. Brands that want to take advantage of this growing market are acting now to transition to using the next-generation materials consumers want. While there are so many innovators developing new materials, there’s a gulf between what the industry needs and what’s actually available for brands to use at the price point and scale they need.

Enter the Material Innovation Initiative (MII), a new nonprofit organization working to bring together brands and innovators to fasttrack materials that are more sustainable than animal-based ones, while being just as affordable, durable, and beautiful. We fast-track innovation in three main ways: we identify and assess innovative materials and technologies; we spur investments, research, and development to scale select innovations; and we partner with brands, retailers, and suppliers to get sustainable materials to market. When there are more options and more competition, the products will be better, the prices will be lower, and brands will deliver what customers want.

This article was written for FashionUnited by Material Innovation. Visit Materialinnovation.org to learn more about MII’s work and get involved with creating a sustainable future for fashion.

Image: (Home) Desserto / De Gyves

Material Innovation Initiative
Next gen materials