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Orange peel silk and fabric made from banana plant leaves: are you ready for biomaterials to take over your wardrobe?

Photography By Huong Nguyen, Eva Sonneveld & Charlotte Bakkenes by Christian Mpamo, Alina Krasieva
Published 17.11.21

Fashion is all about what’s next: new styles and upcoming trends. But perhaps we should be gazing beyond the cut of our next pair of jeans and thinking about the future of fabrics altogether.

Picture yourself opening your wardrobe and pulling out a silk dress made from orange peel waste. Or wearing leather accessories crafted from coconut shells and cork powder. Or how about buying an entire outfit that came from banana plant leaves. It sounds like a nature lover’s fantasy (or a deranged Halloween costume) but, thanks to a project by innovative platform Fashion for Good, a surreal, organic wardrobe is closer than you think. 

Earlier this year, the team launched GROW talent, a three-month project that challenged a group of up-and-coming designers to produce a sustainable fashion exhibition from start to finish (to be displayed at the Fashion for Good Museum in Amsterdam). The brief was ambitious. This wasn’t focused on familiar efforts such as upcycling or using organic cotton. Under the guidance of industry professionals, the creatives were given exclusive access to groundbreaking new biomaterials, such as fibres made from kapok trees and plant-based leather alternatives. 

Fredereike Broerkgaarden shot by Christian Mpamo

Frederieke Broekgaarden, a 22-year-old fashion and textiles designer, was one of the creatives selected for the program. She used her time to research and experiment with a new fibre made from FSC-certified wood pulp, developed by Finnish company Spinnova

Most people don’t look at trees and see beautiful pieces of clothing. But Spinnova does. Its breakthrough technology transforms pulped raw material like wood into a textile fibre ready for spinning into yarn. 

“What really fascinated me about Spinnova is that they developed their own technique, inspired by the way a spider makes it spiderweb,” Broekgaarden says. Her appreciation for this process is apparent in the design she produced for GROW: an eye-catching, multilayered dress, with intricate details that very much emulate the patterns of a web. “The garment became a spider’s dance, where I experimented with knitting in combination with pleating techniques and references to ballet.” 

It’s not your average design. But then again, it shouldn’t be. The whole point of GROW was to explore innovation and push the creatives to produce something from biomaterials worthy of exhibition. Beyond that, the designs are also there to help people imagine what their wardrobes will look like once they’re no longer filled with items made from harmful synthetics or fossil fuel derivatives. 

Charlotte Bakkenes by Christian Mpamo

Huong Nguyen by Christian Mpamo

For anyone worried that clothes made from biomaterials will be science- rather than style-focused, a virtual preview of the exhibition paints an exciting vision. Charlotte Bakkenes and Huong Nguyen both worked with kapok tree fibres for their designs. Bakkenes produced a timeless black dress with twin shoulder drapes – an elegant piece that wouldn’t look out of place on the red carpet. Nguyen’s experience designing permanent collections inspired by Vietnamese tailoring and Scandinavian slow living was on display in an abstract and multifunctional modern suit. Eva Sonneveld showed us how stylish casual dressing can be, with a matching three-piece outfit that could easily be dressed up or down, made from banana plantation residues

Fashion for Good’s marketing and communications director, Anne-Ro Klevant Groen, says it’s easy to forget that before the influx of cheaper products derived from synthetics and fossil fuels, for centuries, fashion was based on biomaterials, like cotton, hemp and silk. The resurgence of these materials and new innovations in textile technology are obviously good news for the environment. 

But biomaterials are also good for designers and shoppers, creating opportunities to upcycle old garments and helping individuals take better responsibility for a product’s end of life. A circular model is, after all, where the industry is heading and young designers, like those chosen for GROW, are particularly keen to fast-track the disruption of a historically destructive industry. 

“While design is partly responsible for the ruthless exploitation of the planet, it also offers the solution,” Broekgaarden says. “I believe that innovative biomaterials, made-to-measure and made-to-order, represent the future of fashion and I hope that, in the next 10 years, we make big steps into improving our industry.” 

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