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Activated silk & 3D printing: How are luxury brands leading the way to sustainable fashion?

From high fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Prada, to sportswear collections like Adidas for Prada, recycled textiles are more than just a niche trend. Today’s luxury fashion experience not only includes tailor-made design with luxurious materials, but also design with ethical roots that have been created mindfully and responsibly.

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According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),the global textile recycling rate currently hovers at about 15 percent. Hence, the fashion industry is working tirelessly to boost this number. More fabrics are being made of synthetic polymers and it is estimated that increasing textile recycling by just 10 percent could prevent the disposal of more than 1 million tons of fabric. Not only does this help save over USD 55 million in waste management fees each year, but equally keeps more valuable materials out of the waste stream as a whole.

“Green” materials herald a new era in fashion

Major luxury fashion houses are also beginning to recognize the value and potential of recycled plastics by incorporating more of those materials into their product lines. LVMH’s Perfume & Cosmetic Division partnered to develop Eastman Cristal Renew co-polyester packaging with 30 percent recycled content, which will be used by both divisions.

Source: Evolved By Nature

A number of LVMH brands are also expected to follow suit, including Parfums Christian Dior’s product packaging and Stella McCartney’s engineered silk printing technique. In addition to using eco-friendly materials such as recycled polyester and organic cotton, McCartney has implemented a strategy to reduce waste throughout its supply chain, including the ETI Code of Conduct.

LVMH environmental development director Hélène Valade stated earlier, “Our collaboration with Eastman marks a critical milestone towards progressively eliminating fossil-fuel-based plastics from our packaging. Eastman’s innovative molecular recycling technologies are playing a crucial role in helping LVMH achieve our sustainability targets. We are at the very beginning of our journey to meet our targets. With our first deadline in 2023, we need solutions that are available now and at a global scale, ensuring our customers experience these benefits immediately.”

Though Dior uses some eco-friendly materials and has set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the brand has yet made plans to reduce supply chain emissions.

Givenchy‘s former creative director Clare Waight Keller recently revived denim on the runway with a sustainable twist, by upcycling it into ’90s-inspired skirts, coats, and frayed culottes. “Even as a luxury fashion house we can take steps to be more sustainable and actually, you can still wear something from the 1990s, you just have to reinterpret it” Keller declared.

Outside of the luxury fashion conglomerate, brands are also taking cues – Salvatore Ferragamo has released scarves made of orange fibers, Maison Margiela has been incorporating “green” textiles in their design, and Max Mara takes on upcycled yarn from NewLife.

Econyl is the new black 

In order to keep synthetic fibers out of the fashion ecosystem, several luxury brands are turning to Econyl, a regenerated nylon that is made from discarded clothing and fishing nets. Upon the launch of Prada’s Re-Nylon campaign with the use of Econyl fabric, the company has expanded its original six style capsule collection to a full-house program that will transition all of their products into Re-Nylon within two years.

Source: Prada

The second name on the list among the Econyl family is none other than Louis Vuitton. The fashion house’s late Creative Director, Virgil Abloh, launched a collection of Felt Line bags, made of 100 percent recycled polyester from reused plastics and pre-consumer waste.

The LVMH group has also jumped on the circular fashion wave with its Nona Source online marketplace, selling surplus fabric and leather from Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Fendi. As described on their website, these “sleeping beauties” are materials sourced by experts specifically for high fashion creations. Dare (Disrupt, Act, and Risk to be an Entrepreneur) is LVMH’s global entrepreneurship programme, and Nona Source is part of it.

Gucci, was one of the first in the fashion industry to commit to corporate social responsibility. Over the past three years, they have regenerated 307 tons of textile waste under the Greenline initiative.

As part of its commitment to positive environmental change, Gucci launched a full-house initiative, the Gucci Off The Grid collection, that incorporates regenerated materials and textiles into its products with Econyl’s support. Additionally, Gucci also recycles excess fabric into new Econyl in order to minimize waste and ensure circular production.

Evolved By Nature, the Chanel-backed brand creates activated silk

Evolved By Nature is a biotech start-up who manufactures natural silk protein. The Chanel-backed company has invented activated silk, which can be used as a substitute for toxic substances in clothing and skincare products.

Back in 2014, the company began researching for a way to eliminate toxins from the cosmetics industry and beyond, with the main focus being the aforementioned silk protein. In under eight years, the Activated Silk project was finalized and the brand began raising funds to put the material into large-scale production.

Activated Silk is created by extracting peptides from natural silk. The final product takes a liquid form, so it can be applied not only to textiles, but also to cosmetics. The selection of silkworm cocoons is based on the exclusion of cooperation with any farms that use GMOs. Furthermore, the material is recycled – Evolved By Nature uses cocoons that are discarded by the local fishing industry. The brand declares that the collection and processing of the material does not contribute to harming the biological system.

As for skincare products, activated silk performs better than synthetic soaps – it strengthens the skin barrier and cleanses. It is also promising for the cosmetics industry, which is trying to eliminate more and more chemical ingredients in its formulations.

Source: Evolved By Nature

The start-up raised as much as USD 120 million in its latest funding round. This funding, according to Evolved By Nature, will enable the company to conduct further research and launch activated silk bioactive molecules in both company-owned and third-party personal care products, a natural alternative to retinoids and fossil fuel derivatives.

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Evolved By Nature plans to increase production from 150 to 900 tonnes of activated silk. The financing will support full operation and the production of Activated Silk by 2024.

Based on the company’s calculations, this would equate to 900 million jars of petrochemical-free skincare, 150 million square feet of biodegradable, polyurethane-free leather, 195 million pieces of performance apparel with a sustainable finishing chemistry, or 7,200 metric tons of non-biodegradable surfactants.