If the first thing you think of when you hear about clothes made from food is the meat dress Lady Gaga wore to the 2010 MTV Awards, you’re probably not alone. But there’s a lot more to this idea than headline-grabbing gimmicks.
Fashion is big business. So much so that if the fashion industry were a country, it would be pushing for a place in the top 10 for GDP, with annual sales of $1.3 trillion.
One of the biggest trends in the world of apparel is fast fashion – mass market, affordable clothing with a high turnover of styles, to keep customers buying. It’s an approach that’s working in terms of numbers. Shoppers buy 60% more clothes than they did 15 years ago, and have doubled the rate at which they dispose of them.
From cotton to leather, the creation of fashion’s raw materials consumes vast amounts of resources and generates huge amounts of pollution and emissions. There are man-made fibres, such as polyester, which are derived from fossil fuels, and around 20% of the world’s wastewater comes from the fashion industry. It also produces huge amounts of microfibres, which eventually find their way into the ocean.
It’s no surprise there is a growing call for more ethically and environmentally responsible clothing. Step forward, Pinatex – an alternative to leather, made from pineapple leaf fibre. Although it is biodegradable, many of the treatments Pinatex receives in the manufacturing process are not. The resins that coat the fibres, for example, are petrochemical-based. But by using a by-product of pineapple agriculture, it is more environmentally friendly than traditional leather and plastic-based alternatives.
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Bananas are also getting in on the act. Musa fibre is a durable material made from the stem of the banana tree – it’s also known as banana fibre. Biodegradable, very strong yet capable of being spun and woven, musa fibre is already in use as an alternative to traditional textiles. It is comprised of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin, and bonded using natural gums. It has been used in Japan for centuries.
Other food-based clothing and textile innovations include:
This EU-funded initiative has taken the wine industry’s leftovers and turned them into Vegea, a leather alternative. The leather-like substance is, unsurprisingly, the colour of red wine and a Vegea dress by the designer Tiziano Guardini was exhibited at London’s V&A Museum.
The Italian fashion label Salvatore Ferragamo has produced a range of clothes made from a viscose-like material made from oranges. The company behind it, called Orange Fiber, use peel discarded in the production of orange juice.
Waste from food crops such as oilseed hemp and oilseed flax straw as well as pineapple leaves, banana trunks and sugar cane bark, has been turned into packaging, fertilizer, biofuel and a new range of bio-friendly fibre. The company behind it won the Global Change Award.