The eco guide to unusual materials

Future generations will shake their heads at our loyalty to a handful of fibres with terrible environmental profiles, such as cotton (thirsty for pesticides and water) and plastic (oil based). A few will escape their censure: winners of the Plug and Play – Fashion for Good venture, recently held in Amsterdam to support low-impact innovations for the fashion industry, had a distinctly mushroomy flavour. These include MycoTex, a mushroom textile and Amadou, a “leather” made from the skin of amadou mushrooms. Meanwhile Pinatex (using the waste fibre from pineapple production) has made big inroads in the fashion industry over the last couple of months. Bourgeois Boheme stocks pineapple shoes as leather alternatives and sustainable style campaigner Livia Firth recently stepped out at the Met Ball in a silver dress essentially made from pineapple leaves. But agro-waste doesn’t always look this glamorous. Often it is used in more practical ways – like the trays that transport eggs and fruits which are made from novel fibres, including sugarcane. All over the world, agro-waste such as sugarcane bagasse and rice husk is burned as fuel which adds to air pollution. We’d be better off using it as a fibre. If you don’t want to wait for innovative textiles to prove themselves, get hold of a eucalyptus yarn kit from Tina Tape Yarn is made from sustainably sourced eucalyptus tree fibres (the yarn takes 80% less water to produce than cotton). The secret remains in keeping a healthy, balanced mix of materials. We do not want all of our eggs in one basket – or in a single type of tray. Proclaiming the ecological virtue of biomass energy crops (planted to be burned for fuel) can make you sound like the maddest of March hares. But zoologists have found that small blocks of elephant grass can sustain the dwindling numbers of brown hares – even small areas will harbour animals. The same cannot be said for vast monocultures which threaten wildlife. The answer is finding the right balance. Costume designer Cynthia Summers is dedicated to eco and ethical fashion, meaning that characters in the hit shows she styles increasingly find themselves not just carrying a vegan bag, but as torch bearers for sustainable style. Keen-eyed viewers will have noted that high-end, fashion-driven shows, such as Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce (the cast, pictured, were all styled by Summers) also work as an onscreen directory for eco design. Among Summers’s favourite brands are Matt & Nat, Muzungu Sisters and GoldDust Dresses, from repurposed vintage cotton. ‘Sustainable style comes with so many faces nowadays. For me, it is fashion that is responsible, flexible and proactive,’ she says. ‘I have found in the past few years that a lot more actors and producers are open to an eco-approach.’

The Guardian, 21 May 2017 ; ;