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Plant-based fashion is finally having its moment

A major shift in clothing manufacture is underway, fronted by a surge in the number of brands experimenting with next-generation ‘livestock-free’ replacements for conventional animal-based materials.

It’s common knowledge that fast fashion has long-dominated the style landscape, for the affordable and straightforward way in which it enables consumers to keep up with continually fluctuating trends.

However, unlike the rapid nature of these fads – which come and go as quickly as TikTok challenges – the clothes and accessories we obsess over and promptly forget about can take decades and sometimes even centuries to decompose.

That’s why, in 2022, it’s no longer all that appealing to be buying into whatever our favourite influencers are attempting to sell us with their #ad posts.

Unless, of course, they too have jumped on the circular bandwagon and are now promoting items that don’t cause harm to the planet.

In the digital age, internet users are easily swayed by even slight alterations in what’s ‘hot’ and what isn’t, a phenomena largely at the mercy of corporate market forces and advertising agencies.

The responsibility to swerve public opinion doesn’t really lie with social media personalities nor their platforms, who serve as cogs in a larger machine – change has to come from companies directly.

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We should be focusing our energy on brands that banked on the pandemic’s call for a cultural reset. The fashion industry as a whole is renowned for being one of the world’s most polluting, and many companies have now begun to offer viable solutions to previously eco-unfriendly practises as a result of new public pressure.

While some ideas have been quick to materialise, the abandonment of fur and 3D-printed garments being just two examples, others have been somewhat late to the game.

Plant-based fashion has taken a while to develop into a tangible industry niche, but it seems we may finally be reaching a sizeable tipping point into mainstream acceptance.

Today, a major shift in clothing manufacture is underway, fronted by a surge in the number of brands experimenting with ‘livestock-free’ replacements for conventional animal-based materials and collaborating with start-ups on the burgeoning technologies that make this possible.

And no, I’m not referring to the human hair and sweat textiles I liberally shared my opinion about back in December, nor vegan leather which we’re already well aware is part of a booming market.

According to a report by the Material Innovation Initiative (MII), some 150 of the sector’s biggest names from Gucci to Salvatore Ferragamo are turning their attention to ‘next-generation’ (defined this way because ‘current-gen’ replacements like PVC rely on harmful chemicals, which isn’t any better for the environment) silks, furs, wools, downs, and exotic skins in a bid to transform their production models and leave behind the role they’re playing at present in the climate crisis and in biodiversity loss.

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Adidas using Spinnova’s excess wood fabric to make shoes, The North Face using Spiber, a version of silk that’s fermented in tanks like beer, to make jackets, and H&M using Flwrdwn, a new down alternative made partly from wildflowers, to make puffer coats are of those which stand out so far.

This change has the potential to reduce fashion’s waste stream and carbon footprint, as well as make it a more ethical industry by reducing its cruel reliance on animals as commodities to make its materials.

‘The sheer volume — so many people are actually doing something here, and it’s growing really fast — that’s one of the biggest insights or trends of the report,’ says MII chief innovation officer Elaine Siu.

‘We see this as the next frontier following the explosive growth of plant-based foods. This trend is irreversible. Everyone knows you need to up your game and get more sustainable with your raw materials.’

Obviously, it won’t solve every problem – and sustainability experts often criticise fashion for focusing on these at the expense of wider issues such as overproduction – but it may lessen the severity of the most urgent among them.

Plus, as an indication of the industry’s willingness to adapt, the findings are certainly encouraging. Primarily so for us conscious consumers and our shopping habits.


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