Billions of animals are used every year to create textiles for the fashion industry, but animals aren’t the only ones suffering. The production of animal derived materials also has a devastating impact on our environment. Luckily, there is a solution that is positive for both animals and the planet. Next generation materials offer plant-based alternatives to products such as leather, fur, down, wool, and more!
Next Generation Materials
Just as plant-based foods offer alternatives to meat and dairy, plant-based fabrics offer animal-free alternatives for our clothing. Known as next generation materials, or next-gen, these fabrics differ from many of the plastic-based animal-free products currently on the market because next-gen materials take into account environmental sustainability as well as animal welfare.
Plants & Algae
Plants such as pineapple, coconut, soybean, hemp, wood cellulose, cactus, apples, corn, bananas, grapes, rice, and more can be made into fabrics of various textures and purposes. Fungi and algae are also commonly used in next-gen materials.
This root-like structure of some fungal species offers such unique qualities, that it is often considered its own category of next-gen materials. Mycelium can be used as a leather alternative, in addition to replacing other plastic based elements in fashion, such as sneakers and shoe soles. It is also fire-proof, and is thus being developed as a building material in addition to the vast innovation it has spawned in the fashion industry.
Processes such as fermentation can produce products such as biopolymers and proteins that are then developed into next generation materials. Microbe materials can be used to make fur alternatives, leather alternatives, yarns, knit fabric, woven fabric, denim, fleece, and more.
Rather than always creating new fabrics, next-gen materials also encourage using materials that are already in existence and creating new garments or fabrics from the previously existing material. This category can include plastic-based materials or recycled animal-derived products.
Why do we need to reduce use of animal derived materials?
Numerous undercover investigations have documented the extensive animal suffering and abuse that occurs in the production of animal-derived products. Cruel practices persist, such as live plucking of birds for their feathers, mulesing of lambs bred for their wool, and fur-bearing animals spend their entire lives in tiny cages, only to be cruelly slaughtered for their fur.
Even for brands with certified textile supply chains and animal welfare policies, there is inherent risk to animal welfare in the intensive production of animal derived materials, and it remains highly challenging to guarantee that animals are being treated humanely.
Why are animal derived materials considered bad for the environment?
The environmental impact of animal derived materials is significant, and their production is often directly linked to intensive livestock farming, accounting for 83% of agricultural land use1 and 16.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions2.
And it’s not just the farming phase of animal derived material production that is detrimental to the environment, these materials need a significant amount of processing before use, often requiring treatment with toxic chemicals, heavy metals, or fossil fuel-based substances.
Fashion Innovation and Economic Impact of Next Generation Materials
With over three billion dollars of investment into the next-gen materials industry over the past decade, we are seeing more and more innovative and ingenious ways of producing textiles for fashion without the huge cost to animals and the environment. Brands such as Stella McCartney, Ganni, Miomojo, Pangaia and Hermès are already successfully showcasing garments and accessories made from plants and fungi, using microbes, and other innovative processes. Additional brands are taking strides to improve their animal welfare policies, such as Nike, who have recently committed to using certified Responsible Wool Standard, as well as many other leading brands which have signed our brands against mulesing list, such as Puma, Adidas, and Hugo Boss.
It is vital that brands support these innovators in their efforts to transform the fashion industry for the better, and we can do this by first by reducing our use of animal derived materials and transitioning to low-impact animal-free material choices.
- Look for animal-free biobased or recycled materials, like handbags made from mushrooms, cactus, apples, grapes and more!
- Go for products made from waste, like discarded fishing nets and even used coffee grinds.
- Let brands know how you feel about their use of animal derived materials and their negative impacts.
- Ask them what next-gen materials they are investing in or trialing, you could even encourage them to create a version of your favorite bag or accessory with a next-gen material – brands want to know there is demand for change amongst their customer base!
- For brands still using animal derived materials, ask about how they go about ensuring adequate animal welfare within their supply chains, and what they’re doing to reduce use.
Let’s help create a kinder fashion industry and a make the world a place where animals, the environment and people are treated with respect, empathy and understanding.