It's no surprise that the fashion industry has a sustainability problem. But finally, a global boom in plant-based lifestyles is having an impact on the fashion industry and both clothing brands and manufacturers are waking up to their duties to protect planet and people. Embodying whole-system thinking, a new crop of designers and biologists are pioneering circular processes in the fashion supply chain, using materials from algae to fungi.
One such development is the use of mycelium (mushroom roots) as a natural alternative to leather, with Netherlands company Neffa creating a workable mycelium fibre known as MycoTEX.
Using 3D technology, MycoTEX can be customised into clothing that doesn’t need to be cut or sewn and once it has worn out, it can be buried to decompose.
To find out more, we spoke to Aniela Hoitink, creator of MycoTEX to explain her ideation and design process and how fashion businesses and consumers can get their hands on the new material.
Can you provide a brief outline of what MycoTEX is and how it has evolved since its inception?
There are 7 billion people on this planet that all need to be clothed. Many of us enjoy fashion and trends, but the clothes that we get rid of are a big problem. For MycoTEX we went to the root of the problem. MycoTEX creates sustainable fabric from mycelium, the roots of mushrooms. With our BB-modelling process, we create garments of this new textile that perfectly fit your body without the need to cut and sew.
Our shorter supply chain eliminates the need for chemicals and pesticides. We reduce water usage by 99,5% and local production is reducing transport. We only grow what we need and have no textile waste during the production phase. And AFTER wearing, you can simply bury your garment in the ground and it will naturally decompose.
Originally I started my research in developing a composite for interior products that would absorb moisture and insulate the house. I started by combining mycelium with textiles, in order to create flexible composite products from the waste textile material using the best of both worlds. Learning whilst researching, my goal turned into developing textiles consisting exclusively of pure mycelium and I discovered that we could shape mycelium directly into 3D which for me was a great opportunity as this would mean that we could be shorting the supply chain by creating garments on a different way and that this would allow for personalisation more easily.
It’s an amazing material, what first inspired you to start developing it? Was it a desire to improve sustainability in the fashion/textiles industries or something else?
My desire is to create innovative textiles and products based on personalisation. We all want to be part of a group, yet remain unique, I find that a very interesting contrast.
I always have looked outside the fashion industry for inspiration. From using solar energy and other electronics to growing nature like mycelium and bacteria, I believe that on these intersections we can create real innovative products. Sustainability is part of that. Also I question a lot the things we do and I am fascinated with nature. I believe nature has all the answers. So when I saw an open call to work with mycelium, I knew I had to be part of that.
Can you tell us about any positive environmental/social impacts you have seen or expect to see as a result of MycoTEX?
MycoTEX only grows what is needed and therefore eliminates waste through the whole process. MycoTEX will be on-demand, so we only grow what is ordered (limiting 30% of waste production). We only grow what is needed for the garment, as there is no cutting fabric involved as we use the material directly on a 3D surface of a body.
And after wearing, one can simply bury the garment in the ground for it to decompose. We have created a shorter supply chain reducing transport, water, chemicals and the need for expensive farmland.
At the moment MycoTEX is a very new and small-scale innovation, how do you expect it to scale up and be used by the industry in the future?
Currently, the majority is working on improving the different steps of the supply chain as it is. These are short-term solutions which are necessary right now. However, we need new innovations starting at the roots of the problems. And we think biomaterials in combination with new production techniques are the future.
By developing a new supply chain we will be able to create better products from the start that are fitting the needs and demands we have right now and in the future. We are looking for production partners that feel the same and who want us to help scale up.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to becoming a more sustainable and less harmful industry?
The biggest obstacle, in my opinion, is that we try to stick to the old system of developing garments and are not looking at the reality of how 7 billion people wear and treat their clothes. If you realise that we wear our garments on average only 5 times, why would you spend time on a production technique based on the fact that we have and wear our garments for a lifetime?
One can think about dying garments differently as the ink does not have to last that long. Is washing indeed needed? A tree has every year a new set of leaves, plants rise every year. Nature has a consumptive behaviour and yet it manages to keep the planet healthy, what can we learn from that?
Can you tell us about your plans moving forward?
After developing a proof-of-concept and prototypes, we are now working on improving the material to be ready for everyday wear. We are working on the Body-Based modelling system to create garments based on different measurements and looking for production partners interested in co-development and/or bringing this system onto the market.
Finally, how can industry professionals and consumers get involved and engage with the work you are doing?
If industry professionals are interested in collaboration, I would love to hear from them so we can discuss how they see such a collaboration. Also, we have a quarterly newsletter to keep those who want to updated and you can follow and comment on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook).
To find out more about MycoTEX, check out neffa.nl.