Over the years, production of leather has resulted in large amounts of waste that threaten the environment. Most of the world's leather is tanned in Southeast Asia, where laws and standards to protect the environment are weak. The waste produced from the leather industry often ends up in rivers and adversely affects both human and animal life, sometimes even causing infertility and birth defects.
However, biomaterials and 3D printing have made way for biofabrication as a sustainable solution to waste from apparel and leather manufacturing. Biofabrication uses 3D printing principles to produce biologically based materials. Learn five ways biofabrication will change the future of fashion.
1. Democratizes Leather Goods With Lab-grown Leather
The leather industry is a billion dollar business -- leather manufacturing in the United States produced a revenue of $2 billion in 2015 alone. Although the industry is not dominated by any specific company, entry into the market still has its challenges due to the cost of materials. Leather fabric is expensive, and so are the accessories needed to produce goods in volume, such as leather sewing machines and leather needles. This leaves luxury leather goods companies that enjoy large budgets with a competitive advantage over entry-level entrepreneurs and small businesses. However, with the advent of leather biofabrics, small businesses have the opportunity to experience economies of scale when demand expands, effectively democratizing leather goods.
2. Reduces Reliance on Tanneries
Lab-grown leather is becoming a possibility thanks to companies such as Modern Meadow. The Brooklyn-based company produces leather from living cell collagen, eliminating the need to kill animals. The properties mimic real leather and can be manipulated further through an ecologically mindful finishing and tanning process that enhances quality and textures based on design preferences. Although Modern Meadow claims it is not aiming to disrupt the leather industry with its lab-grown leather, it seeks to provide a sustainable solution to the waste issue prominent within the leather industry and reduces industry reliance on tanneries.
3. Creates Biofabrics That Beneficially React to Skin
The advancement of biofabrication offers enhanced performance wear that reacts to a person's body temperature and skin. This can be seen in 3D-printed material from bioLogic fabric, which uses bacteria from fermented soybeans and can react to sweat. This bio-skin material can help cool the body as it gets hot.
4. Offers Sustainable Fabric Options
Natural fabrics, such as cotton and silk, have been used for centuries to dress people in comfort. However, the impact of these natural fibers poses a threat to natural resources and public health. For example, cotton farming heavily relies on pesticides and needs vasts amounts of water just to produce about 40 percent of the world's clothing. This ultimately leads to farms having to suffer the ill effects of unhealthy pollutants and water waste.
However, biofabrication provides an alternative for producing material with natural qualities that mimic insect-made silk without a large impact on the environment or its inhabitants. For example, Bolt Threads is producing fabric made from spider silk. The company spins spider-silk-inspired protein, sugar and yeast into yarn, and the result is a strong and resilient material that's also soft and pliable. The company expects to bring the material to manufacturers in 2018.
5. Provides a Way to Obtain Fur Without Killing
The animals whose fur is so desirable can finally be spared thanks to bio-printed fur pelts and the help of BioFur. Although this material has yet to come to market, it will commercialize lab-grown fur pelts without the need to kill animals.
Although biofabrics have yet to enter the mainstream, persistent advancement and funding for these technologies bring commercialization closer to reality every day. When biofabrication comes to full fruition, it will do more than simply change the fashion industry. It may actually disrupt it.