Within the fashion and textile industry, inspiration from nature is everywhere. From dyes to patterns to materials themselves, biological processes have been translated into every facet of the textile industry. Biomimetics-or biomimicry- is a field dedicated to the understanding and subsequent adoption of elements from the natural world. While the term biomimetics may seem advanced, its older counterparts are well known and are rooted in the idea of observing nature.
One of the first instances of biomimetics in fashion was Velcro. In 1941, Velcro was invented by George de Mestral after observing the tiny hook-like structures on burs, seeds designed to be spread by passersby. These burs would latch themselves to Mestral’s dog during the walks they took. Inspired, he invented the trademark hooks of Velcro.
Since then, everyday life has become steeped in biomimetic technology. Clothing items like a water repellent jacket may seem like a human invention, but flora and fauna are the real designers. Both sea mammals and lotus leaves have hydrophobic abilities. Companies like Nikwax and Fantini have translated this ability into textiles. Fantani utilizes silicon nanomaterials to coat their clothing in a “self cleaning” layer similar to the superhydrophobic properties of a lotus leaf. Similarly, Nikwax’s textiles are water repellent, but they take inspiration from the fur of ocean mammals like seals. Their Analogy® fabric is designed to repel water on the exterior, while also directing interior moisture out.
Beyond mimicking visual components of the natural world, complex naturally occurring systems have been adapted for closed loop textile production. Algaeing, a sustainable textile and dye producer, has used this model to literally grow their products. Established in 2016, Algaeing has developed “100% renewable” textiles. Their technology converts algae and cellulose into bio-fibers which are then used to produce a variety of textiles. Their innovative process allows for a closed loop system resulting in an environmentally and economically sustainable company.
The regeneration and recycling of polymers and other materials considered non biodegradable is on the horizon. Naturally occurring enzymes like PETase and MHETase have been found to digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the most common polymer in the textile industry. Currently, the enzymatic treatment of PET exists on a lab scale, making it difficult to process hundreds of tons of PET. Scaling up recycling and regeneration treatment such as this one is the next big step for the textile industry.
The natural world has already struck the balance of a sustainable existence. As the fashion industry becomes more sustainably oriented, new materials will go further than visually mimicking nature by harnessing physical and chemical interactions. If you also pursue the intersection between biomimetics and fashion, join us at www.phoenxt.com to learn more about our mission and collaborate!