Textile production is dirty dirty dirty -- one of the dirtiest industries in the world in fact. Why? Partly because of the damage that cotton crops and synthetic fiber production inflicts on the environment, and partly because of seriously outdated manufacturing methods used to dye and finish fabric.
But enough of the depressing facts: As consumers are becoming increasingly aware and clothing manufacturers are stepping up to more environmental accountability, technology is taking off -- and there have been huge advances.
From fabric out of food, beer bottles and more to dying with air, and web sites that know your exact measurements, these 10 awesome technologies are changing fashion as we know it.
1. Fabric Out of Milk, Tea, and Coffee Beans
Milk, tea and coffee tend to stick together...but not like this. As the high-tech sector is taking off in making fashion more sustainable, other, more-humble, technologies are just as innovative -- and really, really cool. Case in point: Food products being turned into wearable commodities.
German microbiology-student-turned-designer Anke Domaske uses milk to make a an "Eco Milk Fiber" called QMilch. High-tech sports clothing company Virus uses recycled coffee beans for their Stay Warm line of cold-weather performance apparel. And the genius Suzanne Lee, fashion designer and TED Senior Fellow, has been making fabric and vegetable leather out of...get this...the fermented tea, kombucha. (Pictured above.)
Check out this video for more:
2. Dying with Air, Saving Gallons of Water
Developed in California by Colorep, AirDye works with proprietary dyes that are heat-transferred from paper to fabric in a one-step process. This can save between seven and 75 gallons of water in the dying of a pound of fabric, save energy, and produces no harmful by-products. The technology uses 85 percent less energy then traditional dying methods.
3. Digital Printing
With digital printing, prints are directly applied to fabrics with printers, reducing water usage by 95 percent, energy reduction of 75 percent, and minimizing textile waste.
This technique has been used by designers like Mary Katrantzou, Alexander McQueen and Basso & Brooke.
4. Plastic Bags and Beer Bottles Finding New Life
Recycled synthetics, made with everything from plastic bags to beer bottles continue to make a splash. In much the same way that other materials and bamboo are transformed into thread, the upcycled synthetics are broken down into a fine particulate, melted, and extruded into fiber.
The I Am Not A Virgin jeans pictured above use a mix of 25 percent bottle fiber and 75 percent cotton, the resulting material is soft to the hand, yet is durable and performs as denim should.
Sometimes the "latest" innovations are really some of the oldest. A number of smaller fashion lines are resorting to locally sourced materials and hand dying their garments to create stunning looks.
Pieces from Jeff Garner's Prophetik (pictured above), for example, rely on hemp-silk blends hand-dyed using organic dyestuffs grown locally in a community garden.
Among others following this trend are Eindhoven-based designers Renee Mennen & Stefanie van Keijsteren from the design firm rENs, who have hand-dyed a clothing collection comprised of a monochrome rainbow of reds.
6. Online Shopping Tools That Know Your Measurements
Online retailers deal with a high percentage of returns due to poor fit, material quality satisfaction, and customer's just not liking what they get.
Smart on-line shopping tools are being developed that have the potential to dramatically reduce returns and minimize shipping energy and waste in the process. MyShape has developed a patented technology that matches shoppers with items that correspond to their personal measurements and preferences. In 2009. Their Sizeless Dressing allows shoppers to skip the size labels with the assurance that each piece of clothing they purchase will fit and flatter them.
In the same vein, Fits.me, was launched by the retailer Hawes & Curtis. Fits.me is a virtual fitting room with a shape-shifting robotic mannequin that takes body measurements and mimics a body's shape so that an exact fit can be seen. The site has been such a success that online German retailer Quelle saw returns reduced by 28 percent.
7. Water-Free Stone Washing
Levi’s WaterLess products are a water-conserving collection that allows the company to use an average of 28 percent less, and at times as much as 96 percent less water to finish their jeans. Thus far, the collection has reduced the company’s use of water by more than 172 million liters. Watch the process above.
8. Bio-Filtering WastewaterSo maybe it doesn't have the sexiest-sounding name, but the comprehensive technology known as Sequencing Batch Biofilter Granular Reactor is innovative indeed.
The process helps remove the most toxic textile dyes components - the recalcitrant organic compounds - by breaking them down via ozone treatment, prior to the application of a wastewater bio-filtering technique. Unlike traditional biological systems, this innovative treatment filter relies on microorganisms growing in aggregates.
The wastewater is poured over the microorganisms, which process pollutants, and each aggregate holds up to 10 times more microorganisms than traditional technologies, and produces 80 percent less sludge than conventional biological filters.
9. Smart Tailoring
Direct Panel on Loom (DPOL) technology, also called Smart Tailoring was created by Indian designer Siddhartha Upadhyaya as a way to increase fabric efficiency (by 15 percent) and reduce lead-time (by 50 percent) to manufacture high-end garments.
By using a computer attached to a loom, data such as color, pattern and size related to the garment is entered, and the loom cranks out the exact pieces -- which then just need to be constructed. Weaving, fabric cutting, and patterning happen all at once. Brilliant. Not only does DPOL minimize immense waste of fabric, it also helps in saving energy and water by 70 to 80 percent.
10. New Standards
More of a concentrated movement than a tech innovation, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a comprehensive fiber certification program developed by leading standard setters in order to define internationally recognized requirements. It sets the stage for many of the new technologies being developed today. The standards ensure “organic status of textiles, from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labeling in order to provide credible assurance to the consumer.”
Because of the demand for unified processing criteria from the industry and retail sector it has gained universal recognition, enabling processors and manufacturers to supply their organic textiles with one certification accepted in all major markets. With the introduction of the logo and labeling system the GOTS in a milestone in the industry, and is making an impact from natural textile boutiques to the largest retailers and brand dealers. To see the standard in full, visit global-standard.org.