Prada’s recently released line of bags might have seemed familiar and not simply because of their iconic silhouettes. Its new Re-Nylon range — featuring six bags for men and women — will all be made from a recycled nylon material, Econyl.
Produced by Italian synthetic textile manufacturer Aquafil, Econyl uses waste like fishing nets and industrial plastic from landfill and recovers the usable nylon from it. This nylon waste is then processed and recycled to its original form, meaning that Econyl is a fully regenerated material. It can be recycled indefinitely without affecting its quality, says Prada.
Now in its eighth year of production, Econyl has been picked up by sports brands like Speedo and Adidas, as well as fashion companies like H&M and Stella McCartney. Its versatility means it has also been adopted by interior brands where it is useful for making carpet and flooring.
Econyl’s popularity shows how pressing an issue sustainability has become in the clothing industry. If fast fashion — the habit of buying cheap, trend-led items — continues, it is estimated that the industry will consume a quarter of the world’s annual carbon budget by 2050. And as fashion brands increasingly come under criticism for their part in the climate crisis, they want to appear as eco-conscious as possible.
Prada hopes that all its nylon accessories will be made with Econyl by 2021, but the regenerated nylon is far from the only sustainable textile on offer.
Piñatex is a natural textile made from pineapple leaf fibre. Developed by Carmen Hijosa, a leather goods designer, it is made from the fruit’s leaves, which are usually discarded during the pineapple harvest. That means the process requires no additional farming. The company says that the process supports rural communities in Philippines, where it is made, by creating a new source of income for farmers that otherwise rely on a seasonal harvest.
The resulting textile is a soft and durable leather substitute that can be used in clothing, accessories and interiors. In April, Swedish fashion brand H&M released a pair of cowboy boots made from the material as part of its sustainability-focused line, Conscious Collection.
In order to create a leather substitute, Californian start-up Bolt Threads, turned to the vegetable world, using mycelium (mushroom roots) to create Mylo. This manufacturing process is both quicker and also does not require livestock-rearing. A 2014 UN reportshowed that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, forestry and fisheries have nearly doubled over the past fifty years and could increase by 30% by 2050 if the current rate continues.
The V&A’s recent Fashioned from Nature exhibition, which explored the relationship between fashion and where it sources its textiles, included a Stella McCartney handbag made from Mylo.
Bolt Threads also studied spiders’ DNA and their silk production to create Microsilk, a silk substitute which avoids much of the traditional pollution caused by textile production. The company says it combines the best parts of silk — versatile and breathable — with new upsides, namely that it is easier to wash.
Other sustainable options from the natural world include US shoe start-up Allbirds, which last year used the pulp from eucalyptus trees to create its Tree Runners line. Meanwhile Brooklyn-based AlgiKnit headed to the seas, using kelp — a type of seaweed — to create sustainable yarn for use as footwear, accessories and interiors.