Textiles are evolving to meet consumer demand for sustainability. “There’s a real push for sustainability now, and the home textiles industry is waking up to that consumer call,” says Shannon Maher, chair of Home Products Development at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York.
It’s about reducing waste during textile production, she said and reusing or recycling waste to produce other products. “Zero Waste has definitely become a watchword,” she said.
Consumers today have a heightened awareness of the harm plastic does to the environment, and “are willing to pay 5 or 10% more for a sustainable product as a way of contributing to the circular economy, and helping the environment,” she says.
Rugs and outdoor fabrics, for instance, are increasingly being made with recycled materials instead of new plastics. A lot is happening on the fashion-design front, too, to explore new, sustainably sourced and even compostable types of textiles.
“Companies like Adidas and Nike are at the cutting edge of some of these innovations, and their work — and innovations in textiles used for apparel — does trickle down to textiles in other realms,” Maher says.
An exhibit of textile innovations at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York City, on view through Jan. 20, includes a dress made by a Japanese design team that features naturally glowing silk, made from silkworms injected with a green fluorescent protein derived from jellyfish. There’s a prototype for Adidas sneakers made entirely of ocean plastic; another prototype of sneakers that would be entirely compostable; and a textile made from algae.
“There’s a level of optimism when you look around and see designers really taking on the challenge of all this,” says Andrea Lipps, a curator at the Cooper Hewitt who helped organize the exhibit. “There’s a groundswell of creativity that’s continuing to reverberate.”