The Genteel
April 21, 2021


Innovative cotton-like fabrics have been made from sour cow's milk by German fashion designer Anke Domaske. Source:
Hagfish Slime Fabric Future
Hagfish Slime has Lycra-like qualities when dried.

Science is influencing the fashion industry from all angles, and with fabric being the starting point of garment construction, fabric development is no exception. Forget cotton and polyester, the future of fabrics is taking a more unusual route. Your next outfit could be found in your fridge, at the bottom of the ocean, or even metamorphose in front of your very eyes.

Take Qmilch, an innovative fabric made from sour milk by German microbiologist-turned-fashion-designer Anke Domaske. Domaske's all-natural fibre has a silk-like texture, but is made mainly from a protein called casein, extracted from substandard dried milk powder. It is then heated up with other natural ingredients such as beeswax, and pressed into threads through a type of meat-mincing machine. These are then woven into fabric. The amino acids within the protein are anti-bacterial and anti-aging, while the fabric itself can also regulate body temperature and blood circulation.

Related: Italian fashion label, Made with Milk, uses fabric made of milk fibres in its collections.

In an interview with Euromaxx in July 2011, Domaske says, "the special thing about it is that we can manufacture it without using any pesticides or chemicals, and it only takes an hour to produce. That's very environmentally friendly, it saves resources." The company also makes a conscious effort to minimise water consumption during the manufacturing process. It takes half a gallon (1.9 litres) to make two pounds of the fabric in comparison to the 10,000 litres required to make the same amount of cotton. However, despite the sustainability factor, CNN has highlighted the extortionate difference in price; Qmilch fabric comes in at around $30 per kilo whereas the same amount of cotton yarn costs just $3.80.

There is a long way to go until we will see milk and self-transforming garments on the high-street. Watch this space, though - the future of fashion looks slimy.

If sour milk clothing doesn't appeal, then how about fish slime? Researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada have declared that the slime produced by the prehistoric hagfish has the potential to be used in fashion because, once dried, it takes on Lycra-like qualities.

The hagfish lets out slime as a form of self-defence, suffocating its attacker once bitten. In seawater, the slime expands into a stretchy but strong substance that becomes silky once dried. Scientists claim that hagfish fibre has properties suitable to athletic wear, or even bulletproof clothing, making it a sustainable and natural alternative to Lycra production.

Related: Genetically customisable stringray shoes by Rayfish Footwear.

However, it's unclear whether producing clothing from hagfish slime is actually possible. "We know very little about hagfish reproduction, and no-one has ever gotten hagfish to breed in captivity - amazing as that sounds," the head of the research project at the University of Guelph, Douglas Fudge, told the BBC last month. "Right now, we literally couldn't have hagfish farms the way we have cows or chickens, or any other domesticated animals in captivity." Instead scientists are already attempting to use genetically engineered bacteria to replicate the slime proteins.

London College of Fashion MA Fashion and the Environment student, Rachel Clowes, spoke to The Genteel about taking a different approach to fabric construction and addressing occasion to "wear waste". Pairing her passion for the environment with a love of contemporary fashion, Clowes wanted to address the issue of one-wear outfit waste with her Everyday Was Special project.

Clowes designed garments covered in organic bio-plastic sequins, which after two or three wears, melt away to leave natural dyes in place of the original sequins. Clowes sees metamorphic aspects of clothing, such as her dissolvable sequins, as the fashion of the future, "Hopefully it's something future designers are really going to push forward. To take it further than just thinking about sustainable materials, but also about how materials are sustainable through being used through the phases of its lifecycle." 

Related: Eco-fashion: Trendy or Timeless?

Rachel Clowes Biodegradable Sequins Phase 1
A dress from the Everyday Was Special project, 
before the biodegradable sequins have worn off. 

Clowes's innovation is not yet commercially viable due to the high costs of creating biodegradable sequins, as well as the large amount of labour involved in hand sewing bespoke designs. Although for Clowes, a higher price tag is the cost of such unique clothing, and justifiable due to the potential of metamorphic fashion; "I don't necessarily think it would be a bad thing that it would be more expensive because you would be getting more [wear] out of it." 

Another London College of Fashion student and winner of the Fashion Innovation Award for United Vision, Diana Auria Harris has developed a colourful retro swimwear collection with illustrator Margot Bowman using Econyl 100 per cent recycled hallow polyamide. This new generation fabric used in the debut Auria X Margot Bowman S/S 2013 collection is made from discarded products, including fishing nets, old carpets and voile. 

Related: The Beyond Fashion Summit in Berlin is an annual gathering that aims to develop and promote sustainable fashion initiatives through innovation.

With potentially far-reaching and innovative developments occurring within fabric construction, the variety of concepts is sure to grow, especially alongside initiatives such as The Sustainable Angle's Future Fabrics Expo, whose third sustainable textiles annual exhibition will take place at Olympia Exhibition Centre in London this September. However, the limitations remain significant; production costs are a major factor in holding back scientifically developed fabrics from larger-scale production. There is a long way to go before we will see milk and self-transforming garments on the high-street. Watch this space, though - the future looks slimy. 



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