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The fifth LVMH Innovation Award, celebrated 18th June, presented this year’s winners at Viva Technology. For the 2021 edition, 28 startups were shortlisted as finalists due to their innovative approach to the theme “The Future of Customer Experience is Here”. We focus on the sustainability category, its winner and nominees to explore how they use biomaterials to address the use of excess water and pesticide use in cotton production.
But first, let’s look at what the cotton problem is all about. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), cotton is the most widespread profitable non – food crop in the world. Its production employs almost 7% of all labor in developing countries and approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton. Its most noticeable environmental impacts are a result of the use of pesticides, consumption of water and the conversion from habitat to agricultural use. How can something as simple and useful as cotton be so harmful for the environment? The use of pesticides, fertilizers and minerals from cotton fields contaminate rivers and lakes affecting its biodiversity. Cotton is the largest user of water among agricultural products. Surface and ground waters are often diverted to irrigate cotton fields, leading to freshwater loss through evaporation, and inefficient water management.
Galy, winner of the LVMH sustainability award, is a startup founded by Luciano Bueno and Paula Elbl. They offer apparel brands cotton grown from cells in bioreactors. One of their main beliefs is that excess is not equal to abundance. Last year, the startup won the H&M Foundation Global Change Award for their use of biotechnology to create lab – grown cotton. Galy is at the forefront of a new technological era: reinventing one of the most toxic chains in the market they do in vitro cotton production, in other words, cotton grown from cells in a lab, not in a field.
Pangaia is a casualwear brand created in a lab. Even if they didn’t take part in the LVMH Innovation Award, they have something in common with the winner: their ethos is to create clothing as naturally as possible by investigating and making sustainable materials. The name is fromed by “pan”, all inclusive, and the Greek goddess “Gaia” (who represented the personification of the earth). Despite they do use field – grown cotton, they use non – food crop fibers, grown responsibly and without the use of toxic pesticides. Regarding water, 95% is rain – fed, so it is not wasted or diverted from the surface. Besides, they mix organic cotton with recycled cotton made from scraps and retired textiles, what helps saving 20,000 liters of water per kilogram.
All the finalists of the sustainable category use bio – engineering or biotechnology to serve the environment. Tômtex uses waster from seafood shells and coffee grounds to make new materials, as well as using mushrooms as an alternative to faux and animal leather. Their bio – based materials help minimise the impacts on the environment thanks to the transparent process, recyclability, no tanning process and 100% natural and biodegradable materials.
MycoWorks is a biotechnology company founded by artists who began cultivating Mycelium back in 1990. They have partnered with Hermès to present the first object made of Fine Mycelium: “A collaboration three years in the making, Sylvania is the result of a shared vision for growing the future of materials and a quest to unlock new design possibilities. I was introduced to MycoWorks in 2017, which coincided with Hermès’ first experience with Fine Mycelium. At the time, MycoWorks was based in a small artist’s studio. Together, we saw the potential of this incredible material”, states Matt Scullin, CEO of MycoWorks.
Marm \ More presents the first marble – based fabric in the world. It can be used on apparel, interior and footwear offering more resistance, lightness, softness and comfort in all three areas. They use innovative technologies to turn marble waste into textile opportunities. The material has been used since ancient times in art, architecture and design, and it’s a symbol of Italian culture. Now we can also wear it. It seems unbelievable that a material like marble: strong, sturdy and almost unbreakable can be worn and make clothes lighter.
Biomede is probably the company that is furthest removed from the fashion world. Even so, we think it deserves a mention for its work extracting heavy metals from agricultural soil. They use a technique called phytoextraction that allows plants to remove heavy metals such as copper. This mends the land in a sustainable and ecological way, and the metals of interest are used for other purposes to maintain a circular economy.
This year’s sustainability finalists have set a high bar. Biotechnology is establishing itself as the future of the fashion industry. Companies like these provide a glimmer of hope that a more sustainable and circular business model is possible. As Kermit the Frog said: “It’s not easy being green”, but we have to keep trying.