Under the microscope: the intersection of technology, biology and fashion design



Fashion forms an integral part of our collective conscious - it is through clothing and our personal aesthetic that we are able to communicate much of our identity with the world around us. We can map our collective evolution through fashion, born of necessity from the advent of fur pelts in the Palaeolithic era, to the artistry and politics of garments that have defined generations of human migration & cultural development throughout history. The extraction of natural fibres for textiles has developed along a technological trajectory – and we now stand at the precipice of the most crucial era in which these innovations seek to map the rest our future on planet Earth. Our current model of consumptive fast fashion has to change – for the sustainable stability of Nature and us All.



The ingenuity of human beings to conceptualize and create has given rise to the following innovations across the fashion industry, offering us beacons of hope in transforming the narrative of waste and ecological negligence.


Sustainable Textiles

Orange Fibre is the first sustainable textile produced from citrus by-products. Based in Italy, a country renowned for its native citrus varieties, this company has interceded in an otherwise total waste of 700 000 tonnes of citrus by-products, and turns this waste into luxurious, elegant textiles. Orange Fibre is now in partnership with H&M’s Conscious Exclusive 2019, and furthermore OF has been employed by Salvatore Ferragamo for a collection celebrating Italian creativity and innovation. Watch this space!

Fruit is proving to not only be a delicious part of our diets, but as a precious resource for sustainable textile development. Piñatex is a natural, cruelty free leather created from pineapple leaf fibre. The process behind this textile is waste reductive, as the leaves are gathered form existing agricultural practices, and the company behind this innovation, Aanas Anamn, are at the forefront for transparent social responsibility in the fashion industry – working tirelessly to create a circular economic model that is supportive of ecological health.


Natural Fibre Welding is another company paving the way for sustainable textile innovation. Their use of plant fibres to create leather and denim textiles are astounding in both the quality and function. Using a fully sustainable model from which to create these textiles, their vision for circularity includes closed loop dying of textiles to reduce water waste, textiles free of petroleum based micro-plastics as well as extracting source materials without the constraints of growth time. Forging a bio-dynamic relationship with natural resources is the essence of this brand, encompassing a vision of global change.

Our oceans are instrumental in the existence of life on earth. The call to protect our oceans from pollutants and plastic is an essential component of the sustainability movement. SeaCell, a fibre solution from SmartFiberAG, is an incredible innovation born from the algae deposits in the Icelandic fjords. Using sustainable technological methods, mineral & vitamin rich algae is merged with cellulose fibre to create a textile full of anti-microbial properties that interact with the wearer’s skin. This interaction is an example of ‘’living fabrics’’ that positively effect metabolic processes in the human body. Imagine wearing clothes that can improve your health, while knowing it was created through honouring nature? Magical!

An imperative aspect of shifting the fashion industry into a more sustainable model is how accessible these concepts can be for the everyday consumer. Adidas, beloved street and sportwear brand, produced 5 million pairs of sneakers in 2018 – all made from recycled ocean plastic. Following the success of this upcycled venture, they have predicted to make a further 11 million in 2019. Adidas is but one notable brand that has started to show commitment to reducing its environmental impact – indicating that change is occurring, and that in time ‘’sustainability’’ will not be a niche aspect of fashion design, but the driving model upon which the industry thrives.



Sustainable Technologies

One of the most harrowing realities of the fast fashion industry is the amount of unsold clothing that goes to waste – most often in a very environmentally damaging way. Unsold garments are either buried in landfills, or burned en mass emitting pollution due to the toxic nature of the fabrics. In order to imagine a solution, it is essential to consider two fundamentals; the consumer’s expectations of hyper-trends, which have shifted from a quarterly system to a 52 week a year seasonal demand, as well as the supply chain process of a garments life cycle, from the drawing board to the final production & marketing. Invariably a brand will utilise a process of market research to determine how much stock is needed to cater for their consumer, however this is usually based on probabilities that cannot be realistically or accurately ensured, and thus the issue of waste arises.

While some designers and garment technologists explore alternative textiles, others have proposed a zero-waste solution in the form of 3D printing. Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs use blueprints to synthesise a product or accessory through digital information set out by the designer. This method is particularly efficient in preventing fabric waste -especially the waste incurred when creating garment samples for pre-production means - as the program is set to produce the garment within the exact parameters of resources. Iris Van Herpen, renowned designer, has showcased 3D printed garments on the runway for many years; shifting boundaries in terms of how we perceive the techniques of traditional couture manufacturing.



Software company, Unmade, is tackling production excess head on with their innovative manufacturing strategy for fashion brands. They do this by offering technology that enables the consumer to customise their garment of choice online, allowing the brand of choice to manufacture the garment based on a live transaction. The result of this? Uniquely crafted pieces specific for the customer and economic & environmental reduction for the brand. Colour is a deeply moving aspect of our relationship with clothing; it always tells a story and sets a mood for how we communicate our style. An intrinsic conversation regarding sustainability in fashion is the dyeing of fabrics – again, a hugely toxic, terrifying reality of garment manufacturing. Sustainable dyeing technologies is a broad subject in itself, and thankfully there are many companies on the rise committed to solving this aspect of the industry. One to note is Intech Digital, who offer a ‘’waterless’’ printing technology that provides coloration for textiles. Omitting the use of water and employing the use of a digital program in the dyeing process demonstrates that we are indeed living in futuristic times where the possibilities are truly unlimited.

Sustainability is an immersive subject that is worthy of our attention and research as both creatives and consumers – and essentially as human beings. The era we live in is defined as the Anthropocene; the age in which human beings have developed the power to command the manifestation of nature. While this can be an overwhelming notion for us as individuals in such a vast and complex universe, collectively it means that we have the opportunity to yield this power for a beautiful future for all living beings. It is amazing to consider that this opportunity extends to fashion, and all it takes is our awareness and commitment to Nature.


+ Words: Holly Beaton

Holly Bell Beaton is a writer and stylist with a passion for the intersection between biology, technology and design. Raised in Cape Town and of Swedish heritage, her travels across the world have encouraged and informed a global perspective regarding the future of fashion and its relationship to planetary health. She is currently working for a sustainable fashion label in Cape Town, South Africa. 

Follow her on Instagram: Holly Beaton