Next-gen materials are the new trend in fashion, says report

A new report by the Material Innovation Initiative (MII), a nonprofit that accelerates the development of sustainable materials, reveals that brands are increasingly adopting next-gen materials, which are alternatives to animal-based and synthetic materials. The report, titled “Brand Engagement with Next-Gen Materials 2023”, shows that there have been over 380 collaborations between innovative material companies and fashion, home goods, and automotive brands in the past year.

What are next-gen materials and why are they important?

Next-gen materials are materials that are sourced from abundant, renewable, and nontoxic resources, such as plants, algae, agricultural waste, fungi, microbes, captured CO2, and recycled plastic. They offer greater than a 90 percent reduction in global warming potential compared to their conventional counterparts, and have the potential to spare trillions of animals’ lives each year.

Next-gen materials are important for the fashion industry, as they can help reduce its environmental and ethical impact. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, the fashion sector influences humanity’s ability to achieve eight of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, and life on land. By replacing animal-based and synthetic materials with next-gen materials, brands can improve their sustainability performance and meet the growing consumer demand for ethical and eco-friendly products.

next-gen materials
next-gen materials

How are brands engaging with next-gen materials?

The report highlights some of the major collaborations and launches that have taken place in the past year involving next-gen materials. Some of the examples are:

  • Gucci, which partnered with Mylo, a mushroom-based leather, to create a handbag collection that debuted at the Gucci Garden exhibition in Florence.
  • Stella McCartney, which collaborated with Bolt Threads, a bioengineered silk, to create a dress that was showcased at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
  • Adidas, which teamed up with Allbirds, a wool-based footwear brand, to create a sneaker that has a carbon footprint of less than 3 kg CO2e per pair.
  • H&M, which launched a collection featuring Circulose, a recycled cotton made from textile waste, and Vegea, a vegan leather made from grape skins.
  • IKEA, which introduced a range of products made from Piñatex, a pineapple-based leather, and Spinnova, a wood-based fiber.

The report also shows that the number of brands that have publicly committed to using next-gen materials has increased by 50 percent in the past year, from 40 to 60. Some of the brands that have made such commitments are Burberry, Gap, Levi’s, Nike, and Zara.

What are the challenges and opportunities for next-gen materials?

The report identifies some of the challenges and opportunities that next-gen materials face in the market. Some of the challenges are:

  • Scaling up production and reducing costs, as most next-gen materials are still in the early stages of development and have limited availability and affordability.
  • Educating consumers and stakeholders, as most next-gen materials are relatively new and unfamiliar to the public and may require different care and disposal methods.
  • Establishing standards and certifications, as most next-gen materials lack clear and consistent definitions and criteria to measure their performance and impact.

Some of the opportunities are:

  • Leveraging technology and innovation, as most next-gen materials use advanced manufacturing techniques and biotechnology to create novel and high-quality products.
  • Collaborating and partnering, as most next-gen materials benefit from cross-sector and cross-industry cooperation and support to accelerate their growth and adoption.
  • Creating value and differentiation, as most next-gen materials offer unique and compelling benefits and features that can appeal to consumers and stakeholders.

What is the future of next-gen materials?

The report concludes that next-gen materials have a bright future ahead, as they have the potential to transform the fashion industry and beyond. The report predicts that more brands will engage with next-gen materials in the coming years, as they seek to improve their sustainability and innovation. The report also expects that more next-gen materials will be launched and commercialized in the near future, as they overcome their technical and market barriers.

The report also provides some recommendations and best practices for brands that want to adopt next-gen materials, such as:

  • Conducting due diligence and research, as brands should evaluate the suitability and impact of next-gen materials for their products and customers.
  • Communicating and marketing, as brands should inform and educate their consumers and stakeholders about the benefits and features of next-gen materials.
  • Measuring and reporting, as brands should track and disclose their progress and performance in using next-gen materials.

The report also invites brands to join the MII network, which provides access to resources, insights, and connections to help them succeed with next-gen materials.

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