LONDON, United Kingdom — In the past, fibre technology and materials science were confined to specialists, sports and outdoor players, and the margins of the fashion industry. But no longer. Some of fashion’s biggest brands have joined the new “materials revolution,” characterised by rising investment, radical experimentation and a growing commitment to sustainability.

Today’s spirit of innovation is reflected in a growing lexicon of synthetic and re-engineered fibres. Bio-fabricated leather, biodegradable textiles, closed-loop recycling and e-textiles are buzzwords that are fast entering the manufacturing mainstream. Moreover, they are contributing to an enhanced design palette and a range of new commercial opportunities.

Companies around the world are set to file eight times as many fibre innovation patent applications in 2019 as they did in 2013, based on McKinsey analysis (see Exhibit 8). The sharp rise suggests fibre innovation is moving decisively from the margins to the mainstream. Industry insiders are also coming around to that view: 45 percent of apparel companies surveyed by McKinsey are looking to integrate more innovative bio-based materials and over 67 percent of sourcing executives state that the use of innovative sustainable materials will be important for their company.

Some broad areas of innovation are showing exceptional promise. Chip-containing fibres, for example, are gaining traction. Brands including New Balance, VF Corporation and 3M are experimenting with leather alternatives such as Piñatex, which is made of pineapple leaf fibres. These alternatives are attracting attention from companies including H&M, Hugo Boss and Chanel. Alongside these examples, a range of new ideas are being trialled that will push the envelope on both sustainability and functionality. Read More