New York, New York - I’ve found myself here during fashion week in a year where I am glad to see that sustainability has been put front and centre of the catwalk. The UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action has set the industry a net zero goal for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Meeting this goal will require innovation in all areas of the sector: reduction of waste, new recycling technologies, and alternative textile fibres having a lower carbon footprint.
Another major issue lies in conventional industrial dyeing processes which rely heavily on petrochemical-derived synthetic dyes and water intensive processes. These synthetic dyes are often discharged untreated into rivers and lakes harming aquatic ecosystems.
Sustainably sourced pigments and dyes offer a way forwards for the industry and research is active in this area. One example is the UK company, Colorifix, an Earthshot nominee. Colorifix has developed a biological process for depositing and fixing pigments onto textiles. The technique relies on identifying a naturally occurring pigment in nature and the gene that enables its expression. The gene can be inserted into a microorganism which can be fermented to produce large quantities in a few days. Across the Atlantic, the US company, Living Ink, extracts black pigments from an algae biomass. These black pigments can be used as a printing ink and to dye textiles.
Both of these companies are based on innovations which started life in a university research setting. They have both grown rapidly and each website lists an impressive cohort of big name brands who have adopted their technology. A quick search on patent database Espacenet indicates that both have filed patent applications covering their technology. This will no doubt have helped them with securing investment and with protecting their position as their market grows and they partner with further big brands.
The UK Fashion and Textile Association's website indicates that textile innovation in the UK is ranked third in the world and first in Europe in terms of patent generation. It is a sector that already places a high value on intellectual property. The move towards a more sustainable fashion industry will need a whole host of innovative solutions… and so I think we can expect to see patents trending on the catwalk for decades to come (albeit behind the scenes!).