Climafibre uses sunflowers to develop a range of modular solutions for the fashion industry that supports regenerative food systems, protects biodiversity and aids climate mitigation.
What is fashion's place in a world that is rapidly running out of natural resources?
The fashion industry's disastrous environmental impact is no secret. Unsustainable agricultural systems and contamination from synthetic fibres, dyes and finishes continuously pollute ecosystems and decimate biodiversity throughout the value chain whilst simultaneously perpetuating socio-economic injustices. Consumerism has fuelled the desire for fast fashion, which is reliant on the consumption of finite resources and intensive farming practices. Increasing amounts of fertilisers and pesticides are needed to meet these demands, degrading the soil, which inhibits regeneration, resulting in a loss of arable land. For fashion to have a future, there needs to be an imminent shift to regenerative practices that protect biodiversity and support agricultural food systems.
Sunflowers could provide a solution.
Sunflowers are utilised as a part of regenerative agricultural systems and aid climate mitigation through soil remediation and boosting biodiversity above and below ground. Cultivated globally, sunflowers can be grown without fertilisers and can be companioned and rotated with other food crops. Sunflowers have extensive root systems, known as taproots, that penetrate deep into the soil, preventing it from compacting and helping to sequester carbon. This type of root system allows symbiotic relationships with beneficial bacteria, fungi and microbes to be formed, which provide the plant with nutrients and help prevent diseases, promoting healthy soils. Sunflowers can withstand drought and can grow in vastly varying ecosystems. Their natural resilience has made them a model for scientists studying climate change adaptation.
Climafibre has developed fibre for textiles, natural dyes and a hydropic coating made entirely from sunflowers.
Using enzymes derived from bacteria and fungi, Climafibre has worked closely with scientists to develop a unique process to isolate cellulose fibres from sunflower stems. These fibres are then combed and spun into a yarn, and then woven into a fabric. The hydrophobic coating is made from a by-product of the sunflower oil industry and provides water-resistant protection for natural fibres without the use of harmful chemicals. This coating allows the fabric to maintain its breathable qualities with minimal alteration to its aesthetics or hand feel. Climafibre's bold colour palette has been developed from pigments extracted from various parts of the flower. They can be used as a natural alternative for textile dyes and printing, free from fossil fuels. Climafibre envisions a future localised production network within Bioregion PA9*, which integrates food and fibre systems and promotes regenerative agriculture.
*Bioregion PA9 encompasses the UK, Ireland and the Faroe Islands.
Retting is an organic process in which microorganisms break down the pectins and cellular tissues that bind the fibres together in the plant stem and is carried out conventionally in water or dew. While water retting is good for obtaining quality fibres the process is costly and contaminates waterways. Dew retting dramatically reduces the cost but the process takes several weeks, occupying arable land. This method also depends on geographical conditions and predictable seasonal weather as appropriate moisture and temperatures are crucial for good microbial growth.
But there is an alternative; enzyme retting.
Enzymes are isolated from bacteria or fungi from the soil and can recreate the retting process in a controlled environment. Enzyme retting is championed as one of the most environmentally friendly and efficient ways of obtaining cellulose fibres, improving the quality and regularity of the fibre without taking up valuable arable land, which is advantageous to water and dew retting. Climafibre uses enzyme retting to release the cellulose fibres. The process was adapted from traditional bast fibre retting techniques and takes less than five days to extract the cellulose fibres. The opportunity to recycle the enzymes or utilise byproducts adds to the economic feasibility of the process.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
Sunflower fibre, sunflower wax, sunflower pigments
Fiona Cuskin, Paula Corsini, Kaveh Emami