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Explained: Is the future of fashion growing in ponds?

Did you know the fashion industry is responsible for up to 10 per cent of humanity’s emissions of carbon dioxide, which is responsible for global warming? Every year, over 100 billion garments are produced, most of which end up clogging rivers or in landfills. To tackle the problem, many designers look for sustainable fabrics to replace synthetic textiles, aiming to reduce harm through the production process, fibre properties, and overall environmental impact.

Thanks to new technologies that are constantly being explored and incorporated by the industry, we have innovative textile solutions such as fabric made of seaweed. Yes, we are talking about macroalgae that grow in ponds and lakes.

The growing trend for plant-based, sustainable fabrics has led to a diverse selection of materials. Innovative producers are creating desirable materials that have multiple benefits not just for the wearer but also for the environment at large. An excellent example of this is SeaCell, a seaweed-based material, that is known for its appealing properties. 

So, what exactly is seaweed fibre? Can it be the future for sustainable clothing? What are its properties and how is it made? Let’s find out!

Seaweed fabric – what is it?

SeaCell is a fibre created using naturally sourced seaweed. Smartfiber AG is the primary producer of this alternative plant-based yarn, which is spun with other fibres to create a fabric that has several potential benefits. 

No farming or animal use is involved in the innovative and progressive fabric. And, the best part is that it comes from a resource that is in abundance in our oceans – seaweed.

When you buy a garment made of seaweed fabric, you must check the product listings to see the percentage of seaweed fibre used in it. The higher the percentage, the more promising the material.

Seaweed fabric was originally discovered about a century ago, during the first World War, when textile manufacturers were experimenting with different sources of materials to make fabric.

Brown algae, called Ascophyllum nodossum, commonly known as Knotted Wrack, is used for seaweed fabric. Knotted Wrack is found around the coastline of the British Isles and in the Icelandic fjords. It uses cellulose fibre and is made using the same lyocell process as Tencel and some bamboo. But since seaweed comes from a plant source, it is a true fabric from the ocean.

How is it made?

The manufacturing process to make seaweed fabric is similar to that used to make viscose. The only difference is that seaweed is used in the process instead of wood pulp. With the help of amino acids and water, the cellulose in the plant is broken down, while its chemical structure remains the same. It is produced by embedding dried, crushed seaweed within a natural cellulose fibre using nanotechnology.

Seacell fabric is made in the same way as lyocell, but with seaweed added. The production method of the sustainable fibre helps save on both energy and resources, combining saltwater seaweed with sustainable cellulose.

The lyocell process refers to the process of making cellulose fibres, made from dissolving pulp and then reconstituting it by dry jet-wet spinning. Lyocell, a man-made material, is made from wood cellulose or pulp and is made in the USA under the Tencel brand.

Properties of the sustainable fabric

The properties of seaweed make it a great source of skin-friendly fibres. Check out its properties below!

  • Breathable and light
  • Extremely soft and supple fabric
  • Eco-friendly and 100% biodegradable
  • It is carbon neutral
  • Has a high tenacity
  • Flame retardant.
  • Absorbs sweat faster than cotton. Suitable for underwear, diapers and baby clothing
  • Has anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and odour-reducing properties

On Seacell’s website, several benefits of seaweed fabric are mentioned. “Seaweed is added as the active substance for a very good reason. The fact that this marine plant is rich in trace elements has been well known since the times of Chinese medicine, and seaweed has also been proved to protect the skin and have anti-inflammatory properties,” a note on the Seacell site read.

What is it used for?

The breathable characteristics of seaweed fabric make it suitable for activewear, and it blends well with other fibres such as cotton and silk. A brand called Pangaia combines seaweed fibre with organic cotton to make t-shirts. All the materials for the tee are sustainably sourced.

In 2019, Luisa Kahlfeldt, a graduate of ECAL in Switzerland, made a reusable nappy from SeaCell fabric. He even won the Swiss James Dyson award for using EcoRepel technology to make the nappy water repellent. The diaper is easily recyclable.

Another apparel company called Lululemon Athletica also uses the fabric for their VitaSea line of apparel and yoga clothes. Other sustainable brands that are experimenting with the fabric include Orca Triathelate Outfitters, Adea Yoga Clothing and Falke socks and hosiery.

London-based fashion designer Leticia Credidio is also known for using seaweed fabric in her exclusive collection of sleepwear and loungewear, called Ocean Collection. The textile is a blend of SeaCell seaweed and Oeko-Tex modal. 

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