“Fashion is fast living, but it gives an indication of what is possible if you dedicate a certain amount of time and development,” said Belinda Günther, Mercedes’s head of color and trim. “Furniture needs to survive for a number of years, so from a durability perspective, it’s interesting to see what is possible there.”
Both of these industries are exploring greener fabrics and procedures. “Sustainability is definitely a growing trend in the fashion industry,” said Rachel Cernansky, the sustainability editor for Vogue Business. “Whether it’s growing at the scale it needs to is another question.”
Ms. Cernansky pointed to the increasing use of “upcycled” polyester and nylon in high-end clothing, though she questioned whether these products were doing enough to stem our insatiable appetite for new objects.
“It’s problematic because it can’t be recycled again,” she said.
Ms. Cernansky is more compelled by companies like Tyton BioSciences and Natural Fiber Welding because they’ve created the capacity to turn fibers into fibers. This, she said, allows new fabric to be made from “the huge amount of clothing in the world that is not being worn, so we don’t need to harvest new resources.” But for now these companies are small, and scaling their tech will be costly.
Sustainable materials are also finding their way into high-end housewares and décor. “Clients, especially families, really like a lot of these recycled products because they wear well — they’re extremely durable,” said Young Huh, an interior designer in New York. “A lot of these solution-dyed recycled fabrics, because the dye is in the fiber, the colors don’t change, so you can bleach them.”
These characteristics are also useful in health and hospitality situations, like a Ronald McDonald House that Ms. Huh designed. Ronald McDonald Houses provide apartments for families near hospitals where their children are being treated, and the rooms previously had to be superheated after each stay to sterilize them. That can’t be done effectively with some natural fibers, but is possible with Xorel fabrics made from sugar cane by Carnegie Fabrics.
This quality could become even more relevant in the coronavirus pandemic. “You can wipe down vegan leather with sanitizer,” Ms. Huh said. “You can’t do that with leather.”