You are what you eat, as they say, and increasingly, trends in food are merging into other aspects of our lives. The vegan plant-based revolution that has completely changed the way we approach food and cooking in the course of a few short years, is having a knock-on effect in the word of fashion and clothing.
Fashion is an industry that somewhat mirrors the food system. There is a supply chain built on an array of moving parts, all converging on the retail space. There are, like in food, trend and style influencers, whether they be big brands or smaller social media operatives, who have a say on what we wear and how we wear it. In the food system, the major influencers are chefs and cooking personalities.
The most important restaurants can act much like independent fashion brands that build a cult following. Their food creations eventually trickle down to homes and kitchens around the world.
As food has woken up from decades of wastefulness, so too fashion follows. The fashion industry, a major offender in wasteful manufacture and contributor to ocean plastic, is finally getting its act together, as can be seen by major sportswear brand Reebok releasing its first ever fully plant-based running shoes.
The Forever Floatride GROW are USDA-certified plant-based. The vegan sneakers feature four key eco-friendly materials: an algae-based sock-liner, an upper made from eucalyptus, a midsole made of castor beans, and a natural rubber outsole.
French luxury footwear brand Veja last year launched a “post-petroleum” sneaker. After five years in development, the company released its vegan CAMPO sneaker range, made of corn leather. The sustainable leather is up to 63% biodegradable. The brand also unveiled a new vegan sneaker this July, called Urca, made from food waste.
Materials derived from food and food waste are the technology driving the revolution in sustainable fashion. Stella McCartney, whose mother Linda blazed a trail in the vegan food world, carries on the tradition. Her fashion label is one of many partnering with plant-based start-up Bolt Threads to manufacture vegan garments made from mushroom leather.
She’s not alone either. Bolt Threads' Mylo leather, made from mycelium, which connects plants and fungi underground, is now being used by brands such as Adidas, Lululemon and luxury fashion group Kering (which manages the development of Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen). Mylo vegan leather is environmentally superior to animal leathers in a number of ways, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lowered water and land use, and is cruelty-free.
Go back in time, of course, like way back in time, and you see how the manufacture of clothing and food are very closely linked. In hunter-gatherer societies, clothing comes from the same resources as food. It is the return of those so-called primitive technologies that can point the way forward for a more sustainable future, whether it be at scale, like the big brands, or on a more individual level.
Textile artist Nidiya Kusmaya extracts colours from the food she eats every day, and by applying them to textile she aims to turn the food chain into clothing. She also uses carbohydrates and protein-based food waste as growth mediums for colour-producing microorganisms.
“I started experimenting with colours for textiles by utilizing kitchen scraps, and farmer's market leftovers,” says Kusmaya. “Having food leftovers is still a problem itself, and the textile and fashion industries, especially in the colouring process, are the second most polluting in the world.”