MAKE, Gweave, Lampoon
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Gweave – A biodegradable polyester that could disrupt the fashion industry

While compostable textiles seem to be a sustainable solution, MAKE is going to bring to the market a new polymer which is biodegradable and long-lasting

Innovation in biodegradable fashion

Along with long-lasting and durable garments, biodegradability appears to be the direction to take, according to Sam Osborne. The founder of MAKE, a Cardiff brand that tackles fashion’s sustainability crisis, has developed a new biodegradable material called Gweave, after a process that took around two years. When asked about Gweave, Osborne explains, «it’s a compostable and resistant yarn made of polyester, but with additive build in the polymer that, once buried, attracts microbes that break up the polymer chain, making it 100% biodegradable». 

Biodegradable doesn’t mean sustainable

The fashion industry is moving fast in this direction, looking to find and develop new biodegradable materials and dyes, which decompose after being discarded, in hope of addressing its pollution problem. According to greenmatters.com, a material can be defined as biodegradable when it decays in nature due to biological agents such as plants, animals, bacteria, or physical ones such as the sun or rain that transform these substances into nutrients for the soil. Saying a textile is biodegradable sometimes is not enough: labeling a garment this way may suggest it decays relatively fast, but the speed depends on factors. Natural fabrics like cotton and hemp tend to break down faster than manufactured fabrics such as polyester, although specific polymers, like rayon, constitute an exception. The issue with these natural fibers is that they are either not environmentally friendly, like cotton, or not easy to work with, because of their stiffness, as with hemp. Looking for better alternatives that could mix the need for compostable materials and high abrasion resistance for outdoor activities, Sam Osborne and the MAKE team created Gweave, the world’s first biodegradable high abrasion material that provides long-lasting protection through the toughest of conditions. Osborne affirms: «I’ve been in the fabric development industry for a long time when we started to experiment with these yarns, in order to find high-resistant fibers to get into the market; we have daily conversations with our partners in Taiwan, let alone the best place to get technical materials». Taiwan is known in the fashion industry as the most innovative manufacturer of technical textiles, but importing fabrics from other countries has a cost in terms of pollution; «we are aware of the transportation issues and the pollution related to them, but we always try to ship by sea, which is not polluting free, but it is better than by air», Osborn claims. «Working with logistics, you need to meet a certain amount to make it work financially, and that’s why we partner with other people to make it work in the most sustainable way. We protect details about Gweave, but we are open to sharing information about our logistic methods and how to reduce the impact on the environment». 

MAKE, Gweave, Lampoon
Seedling, by MAKE, creative direction Sam Osborne, Ph Sebastian Bruno, styling Atip Wananuruks, models Lauren Lotka, Harry Price, Ninjah

Gweave – the world’s first biodegradable high abrasion material

Returning to Gweave and its potential in terms of sustainability, Osborne explains how the biodegradable process works: «once the yarn is buried, it attracts the microbes into the soil, and they break it up, disrupting the polymer chain and making it decompose». The decaying speed is a matter, but Osborne is confident: «our yarn disappears at different speeds and conditions, depending on soil and climate. If the soil is rich in food and animal waste, it biodegrades quicker, but with a standard soil, it takes around 500-600 days», he says. Around two years decaying time can seem much, considering that fabrics like hemp usually take somewhere between a few weeks to a month in good soil conditions. The strong point about Gweave is not only the fact that it is biodegradable but its hybrid nature that combines the compostable factor with high abrasion, making it last longer and making it a perfect fit for outdoor garments that resist the most challenging climate conditions. «We partnered with the Holt Renfrew in Canada, a brand part of the Selfridges group based in Ontario, to produce a capsule collection made with Gweave material that is going to be released this autumn. We are testing the samples, which include some flexible and comfortable ski pieces, work trousers, and jerseys». Compared to common biodegradable textile products, Gweave is ahead of fibers such as hemp, cotton, or silk – which can be biodegradable but are not necessarily sustainable. Silk, is the best example of this issue: it is a robust and resilient fabric that takes about three to four years to entirely biodegrade. It’s hypoallergenic, antifungal, and pleasant on the skin but it takes around 3.000 silkworms to make just 1 pound of silk, according to PETA. Just because it’s biodegradable it does not mean it’s sustainable. On the other hand, cotton is one of the most biodegradable fabrics, especially if it is not mixed with other materials such as viscose. In compost, cotton may biodegrade within as little as a week, but it usually takes about five months and requires nearly twice as much land as hemp per finished textiles. It takes 10.000 liters of water to grow one kilogram of cotton. The majority is also not grown organically and uses pesticides that have adverse effects on the environment, fauna and human health. Organic cotton is better—but in terms of sustainability, it’s beaten by other fabrics. Another issue with cotton is that while it will biodegrade, the pesticides and dyes can permeate the soil once the material decays. Considering that an artificial textile made of nylon and polyester as a biodegradable material can seem odd, still, at the same time, it shows how brands and manufacturers are working hard to develop new materials that can change the state of the art when it comes to fashion and sustainability. 

The downside of biodegradable garments When asked about the future of fashion, Osborne is optimistic: «with this search of innovation all around the world and movements in fashion and cultures, brands and even couture are under pressure, because of the consumer’s demand». About this, Lauren Lotka, advisor and partner at MAKE, adds, «Consumers’ values are shifting only in the last couple of years; Gen Z cares about what is happening and pushes the industry forward». Focusing only on biodegradable garments presents a downside though. Creating and working with biodegradable garments can affect their durability and reuse, increasing new products’ demands. Compostable materials could even release harmful chemicals while decomposing, polluting soil and groundwater – that’s why Osborne is reinforcing the message that the real, sustainable factor in their products it’s the durability of garments and the possibility to reuse them according to the principles of the circular economy. Gweave is different from other biodegradable textiles since it’s a hybrid that mixes high abrasion resistance and sustainability and the capability to decay once reused multiple times; according to MAKE’s vision, «this first-generation proprietary fabrication will vitally change how we see sustainable materials today and, in the future». Even though there are compostable fabrics available on the market, not all of them are completely sustainable or eco-friendly, and the risk is that the industry will need to produce even more items to replace the discarded ones so the solution could be materials such as Gweave.

MAKE clothing brand

Based in Cardiff, MAKE is a brand founded by Sam Osborne tackling fashion’s sustainability crisis through the development of new biodegradable material after a development process that took around two years, with a new material called Gweave, which is both compostable and resistant.

Maria Bellotto

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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