The future of sustainability within the fashion industry is not looking good at the rate it is going, and one of the culprits is an ever-widening gap between disposable fast fashion and durable, sustainable clothing. Can apparel companies bridge the gap? One designer believes so, and hopes a new fabric dubbed "vegan wool" can help.
Developed by South Indian fabric purveyor Faborg, the wool-like fabric is made partly from desert plants that can grow with virtually no water. The material is making its debut in children's brand Infantium Victoria’s fall 2021 lineup.
A plant-based, vegan alternative to wool
Vegan plus wool equals Weganool, and that’s the name of this “wooly” fabric designed in part to help reduce the apparel industry’s huge carbon footprint. Although Weganool has the properties of traditional wool, the fabric is made entirely from plant sources — 30 percent calotropis and 70 percent organic cotton, to be exact.
Infantium Victoria, a children’s clothing designer based in Germany, says Weganool has many environmental benefits. Among the company’s claims: The material is sustainable from production to disposal; one kilogram of Weganool saves 9,000 liters of drinking water (compared to production of 100 percent cotton yarn), and the fabric is built to last — it is unshrinkable with every wash and is generally more durable than non-vegan fabrics.
Although wool imitations are not original in the industry, this fabric stands out because it is zero-waste and vegan. Leftover materials in Weganool production are transformed into a compound that is both a bio–nutrient and insect repellent, which eliminates waste. These far-reaching efforts to cultivate an eco-friendly material indicate why Weganool has been labeled “more sustainable than dirt.”
The new ingredient? A desert shrub
Calotropis, the desert plant from which the vegan wool is partly sourced, is a tall, flowering shrub that thrives in harsh growing conditions without human intervention, water, fertilizers or pesticides. It grows wildly in deserts and other arid climates in Africa and several Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern countries. The plant, also called giant milkweed, has thick stalks and large, pale flowers.
Women are the main producers within Weganwool's supply chain, and this work offers them jobs in dry pockets of the world where most plants and crops can’t survive. The business also boosts the rural economies through the development of a new agricultural channel. Areas of dry land unsuitable for many crops is ideal for growing calotropis, transforming fallow ground into crop land that can be a source of income.
However, if Weganool becomes an industry trend, care should be taken to ensure that the plant source is not exhausted, as a large supply of calotropis currently does not exist.
Why Infantium Victoria is betting on vegan wool
Although China has shown interest in using calotropis plant fibers for clothing production, Infantium Victoria’s release of Weganool is a first for the apparel industry.
The company specializes in organic and vegan clothing options, according to the website. The company describes its apparel as “slow fashion” and claims its products are 100 percent organic and have been vegan-approved by PETA since 2015. Infantium Victoria’s many sustainability commitments include cruelty-free fashion, ethical and organic materials, and sustainable processes and delivery, according to its website.
But will the sustainability waves this children’s designer company says it is making generate a ripple effect that influences other apparel companies to step up their game?
Time to take on the apparel industry’s waste problem
In 2015, the fashion industry was responsible for creating 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases. Currently, estimates suggest the sector has contributed about one-fifth of the global water pollution and one-third of the microplastics in oceans.
Sustainable progress within the global apparel industry has leveled off in recent years, Fast Company reports. However, Weganool is a classic example of using less of the world’s precious resources to meet consumer demand, and Infantium Victoria is not the only apparel company working to take back some ground. Many apparel companies are committed to inventing new processes and designs to fight the ramifications that the current waste will invariably bring to the environment. Some of these strides include less-wasteful production processes, more plant-based clothes and eco-friendly shoes made from recycled items such as ocean plastic, wool or even trash.
But are these trends enough to curtail the environmental challenges we see on the horizon? By 2030, the fashion industry is expected to produce 102 million tons of clothes and shoes worldwide. That’s equal to the weight of 500,000 blue whales. Nevertheless, there is still hope for a more sustainable textile and clothing industry. But in the end, it will be the changing expectations of consumers’ demands that will drive this change.
Image credit: Infantium Victoria