Innovators have come up with many innovative ways to address the problem of textile production.

MaterialDistrict returned to Utrecht following a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus. The three-day event spanned three days, from April 5 through 7. A selection of innovative companies and producers presented their ideas, some of which were still in development.

Many people are reluctant to consider the possibility of using human waste in product manufacturing. This can be because it sounds strange, unnatural, or just plain unsettling. Human waste can be an alternative to new textile production if it is understood and can be obtained easily.

“Trash is just a raw material …”

One of the most surprising innovations was the use of human hair for clothing production, which Zsofia Kolar, founder of Human Material Loop, developed. Kollar presented at the event and explained why there was such a dire need for eco-friendly materials. Kollar chose human hair as his solution. Kollar’s Human Material Loop has made hair into a closed-loop recycling system that allows it to be turned into yarn that can be used for clothing production. This idea will allow for the use of 72 million kilograms worth of hair that is currently going to waste in Europe.

Kollar stated that the solution was at the tops of her heads in her presentation. “Trash is just a raw material in the wrong place,” the innovator stated. She had been asking herself why hair wasn’t used more often, as it was an integral part of her life and has the same keratin fiber as wool. The product is biodegradable at 100 percent, has a low carbon footprint and can be used by humans or animals.

David Heldt, cofounder of Glue Amsterdam was the moderator. Kollar responded unaffected: “We are so far from the materials that we are currently using today. If you take a look at your wool sweater, do you remember how the sheep lived, how it was treated, and how much blood was shed to make that sweater? It’s strange, isn’t that?”

We asked Kollar if she was regularly challenged on the legality of hair production after the presentation. Kollar replied: “Definitely. It is important to understand the history of the textile industry before people can convince themselves. They will be convinced once they have a basic understanding of the facts. It just takes some time for them to process the information. My work is about challenging norms and changing perceptions.”

Although the idea is still in its early stages, Kollar said that she is in discussions with high-end brands about bringing the material on a commercial scale. Kollar stated that she wants to convince high-end brands to present a different perspective so it is easier to convince average consumers later. “People must see that we are not superior but equal to the ecosystem.”

The Human Material Loop products are currently made in Italy. However, Kollar stated to FashionUnited that she plans to make the process accessible in all countries to ensure local production. “We want to reach as many people as possible.”

Nature’s breeding ground for humans

Michelle Baggerman, a Dutch innovator who collaborates with Jessica den Hartog as part of Studio Bureau Baggerman, took a similar approach to human waste. Project Chrysalis was presented by the duo. It is an idea to turn plastic waste into yarn. Although it is currently only considered for interior use, Baggerman’s concept adds an important element of alternative textile production.

Although PET is a common material in recycling, HDPE is a less popular option. Baggerman was inspired to investigate its use. Baggerman explained to FashionUnited that the project is still in its early stages and looking for partners to help it grow. “We’re just focusing on the material right at the moment – what quality it has and if it can be made on a larger scale.”

Baggerman has worked with plastic for five years. She said that it was important to discuss the use of human waste in textile manufacturing. We often don’t consider it a material even though we use it every day. She said, “The future is about thinking about what we can make with the materials that are available, what kinds of colors are available and how we can use these.”

Although Baggerman doesn’t currently have plans to use the material in fashion, probably due to its rigidity, Baggerman’s project is an interesting look at circular textile production and what our waste can do. She said, “If you’re a designer, you need to think about these things.”

Another idea was to use the human body to impact the environment. Charde Brouwer (Dutch creator) has been working on Afterlife. This project sees our bodies as breeding grounds for nature. Brouwer’s research led her to discover a way to repair the world around us even after our deaths. She used biodegradable clothing materials that stimulate and aid nature’s growth.

Brouwer stated, “What if our final breath could be one that gives back?” when Brouwer introduced the project during a presentation. “Earth could still benefit from our bodies after we die,” Brouwer said. Combining material and our bodies can make an end to a new beginning.

Brouwer says about burying yourself in polyester and then digging up trees to bury them in the ground. This is a circular process. Brouwer’s materials have a structure that is similar to leather and can be used to make garments. Each color can also be created using natural ingredients from fruits and vegetables.

Although still in its early stages, Brouwer’s concept revolves around offering an entirely customizable experience. This will allow the wearer, or their family, to choose the fabric’s colors, patterns, and even flower seeds. These can then be incorporated into the final garment, and eventually, grow where the person is buried. Although this is a difficult topic, Brouwer believes that this method will transform the meaning of cemeteries and give life a purpose after death.

Although many ideas surrounding human waste are still in their infancy, the potential for reusing materials that are already in our daily lives is growing. Although many of these inventors have had to overcome challenges in their experiments and with outsider responses, they are determined that this will change our perceptions. They want the industry to see waste as a resource.