A dress of milk? Yes, coming soon!
When I started searching for organic fabrics for our first ethical kids collection, I had not expected to discover so many natural fibers! There is ample choice: linen, banana fiber, hemp, alpaca, lyocell from eucalyptus, Lenpur from white pine, Ingeo fiber fromcorn sugar, fiberglass nettle, organic cotton, coconut fiber, bamboo fiber, apple leather and milk fiber.
Our Indian supplier, Vijay from White Arc Sourcing, specializes in organic fabrics and I asked him to send me a sample of everything he had available.
And it was during a rainy morning that the package arrived: it was like Christmas! In this little box made of recycled cardboard, I discovered banana fiber, lyocell, vegetable leather, corn fiber and ... milk fiber.
Needless to say which one was my favourite! Sweet, fine, airy... it had everything to please me! A question bugged me though ... how can milk be turned into fabric?
Before satisfying your curiosity about this fabric based on organic food waste, let me give you a crash course on textil fabrics in general.
Textile fabrics fall into two broad categories: natural fabrics and chemical fabrics.
Natural fabrics are created through physical and mechanical transformations of a natural material, without modifying its composition.
Natural fabrics can be of:
- plant origin such as cotton or flax, where fibers are derived from flowers, seeds, stems, leaves of plants, sap,
- animal origin, such as wool or silk, where the fibers are derived from animal hair and secretions of insects,
- mineral origin: asbestos, metals.
Chemical textile fabrics are divided into two groups artificial fabrics and synthetic fabrics. Artificial fabrics are made through a chemical transformation of natural substances, usually cellulose, synthetic fabrics are made from organic and inorganic polymers.
Let's take a look at the first category and zoom in on those of animal origins.
Animal welfare, industrial pollution, ethical production, and the amount of food waste that is expected to increase in line with the projected increase in the world's population (estimate: 9.6 billion people by 2050), will impact us all.
The textile and apparel industry is therefore increasingly interested in new processes for the production of raw materials, adopting more sustainable and circular models.
As a result, the reuse of food waste to create fabrics and fibers with less environmental impact, or coupled with bacteria to develop new innovative materials, is a promising initiative.
The food industry in a few figures
Every year in the world, there are:
- 1.3 billion tons of food that is wasted (FOA)
- 1.4 million hectare of wasted land
- 3.3 billion tons of CO2 gases released into the atmosphere
So, Milk Fiber, what’s the story?
"Milk casein" fiber was used in many clothing and household items in America and Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. It was a substitute for wool, essential for men on the front lines. However, it ended up being forgotten and was replaced by more innovative and less expensive synthetic materials, such as nylon.
Milk fiber used to be blended with other natural fibers and was known as Aralac, Lanatil and Merinova, for those of you who check your vintage clothing labels!
Despite its existence for almost a century, milk fiber has only recently been recognized as an ecological material. After learning about the traditional - not always ecological - production methods of this textile fabric, German stylist and micro-biologist Anke Domaske, founder of the German company Qmilk, set up a new, eco-friendly manufacturing process. In addition, the Qmilk factory operates with renewable energy and aims to produce in a way that is close to "zero waste".
How does it work?
Qmilk's method consists of extracting the protein from milk and then mix it with water to make a paste. This consistency is then separated into filaments which will become the threads of the textile. This process works best with expired cow's milk, as it is easier to extract the protein. By reusing spoiled milk, it is therefore possible to reduce food waste, which is a major environmental and social problem.
Is it green?
The new protein fiber manufacturing process only requires a maximum of two liters of water to produce one kilogram of textile, which is a significant environmental benefit. In addition, milk production does not require any pesticides or chemical fertilizers, unlike cotton, which remains one of the most commonly used materials in the fashion industry.
Since milk fiber absorbs colour easily, very little dye and water are required, and since it is naturally white, its production requires no abrasive whitening agent.
Why should I buy clothes made of milk fiber?
Photo: Anke Domaske
In addition to being an eco-friendly choice, textiles made with milk are of superior quality: not only are they very durable, they absorb moisture well. They are incredibly comfortable to wear and soft to the touch.
Milk fiber resembles silk and wool in many ways: it is light, soft and naturally thermoregulating, which means that you will not end up perspiring on warmer days! To the delight of ecologists, the textiles made of milk are fully compostable and biodegradable and, to please the laziest among us (me!), they can be machine washed! The fiber also has antibacterial and anti fungal properties, so there is no chance that the fabric will be infested with bacteria or fungi.
It is also an odorless fiber, there is no danger of pilling and finally, it dries twice as fast as cotton.
Our conscious choice
Through our choice of this material, we win both for the environment and for the health of our customers.
Our manifesto is a reflection of our ambitions and by reading it, you will understand why we took the necessary time to find fabrics that respect our planet.
Romy, our long dress made entirely with milk fiber, will see the light early 2020. It will turn the heads of our little cool girls who dream of a light, soft, airy and timeless dress!
Here’s a preview of our Romy dress, coming soon.
Watch the (French) video of Clear Fashion about milk fiber, in which I explain its benefits in one minute.