9 Cool Projects Where Sustainable Food and Fashion Come Together


At first glance, food and fashion may have very little to do with each other, except that maybe green kale drinks are all the rage at fashion week. But peel back the layers, and there are many intersects between the two worlds that make food and fashion have a lot in common.

Consider the most logical connection, that we must keep ourselves fed, and we must keep ourselves clothed. On the flip side, both have their levels of vanity – I mean, that cold pressed juice you’re carrying around is practically a fashion accessory. If we look at both through the lens of sustainability, it even starts to become clear that if you care about where your food comes from, the logical next step is to care where your clothes come from too.

We found nine interesting projects that intersect both the food and fashion industry that made us consider how consciousness has some potential new allies not just in fashion.

suzanne lee

1. Growing Fabric
Suzanne Lee is a pioneer of sustainable fabrics. While most sustainable designers are cutting into and sewing cotton, linen, silks or recycled polyester, Lee has made her own fabric thanks to a vat of kombucha. But she’s not just focused on the effervescent drink. Now as the Chief Creative Officer at Modern Meadow, she is working on things like growing leather from collagen – the building blocks from nature – to assemble material.

modern meadow

And while that may take a good scientific lab, even the average consumer interested in more sustainable fashion can grow their own fabric at home, as easy as brewing a batch of kombucha, then drying the thick culture that develops at the top. Once it has dried, this microbial cellulose can be cut and sewn into whatever you want.

Microbes never looked so cool.

pineapple fiber

2. Wearable Pineapple Fibers
When pineapples are harvested, pineapple leaves are an inevitable byproduct, usually left on the ground to rot, but Ananas Anam has worked to develop a textile made out of the waste. Pineapple fabric dates back to the 17th century, but Dr. Carmen Hijosa, founder of Ananas Anam, is working to bring it back, calling the textile Piñatex, and it’s revolutionary because it can be used as a leather alternative.

pineapple fibers

Compared to the energy intensive leather industry, the process of turning the leaves into a textile doesn’t use any water, pesticides or fertilizer beyond what is already used to grow the pineapples. To produce one square meter of Piñatex, it takes 480 leaves, which is the byproduct of about 16 pineapples. Launched in London in late 2014, the textile as selling for £18 per square meter, compared to between £20 and £30 for leather. Prototypes were recently made for shoes by the Spanish brand Camper and even Puma.


3. Coffee Grounds Make Athletic Wear Smell Good
Sportswear is often made from synthetic fabrics, because of those textile’s wicking abilities; if you’re working out you don’t want to be drenched in sweat. But that ability is also the downfall of the fabrics. Constructed with tiny notches that collect the sweat and move it away from the body, bacteria easily gets stuck in those notches (which is why after you go on a run in a synthetic t shirt, chances are it smells horrible).

coffee clothing

To deal with odor, most synthetic fabrics intended for sportswear are treated with antimicrobial chemicals. Singtex came up with a better option: recycling coffee grounds, and their naturally deodorizing properties, into fibers instead. Called S. Café, the fabric gives new life to a product that otherwise was destined for the waste bin.

rebecca burgess

Fibershed’s Rebecca Burgess at a farm in Marin County, California, where she grew indigo and coreopsis for natural dyes, alongside a variety of food crops grown by the owner of the farm. (Photo by Paige Green Photography)

4. Promoting a Fibershed
A foodshed refers to the geographical area where food is both produced and where it is consumed, similar to a watershed. In other words, the flow from origin to ultimate destination. What if we thought about fibers in the same way? That’s the concept behind Fibershed, regional textile communities that can ensure a “full-loop textile system,” where the fiber is grown, processed, and ultimately created into a wearable within the same geographical area.

backyard hoodie

Rebecca Burgess consulted North Face on sourcing a local supply chain for their “Backyard Hoodie” (Photo by Paige Green Photography)

Rebecca Burgess, founder of the Fibershed organization which aims to build more fibershed communities, it all began by developing and wearing a prototype wardrobe whose natural dyes, fibers, and labor were sourced from a region no larger than 150 miles from the project’s headquarters. Just like we can commit to growing our own food, we can also commit to growing our own fibers, or at least having an intimate relationship with those people nearby that grow them for us.


5. Permacouture: Plant a Dye Garden
A garden can sustain, but it can also help you create. Located in both London and San Francisco, organization Permacouture helps people to understand the connection between local food movements and textiles, and that plants can be used for food and fashion too. They also run a Seed to Sew project, promoting the use of heirloom seeds. Because if you have a vegetable garden, you can turn it into a dye garden. While there are common non-edible dye plants like indigo, there are many common edible plants that work well to dye with, like onion skins and red cabbage as well as flowers like sunflowers and hollyhocks.

Eat your vegetables and dye with them too? Gardening just got a whole lot more interesting.


 6. Nettles: For Tea and Fabric
Using nettles to make fabric is nothing new. Nettle fibers have been found in burial sites in Denmark that date back to the Bronze Age. In Europe, Camira Fabrics, a textile firm in Yorkshire, is known for bringing those nettle fibers back. Thanks to a partnership with De Montfort University they worked to develop a fabric made partly with the crop that most consider a weed.

nettle fabrics

The resulting fabric is called Sting, made with 25% nettles and 75% wool and is certified 100% biodegradable. Now Camira has expanded that fabric into three different lines. While their fabrics are mainly intended for upholstery, nettle fabric has already been used in the fashion world, most notably by Dutch brand Brennels.

Bio Trimmings copy

7. Food Waste to Accessories
Instead of thinking of byproducts as waste, we should rethink their value. That’s what designer Hoyan Ip does in her Bio Trimmings line, which she founded in 2012. What originally began as an experiment in creating fashion trimmings – like buckles and buttons – out of raw materials turned into a collection of unique, sustainable products, from necklaces to handbags, all made from food waste. For example, a clutch made with “jewels,” composed of sweetcorn husk, cucumber peel, mixed beans, strawberries, bulgur wheat, tomato peel and citrus peel.

food and fashion

8. Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk, Wear It!
Around the world, over a billion tons of food gets wasted every year, which is why a lot of individuals and companies have started to take a look at how we can better put food waste to use, instead of just taking it to the landfill. Germany’s QMilk targeted milk, not the drinkable stuff, but the milk that has gone off and gets tossed in the trash instead. In Germany alone, almost 2 million tons of milk is thrown out. Developing a biopolymer from the milk protein casein, QMilk makes both a fabric, which has a silky feel and is 100% biodegradable, as well as a line of natural cosmetics from its bioplastic.


9. Fiber from Root Vegetables
For her final project at the Montreal Center for Contemporary Textiles, Lena Guézennec developed thread from root vegetables. The root vegetable fibers may not be ready for mass fashion marketing, but Guézennec challenges us to rethink the value of the often underestimated root vegetable. Weaving, knitting and crocheting carrot, turnip, daikon radish, eggplant, leek and beet threads, Guézennec’s takes staples of Northern Hemisphere agriculture and puts them to use in a completely different way.

food and fashion

Images: ChrisAmrmytage, sipa, cocoparisienne