Seashells, fish and seaweed are renewable resources and are increasingly making their way onto land repurposed for fashion as a by-product from the food sector.
This walk in the ocean is a glimpse at how we are moving closer to sustainable fashion using some interesting and innovative alternatives.
‘She sells sea shells on the sea shore’
Swept onto land as if messengers from the sea, we have had a special connection with seashells throughout history. Admired for their beauty and variation they have been transformed into ritual objects, symbols, metaphors and of course, even as a tongue twister!
There is so much more to seashells than adding an ornament to a picture frame. Today, they are increasingly valued for their biomaterial properties which are adaptable, abundant and natural.
For example, mollusc shells consist of over 95% calcium carbonate which has a range of uses and deploys a process of extraction that is more bio-friendly than limestone mining for the same purpose.
Calcium carbonate has medicinal properties when taken as a dietary supplement or antacid and also benefits the environment, neutralising and removing unwanted toxins in water and soil, as well as their discarded shells helping to restore damaged oyster reefs.
In fashion, El Naturalista has taken advantage of this biotechnology, using calcium carbonate to improve the hardness and strength of outsoles when mixed with natural rubber.
The beginnings of long ocean voyages gave legend to sightings of half human fish-like creatures or ‘mermaids’. Sometimes associated with perilous events, they were also known for their generosity and giving useful gifts to mariners.
Today this vision re-surfaces, but re-purposed as a godsend in a natural healing therapy in the form of the Brazilian tilapia fish. Already an abundant food source, its special healing properties include skin high in moisture, collagen and disease resistance.
Doctors at the Dr José Frota Institute Burns Unit in Fortaleza, Brazil, developed the pioneering treatment of using this fish skin to help treat severe burns. Alternatives readily available in Western countries were otherwise lacking in supply and more expensive. Applied directly like a bandage, it is found to aid the speed of healing by several days and reduces the need for pain medication.
‘You shall have a fishy on a little dishy’... And thereafter as footwear.
Fish leather is made from various fish species which would otherwise be consumed and then treated as waste. The attractive variation in look and texture corresponds to the enormous diversity of the species and also appeals as a more sustainable alternative from other ‘exotic’ looking species.
Fish leather is remarkably strong with some differences between species. Fish leather is held tight with a natural cross-fibre structure unlike top-grain cowhide, where the fibres run in one direction. As a result, fish skin is actually a bit tougher than top-grain cowhide when compared together with the same thickness.
In medieval Japan stingray leather was valued for its particular strength. The Samurai were known to have crafted the skin as armour, proving impenetrable to the blade and even used for the sheath itself.
The Australian footwear brand EMU who value soft and durable fabrics feature shoes and sandals using fish leather for the first time this season at The Natural Shoe Store.
Fish leather is a time tested material but its rediscovery and increasing popularity could help diversification and reduce environmental damage.
Move to the changing winds
Of the floating world’
Kobayashi Issa (1821)
For thousands of years and in many cultures, seaweed has been used for food and fertilizer. It is incredibly rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and essential minerals, aiding digestive health and established herbal medicine.
So, imagine a fabric mixed with seaweed that is not just soft and breathable against the skin but also claimed to provide nourishment with active exchange upon direct contact, as the skin absorbs nutrients retained in the fibre from the seaweed element.
One manufacturer of this seaweed textile SeaCell™ uses certified organic rockweed or knotted kelp. Taken from the sparsely populated Icelandic fjords this seaweed is particularly rich in vital substances as it absorbs the surrounding minerals of geothermal water. They harvest just once every four years, cutting the seaweed in the regenerative part of the plant and in a manner that encourages strong growth.
The element of seaweed is then blended to the main component lyocell. This is a sustainable regenerated fibre from the eucalyptus tree, fast growing and thrives on little water. The combination of these two elements produces one of the most environmental and skin friendly of textiles.
Being environmentally sustainable needs to consider the full lifecycle, the impact of farming methods, production processes and also distribution.
The footwear brand El Naturalista who have a commitment to protecting the environment feature canvas shoes blended with this soft and breathable seaweed textile at The Natural Shoe Store.
The beautiful things the sea has to offer, leading the way naturally.