Clothing and fashion changes like the weather. But the fiber that makes them has not significantly changed over time. Clothing in the past was made mostly from plant and animal materials – silk, cotton, and leather, for example. More recently, in the last 100 years, the explosion of synthetic fibers came to market.
Nylon was the very first synthetic fiber ever created. It debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair. Nylon quickly replaced silk and wool because of its “strong as steel, fine as a spider’s web” characteristics. In the first year of sales, over 64 million nylon stockings were sold. Another synthetic fiber is Polyester, which is the most popular synthetic fiber on the planet.
The history of fiber demand shows the dominant role that polyester has had (see inset chart). Natural fibers derived from farmed plants and animals take a significant toll on the planet – a diversion from food production and the resources needed to produce them. Is this about to change? What if scientists could hack the biology within cells and use them to make new organic fibers? Think of the possibilities: perfect sheets of leather of any color, thickness, pattern, and size; silk that stretches; and the comfort of cotton. Any new fibers would need to satisfy certain qualities to be viable:
- Strength – of fiber that has high strength and durableness relative to its size and weight.
- Moldable – fibers that can be structured into various forms of fabric textures and clothing. Molding for fashion, comfort, and utility would be critical.
- Biodegradation – is the decomposition of organic material by microorganisms. Once discarded will it remain in landfills for years.
- Cost – of production.
Once these new fibers are innovated, new fabrication processes will also need to be innovated to perform the necessary molding of the fibers into fashionable clothing. These fabrication processes may include direct fiber to a designed finished product, thereby further reducing manufacturing costs. Other smart technologies can be integrated into this new fabrication process such as: absorption qualities, water and stain-resistant, temperature control, color change, texture change, just to name a few.
If one is looking for a promising future career – this is one to consider. Through 2026, bio-engineers can expect an employment growth of 7%. This is much faster than the job growth of all other U.S. occupations. News Forecasters believes that new fiber technology will revolutionize the industry, similar to what Nylon did the previous century. This is likely to happen in the next 5 to 10 years.
A video presentation of this subject: