Designers Turn to Food Waste to Make Upcycled Fashion

Food waste and upcycled fashion go hand in hand.

Forget expensive designer clothing. Your next gown could be constructed out of upcycled food waste.

We probably don’t have to tell you that an exorbitant amount of food is wasted every year, but to drive home our point, get a load of this depressing statistic: “The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste each year,” TakePart reports. And all that food waste creates “an annual global carbon footprint of 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.”

Okay, so we know food waste is a problem and we need to discover different ways to use this food. And although a lot of it can be eaten and donated, there’s still some that can’t be consumed because it’s not edible. So, that’s why using food waste to make clothing is so awesome—even if it seems incredibly strange.

Second generation food waste—things like orange peels, coconut husks, and salmon skin—can be transformed into synthetic fibers and then used for constructing fashionable duds.

So, which companies are using these food-based materials? Let us introduce you to a few of them.

1. Nau

This Portland, Oregon-based sustainable clothing company uses alternative materials, such as 37.5 Technology insulation, to insulate its jackets. The insulation—it’s made from coconuts—provides wicking, and temperature and odor control.

2. Tidal Vision

Fish waste is still a problem for sustainable fisheries. That’s why Craig Kasberg, a former commercial fisher, decided to try and upcycle aquatic leather and chitin/chitosan. After a lot of trial and error, Zach Wilkinson and Kasberg successfully launched Tidal Vision’s line of sustainable wear, which includes vegetable-based tanning products, salmon-leather wallets, and belts.

“Additionally, Tidal Vision developed a way to transform crab shells into chitosan textile fiber,” TakePart adds.

3. Ecoalf

This company collects leftover coffee grounds to make shoes. Weird, but once the process is explained, it makes sense… kind of:

“Since 2009, Ecoalf has been collecting leftover coffee grounds, primarily from a Taiwan-based restaurant chain,” explains TakePart.

“The still-humid compounds are taken to a recycling plant to dry and have 11 percent of their oils extracted to maintain a microporousness that allows for binding with other materials. The result is a nano-powder that’s mixed with either recycled polyester or nylon polymers to create yarn.”

4. Qmilk

Anke Domaske discovered a zero-waste way to make her company’s unique, milk fiber. Domaske created a process, using 100 percent natural ingredients with casein, a raw milk product.

“It only requires a maximum of two liters of water per kilogram of fiber and a maximum processing time of five minutes,” Domaske says.

Once perfecting the process, Domaske launched Qmilk in 2011. Qmilk is a biodegradable yarn that can be used in bedding, carpets, paper, and medical textiles.

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Image of coconut via Shutterstock

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.