Fashion. Science. Not two words that you often see together on the same page. But last month, as the fashion spotlight returned to London for another London Fashion Week (LFW), there was a strong focus on positive, sustainable fashion and during a visit to the sustainability exhibitions at LFW, we saw many inspiring examples of designers who are innovating to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. In some cases, this is through the recycling or upcycling of waste materials whilst in other cases, it is through the development of new, more sustainable and biodegradable materials. Either way, the fashion world is turning to science and nature to find solutions.
In these times of fast and cheap fashion, we Britons apparently discard a million tonnes of unwanted clothing per year, with a large proportion of this going to landfill. Currently, much of our clothing is made from synthetic materials, which are not biodegradable. Even natural materials, such as cotton, are far from being environmentally friendly because of the vast amount of water and other resources that are used in their production. There was a loud and clear message at LFW: it is imperative that the fashion world finds alternative, sustainable materials to produce clothing and footwear. And fast.
One fascinating case study showing how sustainable materials are already making an impact in fashion is that of leather alternatives. Whilst leather is a natural material, its production is extremely resource heavy and results in a large amount of waste. However, sustainable alternatives to leather already exist and are starting to find their way into big brand fashion. One such material is Pinatex®, which is a leather like non-woven textile made from pineapple leaf fibre, an agricultural waste product. This innovative material is protected by the granted European patent, EP 2576881, which has claims directed to the artificial leather material and the process for producing it.
Another potentially game changing leather alternative is MyloTM which is made from mycelium, the branching underground structure of mushrooms, which grows as a network of threads. The inventors of MyloTM have found a way to engineer mycelium cells to assemble them into a leather like material, which can be produced in a matter of days. A bit of searching identified several patents and patent applications directed to the growth and moulding of mycelium, including US 8001719.
Both of these materials are sufficiently developed that they have already been used in fashion collections, from the likes of Hugo Boss and Stella McCartney. However, there will be challenges ahead in terms of the development of processes and apparatus for producing these materials on a large scale, which is necessary if they are to have the environmental impact that the inventors are hoping for.
In both of these examples, the inventors have cleverly sought patent protection for their innovative materials at a relatively early stage. Whilst the presence of a patent application is not a guarantee of commercial success, what it will mean for the inventors of Pinatex® and MyloTM is that they will rightly be the ones to get credit (financial and otherwise) for their inventions when they are put to use by fashion designers and retailers.
Unfortunately, these inventors would appear to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to patenting their inventions. Surprisingly, during our research into the development of sustainable materials for the fashion industry, we saw virtually no references to patent protection in relation to materials and processes that would, on the face of it, appear to be both technical and novel. We were also unable to identify patent publications in relation to many of the innovative new materials that we read about in the press. This is in stark contrast to many other consumer product industries, where the terms “patented” and “patent pending” are liberally scattered throughout websites and marketing materials.
In the fashion industry there is, understandably, a strong focus on branding, copyright and design rights with perhaps less awareness and understanding of patents. But with the race to find sustainable materials for the fashion industry well and truly on, it is important that the creators of these innovative, potentially planet-saving materials start to consider the possibility of patent protection and the benefits it can provide. At Reddie & Grose LLP, we have a lot of experience in the patenting of sustainable materials and would be happy to offer advice on the protection of inventions in this field.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.