How Sustainable Manufacturing Could Transform Branded Apparel

Branded apparel is one of the most popular niches in the promotional products world, but it’s growing far beyond basic logo T-shirts and hoodies. One of the most fascinating and fast-growing trends in branded apparel is tied to one of the biggest concerns in the world at large: sustainability. To combat wasteful fashion production and explore new possibilities, many manufacturers are turning to biomaterials – and it might be right for your brand, too.


The Growth of Biomaterials

 In the last several decades, the growth of oil-based synthetics has increased production and lowered prices, but at a significant cost to the environment. According to Strategy + Business, 60% of all materials today use polyester, and the United Nations reports that the fashion industry produces nearly 20% of the world’s wastewater and is responsible for between 2% and 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The “fast fashion” model, which encourages overconsumption of lower-quality (and very low-cost) garments, pushes this reliance on synthetics and adds to the strain on resources and the environment.

Biomaterials offer an intriguing and potentially cost-effective solution to help phase out wasteful processes and phase in a more sustainable model of production. As the name suggests, these materials rely on natural, biological processes that can reduce waste, lower emissions, and provide more sustainable – rather than finite – sources of material. Promising solutions include textiles that originate as cactus, seaweed, pineapple, cork, flowers, and fungus; one fast-growing option, called mycelium, is developed using the understructure of mushrooms!

It’s not just basic textiles that are getting the biomaterials treatment, either. According to Atmos, bioprocesses are capable of making complex items and embellishments, like sequins, along with fabrics, often by combining today’s technology with long-held indigenous techniques that emphasize using the world around us in more sustainable ways.


Biomaterials and the Future

The growth is already gaining serious attention. Strategy + Business reports that the global wholesale market for next-generation materials is predicted to reach $2.2 billion by 2026 and has attracted investment from big-name brands including Adidas, Puma, Hermès, Nike, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. Another analysis, from Markets and Markets, reports that the biomaterials market had an estimated revenue value of $35.5 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $47.5 billion by 2025 with a compound annual growth rate of 6% — a growth rate higher than that of the nylon market!

It’s a promising start, but there’s still plenty to do. Scaling is a major focus for many producers of biomaterials, as they look for ways to build a business that is affordable enough to draw buyers but maintains sustainability and quality. It’s also important to ensure that these materials don’t just cause different concerns (for instance, ensuring that plant-based materials don’t waste large amounts of water to grow). As a result, many biomaterial producers are exploring ways to use existing byproducts and recycled materials, along with “freshly grown” ones. And, of course, any such change will also have to be accompanied by changes to consumer habits; the focus is on encouraging people to wear fewer items for longer periods of time rather than show off a constant “haul” of cheap, flimsy pieces.


Sustainability and Branded Apparel

As with most new innovations, the keys to effectively exploring biomaterials are scale and cost. Brands must evaluate the options and start small to see what the appetite is among their consumer base. As you explore new ideas for branded apparel beyond the “basics,” though, showing off your commitment to innovation and sustainability can be a powerful tool to make a lasting and positive impression – and to do some good at the same time.

“Green” practices can help to set your brand apart in positive ways and take advantage of the current trend towards sustainability. In fact, consumers across all generations are currently willing to pay more for sustainable items, according to Forbes, which can offer a way to enhance your brand and raise profits at the same time. Emphasizing your brand’s commitment to sustainable and environmentally friendly practices is a powerful tool in a world where more and more people are looking for ways to live their values through their purchases.

The push towards biomaterials also has an intriguing connection to another growing trend in branded apparel and beyond: the desire for more customization. NEFFA, one company exploring the use of mycelium in apparel, has developed a process that involves growing the material into a paste, which is then formed around a 3D model based on a customer’s body scan, as submitted through a convenient app. The result is a custom-made garment that fits the unique needs of each body. While these processes are still in the early stages, they’re an interesting way to connect multiple trends that can set your brand apart in the eyes of customers.

The goal of sustainability is in harmony with the goal of branded apparel: keep a particular piece (that is, keep your brand identity) visible for longer. Incorporating sustainable elements into your promotional products and apparel can raise your brand’s profile while also achieving your marketing goals – it’s a win-win!


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