What’s in a name? When it comes to biomaterials—think yeast-engineered silk or mushroom-root leather—quite a lot. And like the trend itself, confusion about how they differ, how they’re made and what they offer is growing.
Buoyed by burgeoning ethical concerns from consumers, fashion brands are seeing the promise of lab-developed materials as functional alternatives to conventional, polluting and less humane ones derived from fossil fuels or animals. Yet the category remains ill-defined, even confusing, particularly when terms such as “biosynthetic,” biofabricated,” “biobased” and bioassembled” are thrown into the mix. Questions, too, are being raised about the use of such materials: Their critics say, for instance, that there’s little oversight or regulation around any potential environmental or health risks.
“It’s a complex subject because there are many underlying technologies that we’re talking about when we apply the term ‘biomaterial,’” Suzanne Lee, CEO of Biofabricate, a New York-based platform for biomaterial innovators and consumer brands, told Sourcing Journal. “It’s not just speaking to one technology.”