Where there are problems, there are opportunities for solutions.
In light of a supply chain disruption caused by a pandemic and a growing climate crisis, the fashion industry was ripe for the disruption last year.
Perhaps this is the reason why so many fashion innovations made it to Time’s Top 100 inventions list for 2021. To bring the list together, Time’s editors and correspondents named their top picks, which Report authors assessed on originality, creativity, effectiveness, ambition and impact.
Much like last year’s list, which included fashion products related to coronavirus and sustainability, this year’s summary also touched on some of the most pressing issues of the year facing the industry. From tailored jeans to indigo made from bacteria, this year’s innovations are a sign of the times.
Formerly known as Tinctorium, biotech company Huue made headlines when it launched indigo derived from laboratory-grown bacteria in 2019. Although the indigo dye is naturally derived from a plant, this this is not the case with most of today’s indigo pigments, which are often chemically synthesized and must undergo a chemical reaction that pumps harmful corrosive salt into the world’s waterways. Huue’s development bypasses the use of chemicals and instead manufactures bacteria to turn natural sugars into indigo dye by mimicking how plant enzymes create color. Last September, the company partnered with Ginkgo Bioworks Inc. to use its cell programming platform to speed up and expand production of the sustainable indigo dye.
Aligning with the industry’s circular push, robotics and digital clothing company Unspun unveiled its most durable jeans at the start of the year, offering tailored denim that is both durable and tailored and therefore reduces the need for feedback. She later launched Vega-1, her 3D weaving technology that she plans to roll out globally, giving brands the ability to bring products to market quickly and efficiently. Using the revolutionary machine, it only takes 10 minutes for the brand to produce a custom pair of jeans. The brand notes that the first sewing machine was invented in the 1800s, and this could be the machine that will eventually replace it.
First hitting the scene as a sock brand, then venturing into t-shirts, Bombas expanded into underwear in 2021 and ticked a few important boxes in the process: The new product is inclusive size, bi-gender and community-oriented. Since launching the brand in 2013, she has focused on giving it back to the homeless population, and as of August 2021, her donations have surpassed 50 million. Community service aside, it’s the underwear design elements like a diagonal fly for easy access, tag-free structure, and soft, minimal stitching that earned it a spot on Time’s list. Underwear for men and women is made with a unique blend of smooth cotton and modal for softness and durability.
In May, the brand known for its 3D-knit women’s flats and sneakers spread to men, launching two versatile styles that meet at the intersection of durable and functional. The company showcased a pair of men’s sneakers and driving moccasins, the latest of which was on Time’s list. Rothy driving moccasins are made from recycled materials and dramatically reduce waste by using his high-tech knitting process which he says removes 30 percent of the waste that would normally end up on a cutting room floor. . As of March, the company had reused nearly 100 million plastic bottles and 100 tonnes of oceanic marine plastic in the manufacture of bran. It aims to be waste-free by 2023.
Nike, in partnership with its adaptive footwear partner Handsfree Labs, launched the Go FlyEase sneaker in February to make it easier for people with disabilities to put on their shoes. Using a patent pending hinged design in which the shoe closes around the wearer’s foot, the shoe is particularly appealing to people with arthritis, flexibility issues and more. The sneaker debuted with a trio of colorways including a pastel spring edition, plus a black shoe with cobalt and cherry accents and a version that mixes purple, teal, black, lava, scum. sea and navy blue. While the innovation is specifically geared towards people with limited mobility, Nike noted that the design is practical for everyone.
Allbirds and Adidas
Listed as a special mention, the Futurecraft.Footprint running shoe is a brainchild of shoe brands Allbirds and Adidas, which scrapped their low-carbon open-source collaboration in May of this year. The shoe has a carbon footprint of just 2.94 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), making it the performance shoe with the lowest carbon emissions on the market. While it misses the two kilogram target they were aiming for, the total equates to a 63% reduction from the Adizero RC3, the running shoe the brands have used as a starting point for their work.
A thin, strong, lightweight and ultra-thermal material, graphene won researchers the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010 and a new innovation focused on the material also earned it a “special mention” on this year’s Time list. In October, Reebok launched its Thermowarm + Graphene winter clothing collection, a line of active outerwear designed for sports. The collection includes hoodies, joggers, jackets and more for men and women and helps users stay warm in cold weather without sacrificing performance, function or style. Reebok’s testing showed that graphene helped retain 8-15% more heat than areas without it, signaling a major innovation in heat-retaining outerwear.