MATERIAL EVOLUTION

The history of materials is as old as human history. From the dried animal hides of the past, to today’s engineered, innovative materials, they have certainly come a long way. Humans have always sought the best possible materials, whether it was the silk created in China in 2,800 BC, used for clothing, canvas and even paper, or the introduction of cotton and wool in the first century AD to bring clothing to the masses.

A revolutionary development in the evolution of fabric happened in 19th century France: the invention of the world’s first synthetic fibres; rayon, nylon and polyester. The industry realised that materials aren’t limited to the properties they have when first discovered – they can be strengthened, improved, and engineered to be the best possible material.

The history of materials is as old as human history. From the dried animal hides of the past, to today’s engineered, innovative materials, they have certainly come a long way. Humans have always sought the best possible materials, whether it was the silk created in China in 2,800 BC, used for clothing, canvas and even paper, or the introduction of cotton and wool in the first century AD to bring clothing to the masses.

A revolutionary development in the evolution of fabric happened in 19th century France: the invention of the world’s first synthetic fibres; rayon, nylon and polyester. The industry realised that materials aren’t limited to the properties they have when first discovered – they can be strengthened, improved, and engineered to be the best possible material.

The leather industry alone has gone through stages of transformation. The earliest records of leather being used by humans date back to 1300 BC. Leather was no longer a by-product of hunting, but actually a material used in a range of ways. While the tanning process may have developed over time, today’s leather remains fairly unchanged. That’s not to say the industry hasn’t evolved – Kangaroo leather, or K-leather, has grown in popularity for products such as football boots, due to being softer and more flexible. In addition, the industry has taken some strides to become more sustainable, due to the introduction of engineered leather.

As mentioned above, the material industry has always been eager to transform the way it thinks and works. Changes in consumer attitudes have huge influence on this, and the material industry is currently trying to keep up with two consumers demands simultaneously: increased consumption, and improved sustainability.

As the world’s population continues to grow, so too does global consumption. In almost every aspect of their lives, from travelling to buying new shoes, today’s consumers are demanding more and more. As a result, the use of natural resources is increasing, and our climate is changing. However, consumers are also increasingly aware of their impact on this planet, and therefore look for more sustainable options.

Ultimately, the goal must be to deliver what people want, and what the planet deserves: high quality products and services, developed and produced responsibly and sustainably. It’s time, yet again, for material change.

This opens the debate of what the best possible material is for each aspect of a modern consumers’ life. While often natural materials are preferable, the depletion of our natural resources begs the question of whether they are sustainable enough. The need to depend less on these resources is what has brought around the current wave of material evolution. This suggests that while some resources, such as silk for clothing, will always remain popular, they cannot be depended on for a range of uses.

The synthetic materials first created in the 19th century revolutionised the material industry due to their cheap production process. However, the costs saved in this process are often reflected in the finished product. This is something that becomes more apparent in larger commercial or business scenarios. For example, many airlines opt for synthetic seating, which, particularly in first or business classes, fail to live up to the other luxurious aspects of the journey, such as the food, perks and service.

When it comes to seating, another common option is fabric, which can be seen on many buses and trains. The issue with using fabric in these circumstances boils down to the high customer turnover rate of these transportation methods. Commuter trains travel up and down the country, transporting hundreds, if not thousands, of people every day. Fabric seats are hard to maintain and difficult to clean, which can compromise the travel experience of dozens of travellers in a single day.

Over time, we’ve discovered the benefits and drawbacks of a range of materials. For those in the industry, this offers a great advantage: they can now innovate, and engineer new materials that offer the durability, style and luxury we see in some materials, while being sustainable and easy to maintain and clean.

One such material offering all of these benefits is engineered leather. It uses leather fibre, giving it not only the same look and feel as leather, but also the quality and comfort that comes from a raw natural material. However, it’s more sustainable than traditional leather as it utilises unused leather, diverting it from the landfill to create a new material. The patented clean technology manufacturing process avoids using adhesives harmful to the environment, and also uses significantly less water compared to other materials, recycling 95% of any water it does use.

Certain alternatives that have been classed as more responsible, or ‘vegan’, are often produced using mainly synthetics and microfibers generally made of plastic, which are far from being biodegradable. This hampers their environmentally responsible credentials. Engineered leather, however allows us to give new life to a biproduct that already exists and by doing so allows for greater design possibilities and higher performance.

For those travelling via rail, bus or plane, fuel costs are cut down as it is a lighter material than traditional leather or fabrics. In addition, engineered leather is easy to clean and maintain. Unlike some traditional leathers which are uncoated, it is finished with a coating which prevents any direct physical contact with the leather content for added durability and hygiene. Brands such as Nike are also utilising this product (in its FlyLeather ranges) to create a more durable, strong and flexible super material for footwear.

The history of materials proves that the planet offers a great range of natural resources. However, as consumer demands increase, it’s vital that the material industry uses these resources in the most sustainable way – by making use of the world’s precious resources with minimal impact on the environment. By engineering new materials, sustainability can be balanced with consumers increasing expectations, and in turn lead to happier customers and more sustainable brands.