While fast-fashion brands have had a recent surge in popularity, their use of synthetic materials like polyester and nylon may concern those trying to lead a sustainable lifestyle. These materials take centuries to decompose and contribute to the pollution of oceans with microplastics.
If you’re looking to ditch these kinds of synthetic materials and embrace more sustainable ones, you’re not alone. In fact, a recent NielsenIQ study found that 78% of people say that a sustainable lifestyle is important to them.
The good news? Soy-based fabric is an excellent sustainable alternative. Not only is soy-based fabric known for its softness, it’s also very easy to care for. It can be machine-washed and is even wrinkle-resistant. It’s also extremely versatile, showing up in shoes, handbags and more! These qualities make soy a great choice for fashion lovers who prioritize comfort, performance and sustainability.
So, if you’re ready to revamp your closet, let’s dive into all of the ways soy is used in fashion.
There are a variety of different fabrics that are created from soy ingredients, such as pure soy fabric, which is made from processed soy proteins and is stretchy and breathable. Soy can also be blended with other materials to create soy cotton blends for enhanced durability, silk-like shine and cotton-like strength; and soy wool blends which retain the elasticity and softness of soy fabric while benefiting from the insulative and durable properties of wool.
Soy-based fabrics are highly biodegradable because they’re derived from waste products of soybean oil, tofu or soymilk, which allows for a more eco-friendly fabric than synthetic materials that take years to decompose. And, while natural protein fibers like wool and silk can have high costs and limited performance – for instance, animal fibers are prone to shrinkage when washed and have difficulties being dyed – soy-based fabric is a cost-efficient alternative, offering versatile, high-quality performance. It can be drawn to any desired fineness and is excellent for dyeing due to its highly moisture-absorbent and colorfast properties.
As an added bonus, soybean fiber contains many healthy amino acids that nourish the skin! Soy fabric also has UV-resistant properties, is anti-bacterial and allows for breathability, which makes it a popular choice for athletic wear. In fact, the athleisure brand KD New York creates workout clothes made out of soy-based cashmere for yoga, dance, barre and ballet.
Soy in Footwear
Speaking of ballet… in addition to fabric, soy has also found its way into footwear.
Soybean oil, previously seen as a mere byproduct of soybeans, is now used as a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum in footwear. In particular, brands are using soybean oil to enhance their shoes’ softness and strength when added to rubber or plastic, soybean oil can increase the flexibility and workability of the shoe. In fact, shoes made with soybean oil last longer than petroleum-based shoes!
One soy-based shoe you can try is the Okabashi shoe which is well-known for its supportive footbed. Fun fact: not only does the brand produce durable, soft shoes with the help of soybean oil, they’re also one of the 2% of shoe companies that operate domestically.
When added to rubber, soybean oil has also been shown to improve the material’s flexibility across temperatures and enhance traction in rainy and snowy weather conditions. Sketchers is one of the brands that uses soy-based rubber, and they recently collaborated with Goodyear to create Sketchers Gorun collection.
Soy in Handbags
Soy is also making its way into the handbag industry in the form of faux leather. While some genuine leathers may age poorly and deteriorate quickly in the presence of UV light, faux leather has enhanced durability and UV-resistant properties. It also doesn’t absorb liquids, making it much easier to clean than genuine leather (a real win!). Plus, it comes in a wide range of colors, which genuine leather can lack.
With all of these benefits, it’s not hard to see why soy-based handbags are lining the shelves. One example is Tory Burch’s “Ella Bio” purse — an eco-friendly version of its popular Ella tote. The shell of the Ella Bio is made with a plant protein derived from non-GMO soy grown in the U.S. and certified as bio-based material by the USDA. The DTC brand, Senreve, is also testing soy-based leather handbags by extracting plant proteins from soy using proprietary technology, Bio-Alloy, to make leather substitute, Bio-Tex.
Soy’s use in fashion goes beyond big brand names though! For example, a female collective in Indonesia developed bio-leather with soy by using the waste thrown away from tofu production. The liquid waste is boiled with vinegar, sugar and fertilizer. After, bacteria are added, and the mixture sits for ten days until it becomes a microbial cellulose, at which point it can be dried and used to create cost-effective, sustainable bags and wallets.
As we all seek to be more sustainable, soy-based fashion offers a great alternative to animal-based or synthetic fabrics. Not only is it versatile, showing up in fabric, footwear and handbags, soy also provides a comfortable, high-performing product that helps you reduce your environmental footprint. Talk about a win-win!
Looking to live more sustainably in other areas of your life? Check out how to enhance your home with soy and the benefits of soy in supplements.