Building on the ideas in our book Radical Matter, the Future Materials Library showcases a raft of disruptive designers who are taking an innovative approach to sustainable material sourcing, rethinking where our materials come from and where they end up. From living and growing materials to fabrics made from human biological waste, these designers demonstrate that sustainable design is not about constraints but possibilities.

We know that human activity is putting unprecedented stress on Earths living and giving systems, and it is deepening the degradation of our planetary home.  Human production generates vast and increasing quantities of waste; and for decades, the design industries have colluded in a ‘take-make-discard’ model of consumption.

Until now, we have relied on a supply of natural raw materials that we transport to large factories and turn into products. Products are then shipped around the world, where we enjoy them (all too briefly) and discard them when they are no longer required. And this model is reaching its physical limits. We are running out of raw materials and creating enormous quantities of waste. At this current rate we will need a second planet.

The Future Materials Library showcases innovations from the textile and materials industries on both large and small scales, from independent designers to commercial producers. Each project encourages us to think more about where our materials come from, what we do with them and where they go at the end of their life. And it’s not just the finished product on display, with raw resources and process samples or prototypes on display.

Could today’s waste be tomorrow’s raw material?

Overconsumption of scarce natural resources is driving designers to rethink and reclaim waste materials in intelligent and sensitive ways. As well as offering environmental benefits, these innovations signal a shift in our relationship with materials and a reinterpretation of value. From single-use plastics to textile offcuts and pre-loved clothing, designers are intercepting industrial and domestic waste streams before they reach landfill, and harvesting these alternative raw materials to create useful and desirable products.

From food to faeces, could human and agricultural waste be explored as an abundant material resource?

With the world’s population expected to exceed nine billion by 2050, should we be looking to the ever-abundant organic waste stream from humans as a way to replace contemporary polluting synthetics? From the byproducts of agricultural industries to the clippings on hairdressers’ floors, experimental designers are re-evaluating organic waste matter to transform low-value or unwanted materials into products that are not only functional but also beautiful – and far removed from their origins.

Can we harvest naturally abundant materials in more agile and inventive ways?

Many of the natural materials on which we rely have been over-farmed and excessively cultivated for centuries, so resources that are abundant today may be scarce in the future. To harvest sustainably, we need to be flexible and inventive, basing our manufacturing on what is currently and locally available. The mainstream textile industry has traditionally drawn heavily on natural resources, with catastrophic consequences in terms of pollution and overexploitation. Now, naturally resilient varieties and widely forgotten heritage fibres are coming to the fore as viable, sustainable alternatives. Natural Assets shows a series of projects that span both high-tech and traditional techniques to unlock the hidden qualities of some of the world’s most abundant and bio-positive plant life.

What if materials could be grown, rather than made?

Inspired by the closed-loop, circular systems found in the natural world, designers and material innovators are using fungi and bacteria to produce biodegradable materials such as mycelium, lab-grown vegan leathers and textile dyes – working with nature rather than against it. Imagine a world where designers use algae as a sustainable fabric for furnishings; where textiles are dyed using harmless bacteria, rather than toxic chemicals; and where cruelty-free leather alternatives are artificially produced without the use of plastic-based materials.

Photography → Victoria Ling