Here at Noir we love to explore innovative materials and production methods to create clothing that aligns with our values, prioritising sustainable and ethical manufacturing practices.
When our knitting partners showed us a new yarn from the Italian mill, made from a mix of organic cotton and milk by-product that would otherwise go to waste, we had to try it. Bex’s 30 years of experience working at the forefront of design in skincare and cosmetics, immediately made her think of vintage compacts and fashion accessories that were made from the same material, known as Caesin, or Galalith over 100 years ago….
The yarn we have been exploring has a wonderful cool to the touch feel, much like the casein products of old. We challenged ourselves: Could we use this specific yarn to create a sporty, 30s style dress that could segue between sports activity and casual social day wear? Fast forward 6 months and various samples later and the Noir sports dress was born, once again using Shima Seiki whole garment knitting machines to give a seamless sculpted fit, with zero waste.
How casein-based clothing is made
Making yarn from milk involves a process of extracting the casein protein from waste milk, breaking down the molecular chains and then reforming them, with the addition of cotton, into fibres. Enzymes can help with the fibre-forming process and reduce the need for harsh chemicals in the production process. Bio-fabrication involves growing textiles directly from cells, often without the need for chemicals or excessive resources. Using natural dyes and more sustainable finishing methods can further enhance the overall sustainability of casein-based materials.
How has casein evolved?
The use of casein to make clothing and accessories dates back to ancient times. Casein, as a protein derived from milk, was one of the earliest forms of natural plastic and could be shaped and moulded into different objects. Historical evidence shows that Ancient Egypt was one of the first to use casein for textile production, using it to stiffen and decorate fabrics. During World War II, there was renewed interest in casein-based textiles due to shortages of traditional fibres like cotton and wool. Casein fabrics were used in various applications, including clothing for the military, but fell from favour when oil-based polymers such as polyester and nylon were adopted in the 40s and 50s.
In recent years, there has been renewed interest in sustainable and eco-friendly materials, which has prompted researchers to revisit casein as a potential material. The development of new processing techniques and a focus on sustainable practices have led to experiments with casein-based fabrics once again. These modern efforts aim to create textiles that are biodegradable, have a smaller environmental footprint, and offer unique and beneficial properties.
California based Frog Design creative, Marion Seignan, (Capgemini Invent) has revisited casein to create a modular, fragrance diffuser. During her studies at ENSCI (France’s National School for Industrial Creation), Seignan, began looking into the potential of a neo-vintage milk base. "In France, nearly 500 million litres of milk are destroyed every year and in Europe, a total of 11 billion litres a year," remarks Seignan. "It can’t be sold, thrown away or even dispersed as legislation prohibits it for health reasons," she adds.
Casein’s technical and aesthetic potential is very real. "Depending on the process used, the source material can be transformed into flexible, rigid, translucent, opaque, smooth, or textured materials, which can be machined, moulded, thermoformed or spun into fibres."
It is also 100% biodegradable, a non-negligeable selling point in today’s market, and genuinely offers a way to upcycle material that would otherwise go to waste.
"From simple consumables – water-soluble components that give users the freedom to manage their end-of-life – to more enduring objects with proven benefits and a universal appeal."
Surely that can’t be such a bad thing?