For millennia, humans have made fabric from plant fibers or animal hair. Then, in the last century, we learned how to make synthetic fabric from petroleum. The first, nylon, appeared in 1939. Polyester followed in 1953. They are cheaper than natural fabrics, among other advantages, but petroleum now comes with serious environmental and geopolitical problems. Very recently, a new synthetic fabric made from organic milk has taken the media by storm.
Her background is a rare combination of fashion designer and microbiologist.
As microbiologist, she and a research team at the University of Bremen looked for three years for a way to use milk byproducts to make fabric. For raw material the team used casein from organic milk. Casein is a protein inedible by humans and usually discarded as a waste product. Therefore using it to make fabric has no impact on the food supply.
Making fabric from milk byproducts is nothing new. That, too, originated in the 1930s, but the original process required chemicals that Domaske’s process does not use. The manufacture of this organic fabric, heating powdered casein and adding ingredients like zinc and beeswax, is environmentally friendly.
It requires only half a gallon of water to make two pounds of QMilch. That much cotton requires more than 2600 gallons.The material itself feels like silk and is very beneficial to people with irritated skin. Unlike synthetic textiles from petrochemicals, QMilch is biodegradable.
Just earlier this week, Domaske rolled out a line of QMilch clothing. That, of course, is what has touched off so many news stories. So far, the fabric is considerably more expensive than even organic cotton. The cost is bound to come down as production ramps up. Domaske is also committed to local production in order to keep down transportation costs.
I take that to mean that instead of transporting casein from many dairies to one large central factory, as many smaller factories as necessary will be built close to dairies. Leave it to someone who managed to combine a career as research scientist and fashion designer to conceive of producing an innovative organic fabric with pre-industrial procedures that made German towns so economically successful for hundreds of years!
UPDATE September 1, 2015. The original links I used no longer work, but I found a more recent article with a link to the company’s website.
UPDATE May 26, 2017. That newer link no longer works, and I can’t find anything recent about the company at all. It appears to have gone out of business. I don’t claim to know anything about the science, but I would guess that the company couldn’t scale its process up to become economical.
UPDATE May 2, 2018. I am delighted to find the company again. Here’s the link, at least for now: https://www.qmilkfiber.eu/?lang=en. The English translation of the original German isn’t the best, but the company has clearly found other uses for milk fiber beyond fashion, including biopolymers, toilet “paper,” and flame retardant. In fact, it is now a group of companies. If this link ever stops working, I’ll hunt until I find it again! I also found the company mentioned at the end of a historical overview of milk fiber, that has a longer history than I knew when I first wrote this article:
How clothing made from milk became the height of fashion in Mussolini’s Italy / Michael Waters, Atlas Obscura. July 28, 2017
Photo credit: [Link to Mizozo.com no longer works]