Milk is truly a versatile ingredient for life. While wonderful in ice cream or enjoyed on its own, milk has also been touted as a natural beauty product, an all-natural cleaner, an easy bonding agent, and more. But one of milk’s skills is shocking: you can wear milk.
In addition to its other qualities, milk proteins have been used to create synthetic fabric. In the early 20th century, thanks to the World Wars, clothing fibers like wool were scarce despite the demand for uniforms. An ingenious idea could solve this need for clothing materials: use milk. Early attempts at using milk fibers were unusable, as they were found too brittle to be practical. Then, an Italian chemist named Antonio Ferretti improved the technique, creating softer fibers comparable in texture and quality to wool. The basis of creating milk fiber was to mix milk with an acid that would pull the casein from it. Once excess water was removed, the casein was made into a syrup, placed in a bonding bath, and shaped into textile fibers.
Due to wool production’s continued decline, milk fiber found its economic niche. Advertised as a versatile, high-quality textile that would inspire future fashion, milk fiber rose in popularity as a war-time alternative to popular textiles. But with the creation of cheaper synthetics, milk fashion’s success was over by the 1950s, stunting its vision as the textile of the future. The popularity of milk fibers declined rapidly once durable, full-synthetic fibers were developed.
It again appeared in the 2010s as the clothing industry attempted to find materials ideal for a more sustainable fast fashion society. Today, it is marketed as a biodegradable, renewable synthetic fiber that upcycles milk and milk products past their expiration date. The hope is to refine the process and make milk fiber affordable enough to introduce to commercial production.
While not as durable as popular synthetics and easily wrinkled, milk fiber is breathable, resists water and possesses anti-bacterial properties that would not irritate the skin. The fibers hold dyes well without fading. It takes several gallons of milk to create a pound of the fiber, but as it is not for consumption, supporters argue that expired or contaminated milk that would otherwise be dumped can be a main source. Despite being made from a perishable food, the smell of milk fiber is compared to wool, if you even smell it at all. It also appeals to consumers’ desire to know what is in their products, as milk is an everyday ingredient with a well-known production process. As interest in it grows, milk may have its second chance of becoming the textile of the future.
It’s not a wild idea. Milk’s casein has been used in the past to create plastic for buttons and buckles. If an affordable milk fiber can be used in textiles, more milk could be coming to your wardrobe.
Would you wear milk?