Application of Biomimetics in Textiles and Fashion

What is Biomimetics in Textiles?
Biomimetics covers a vast area in the modern research and innovation of products in the textile and fashion industry. Biomimetics and biomimicry (biologically inspired design) are terms for research that, by examining models, elements, processes and systems in nature, aims to develop similar solutions to those obtained by conventional technology. Biomimetic textiles use textile-related technologies as a platform to transfer properties and functionalities identified in biological systems into fibrous structures. This is achieved through the interpretation of the underlying biological mechanisms using the tools of textile technology. Biomimetics, as a systematic approach to the design of textiles, is one of the newest areas with relatively little, but significant activity.

Biomimetics in Textiles and Fashion
Figure 1: Biomimetics in Textiles and Fashion

Biomimetics is the imitation of nature, and this category deals with textile products inspired by nature. The most famous and earliest example in this category is Velcro®, developed in 1948 by George de Mestral using polyamide fibers. Velcro® is a technology used widely in many sectors from apparel to space. The self-cleaning and water-repellent surface finish in textile materials, thermal insulation, self-healing, structural colors, and so on have been a few examples of biomimetics in textiles. The self-cleaning surface finish takes inspiration from the lotus plant and is termed as lotus effect in textiles. The leaves of lotus are superhydrophobic due to the presence of microscale bumps. It wards off water droplets, which also collect dirt from the surface while it rolls off. Air is trapped between these microbumps, which helps to create a repelling surface, resulting in superhydrophobic textiles. The first applications of the lotus effect were architectural: roof tiles, self-cleaning windows and house paints. American company Nano-Tex has developed a textile finish that makes textile surfaces water and dirt repellent. It can be applied to garments and home textiles. The easy-clean clothes are becoming widely available. Development of new innovations in technical textile is under way, and in the future we will see non-wetting self-cleaning marquees, awnings and sails.

Thermal insulation properties are achieved by mimicking the microstructure of a polar bear’s fur (made up of tiny hollow hairs that reflect light). Butterflies make use of optical microstructures to show their colorful wings. This microstructure was mimicked to produce colorful textiles laminating 60 nano-sized layers of nylon or polyester. Swimsuits have been designed by studying the shark skin to reduce friction while swimming underwater, helping to swim faster. The penguins survive in extremely cold conditions because they can switch their skin into insulating or waterproof, by a muscle connected to the feather (a phenomenon termed adaptive insulation). An adaptive insulation jacket was produced using an ePTFE membrane along with a polyester structure (24% PTFE and 76% PE). It allows users to control the quantity of air for suitable insulation.

In order for biomimetics to flourish in the textile sector, it is necessary to adopt a design-led approach to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that merges the creative, opportunity-seeking aspects of design with the systematic, experimental, knowledge-seeking aspects of STEM areas. A designer must be able to understand enough STEM to not only exploit a novel or emerging technology but also be able to absorb it into his or her toolbox and have the agility to manage and contextualize innovation and vice versa.

There are less than a handful of commercial biomimetic textile technologies to date with a growing number at R&D stages both in academe and industry. Figure 2 offers a snapshot of the current scope (indicative and not exhaustive). Key areas of activity are characteristically cross-disciplined with one partner firmly planted in textile technology.

Biomimetics in Textiles
Figure 2: Snapshot of current activities in biomimetic textiles

Work in one area of biomaterials, for instance, combines experimental textile fiber spinning technologies with chemical engineering to replicate/engineer the properties of silk fibers extruded by spiders. Several scholars have conducted comprehensive reviews on the impact of biomimetics on textile innovation.

Application of Biomimetics in Textiles and Fashion:
Biomimetics plays an impending role in today’s needs for products that cope with the demands of effectiveness in terms of energy consumption and material use. Especially in the field of architectural textiles, substantial progress is being made. In the field of textiles and fashion, biomimetics has found various applications, contributing to sustainable and innovative solutions. Major applications of biomimetics in textiles and fashion industry are briefly described below:

A. Smart textiles inspired by nature:

1. Thermoregulation: There are many animals; those have developed efficient ways to regulate their body temperature. Applying principles from animals like the toucan or desert beetles, researchers have developed textiles that can regulate temperature, keeping the wearer cool or warm as needed.

2. Moisture Management: Desert beetles have inspired the development of fabrics that mimic their ability to collect and distribute water droplets. Such textiles can be used to create clothing that efficiently manages moisture, keeping the wearer dry.

B. Structural design and fabrication:

1. Lightweight and Strong Materials: The structural design of materials in nature, such as spider silk and bone, serves as inspiration for creating lightweight yet strong fabrics. This has implications for the development of durable and high-performance textiles in fashion and sportswear.

2. Self Healing Materials: Self healing fabric design inspired by nature’s healing mechanism in mammalian tissue. Some organisms possess the ability to heal wounds or repair damage. Researchers are exploring ways to create self-healing fabrics for fashion, which could reduce the environmental impact of clothing by extending its lifespan.

C. Colour and camouflage:

1. Mimicking Animal Camouflage: Textiles that can change colour or pattern based on the environment, similar to the camouflage abilities of certain animals (already discussed in previous segment), are being developed for applications in fashion and military textiles.

2. Iridescence: The iridescence seen in butterfly wings and peacock feathers has inspired the creation of fabrics with changing colors, adding aesthetic value to fashion designs.

D. Sustainable material development:

1. Biodegradable Materials: Researchers are exploring ways to create biodegradable textiles inspired by natural materials. For example, mushroom-based fabrics and plant-based fibers that decompose naturally are being developed as eco-friendly alternatives to traditional textiles.

2. Recycling and Upcycling: Nature’s cycles of renewal and resource efficiency inspire the development of sustainable fashion practices. Designers are exploring ways to recycle and upcycle materials, mimicking natural processes to reduce waste in the fashion industry.

E. Innovative textile production:

1. 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing: Biomimicry principles are applied to 3D printing technologies, allowing for the creation of intricate and efficient textile structures that mimic natural forms.

2. Biofabrication: Researchers are exploring biofabrication techniques to grow textiles from living organisms, such as bacteria or fungi, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional textile production methods.

F. Applications of biomimetics in architecture:
Applications of biomimetics in architecture have recently been of increasing interest due to the focus on effectiveness in energy consumption and material use and to considerations of durability, recyclability, renewability, CO2 consumption and mobility of architectural constructions. Some of the new developments of biomimetics in architecture are technical plant stem, Wooden tubes, Self-repairing biomimetic membranes for pneumatic structures etc.

Examples of Biomimetic Products:
Certain fish species to change color and in this way blend with the environment. A fabric is developed (Sandia National Laboratories, 2009) that automatically changes color to fit different environments, using the same cellular fuel used by color-changing fish. The technology could be used for military purposes, as soldiers could make themselves less visible on the battlefield by changing color with their surroundings. Other interesting biomimetic research topics at the moment are the strength of spider silk, the gecko’s ability to walk on a ceiling, the shark’s use of its skin to reduce water friction, adaptation of the butterfly wing for ultralight structures and the ability of polar bear fur to keep skin warm and dry while swimming in arctic water.

Biomimetics is the practice of emulating nature’s patterns, designs, and processes to solve human challenges. Biomimetics in textiles and fashion not only contributes to the development of innovative and sustainable materials but also fosters a deeper understanding of ecological systems and the potential for harmonious coexistence with nature.


  1. Textile Engineering – An Introduction, 2nd Edition Edited by Yasir Nawab
  2. Textiles for Sportswear Edited by Roshan Shishoo
  3. Textiles and Fashion: Materials, Design and Technology Edited by Rose Sinclair
  4. Textiles, Polymers and Composites for Buildings Edited by Goeran Pohl
  5. Biologically Inspired Textiles Edited by A. Abbott and M. Ellison

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