By: Veronica Suarez

July 24, 2023

Biomaterials Broken Down:


   In recent years, the fashion industry has been captivated by a new wave of technology: biomaterials. But what do these biomaterials actually entail? And just because something is biobased, what does that mean for us and the environment? Are they truly better options? Unfortunately, without proper education on these terms, consumers are left confused. With many businesses now claiming their materials as "biobased" or "biosynthetic" to appeal to eco-conscious shoppers, coming up with a single definition has become nearly impossible. To offer some clarity, we've included a helpful graphic that outlines where these terms fall before we dive into the topic. To keep things light and simple, we’ll be going over the terms biomaterial, biobased, biosynthetic, and biofabricated. In future articles, we will take a deeper look at this topic.

Biomaterials Diagram


Let’s start by understanding the outer ring of the figure above, what it means for a material to be labeled as a “biomaterial.” Biomaterials has become an umbrella term for any material that has a biological association. All that means is the material was made using biological AKA natural ingredients or processes. Since so many things could technically fall under this umbrella definition, the term has become problematic from a marketing standpoint. Take caution when doing independent research on this term, as “biomaterials” means something completely different when being referred to in a medical context. In a medical context, biomaterials are those which interact with a biological function. For example, a pacemaker is an example of a biomaterial in a medical context. This is NOT the kind of biomaterial we are referring to in this article.


Next, let's discuss "biobased." When a product is labeled as biobased, it means that it is made entirely or partially from natural substances. These substances may include animal products or fruit and vegetable waste. Some products can claim to be biobased even if they contain only 1% natural substances and 99% synthetic ingredients, as they technically meet the biobased criteria due to that 1%. However, the USDA established a biopreferred program for products; they must contain at least 25% biobased content. So, a material that is 25% natural substances and 75% synthetic materials would be considered biobased under USDA classifications. 


    Although both biofabricated and biosynthetics fall under the category of biobased materials, a material can be biofabricated without being biosynthetic, and vice versa. To keep it simple, let's use an example to explain the concept of biosynthetic. Imagine I own two water bottles: bottle A and bottle B. Both bottles were made from the exact same chemical formula, YET bottle A is considered biosynthetic while bottle B is not. Let's assume that both bottles contain potassium as one of the chemicals used in their process. The potassium in bottle A was derived from bananas, a natural ingredient. On the other hand, the potassium in bottle B was synthetically created in a lab using fossil fuels. This is why, despite being made of the SAME exact chemicals, bottle A is biosynthetic while bottle B is not.


    Moving on to the concept of biofabricated, it's even simpler. Something that is biofabricated was literally grown from the material it is made out of – there were no additional processes involved. For example, even though Soarce leather is made from seaweed, it is NOT biofabricated because the seaweed didn’t grow into leather without the need for any additional processes or intervention. An example of a material that is biofabricated is leather-like material made from mycelium. In this case, the mycelium grew into this leather-like material without any extra steps.

    The fashion industry's fascination with biomaterials has ignited an interest in sustainable alternatives. Yet, the widespread misinformation surrounding terms like "biobased" and "biosynthetics" has left potential investors, consumers, and businesses confused. As we delve deeper into this concept through future articles and posts on our Instagram page, our goal is to educate the public, empowering them to make informed choices. It's crucial for consumers to understand that not all products labeled as "biobased" are necessarily better for the environment compared to alternatives. By shedding light on these distinctions, we aim to ensure that individuals truly know what they are purchasing.