Domaske began her search for a natural fabric after seeing her stepfather suffer through skin irritations while being treated for cancer. Pairing up with a research lab, Domaske and her team developed Qmilch after two years of trial and error. The process involves reducing milk protein, called casein, to a powder that is then boiled and pressed (along with a few natural additives like beeswax) into strands that can be woven into a fabric. These strands can be made into a soft, silk-like jersey or spun to create a rougher, heavier textile.
Although Qmilch costs about 40% more than organic cotton at $28 per kilogram (2.2 pounds), it requires much less water to manufacture: it takes only half a gallon of water to produce one kilogram of Qmilch (enough fabric for a few dresses according to Domaske) compared to more than 2,640 gallons of water for the same amount of cotton fabric. Some critics have pointed out that cows aren’t a particularly sustainable source for a raw material, but Domaske utilizes milk that would otherwise be discarded. Qmilch is also a positive move away from oil-based synthetics.
There’s quite a buzz about this new material, and its application could extend beyond fashion. Car manufacturers are interested in using Qmilch for vehicle upholstery and hospitals like its antibacterial and hypoallergenic properties.
Making fabric out of milk is not quite as new or outlandish as you might think. Chemists have experimented with “Azlon” textiles, the generic name for fabrics made from broken-down and re-assembled fibers derived from peanuts, milk, corn (zein), and soybeans, since the late 19th century. In the early 1930s, Italian chemist Antonio Ferretti developed “Lanital,” the first trademarked and commercially manufactured regenerated protein fiber. Lanital utilized casein by combining it with formaldehyde or benzaldehyde and metal salts which were then pressed through a spinneret to form long, silk-like fibers.
The United States jumped on the milk train and also produced a casein-based fiber, branded “Aralac,” as part of the1930s and ‘40s war effort. Aralac was used as a wool substitute during WWII and blended with rabbit hair, wool, mohair, rayon, and cotton for garments until 1947. Post war, Aralac was soon replaced by new, low-priced synthetic fibers. These early versions of milk-based fabric were prone to mildew, failed to hold their shape after washing, and smelled like sour milk when damp—a major consumer complaint of casein fiber products. My overly-sensitive nose and I are glad that Domaske seems to have remedied that issue with her product!
I personally love the idea of transforming something that’s otherwise completely unusable (and rather off-putting) into an entirely different product. Let’s see where this renewed interest in milk-based fabric takes us...
Check out the Qmilch website: http://www.milkotex.com/
Watch and learn more about Domaske and Qmilch:
Information for this post was found in these articles:
- German fashion designer makes clothes from milk
- Anke Domaske Makes Milk Fashion
- Azlon information from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
See these articles for a more in-depth history of Azlons and casein fabrics:
- Meet the Azlons from A to Z: Regenerated & Rejuvenated
- WWII Fashions Never Out of Style Part 2 – All Dolled up