New fabrics, woven from unexpected materials, are making our clothing lighter, more breathable and environmentally sustainable.

Check out what researchers are using to make the next generation of outerwear:

Fish slime

The U.S. Navy is looking to the ocean for its new synthetic clothing materials, though at first glance their approach is a little off-putting. Scientists at the Navy’s Surface Warfare Center are making clothing out of the gelatinous slime of the Pacific hagfish.

Hagfish, also known as slime eels, are bottom-dwelling jawless fish that secrete a slimy substance as a self-defense mechanism (it clogs the gills of predators).

Hands holding slime above eel in tray (U.S. Navy)
A demonstration of the elasticity of hagfish slime (DOD)

But before recoiling in horror, know that the Navy is interested in the hagfish slime because it has some incredible properties. It is both soft and really strong, and it can expand rapidly in water and then dissolve away.

“The possibilities are endless” and include gear for firefighters and divers, says biochemist Josh Kogot.

The Navy hopes to use the hagfish slime, a renewable resource, to replace synthetic materials derived from petroleum products.

Plastic

Scientists at Stanford University have invented a way to weave a plastic-based textile into conventional clothing in such a way that it will cool the person wearing it. The plastic allows infrared radiation to escape from the body more easily, which cools the wearer.

Its lead inventor, Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford, says that by wearing cooler clothing, people will be more comfortable and use less air conditioning.

Trash

The plastic in Stanford’s new shirts may seem odd, but German soccer team Bayern Munich and Spanish team Real Madrid take the field wearing literal trash. The jerseys are woven together from plastic bags and other trash cleaned out of the ocean.

Xabi Alonso on field with ball (© AP Images)
Bayern Munich’s Xabi Alonso wears a jersey made out of recycled plastic and trash. (© AP Images)

The uniforms are the result of a partnership between Adidas and the oceanographic organization Parley. Adidas weaves the recycled plastic into a synthetic fiber that is basically indistinguishable from regular cloth. Adidas says its goals are to eliminate nonrecycled plastic from their supply chain and to continue to help clean the oceans.