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QMILK: The technology that turns milk into clothes

Luftkuss Atelier

We were quite surprised when we heard the news that Anke Domaske, a German entrepreneur, fashion designer and microbiologist, produced fabric from milk a couple of years ago. Over the years, Domaske has developed and expanded this ingenious idea and created an unprecedented production alternative for the fashion industry.

So what did Domaske do exactly? The young microbiologist has succeeded in developing a new textile fiber using cow’s milk. Milk fiber, which she calls QMILK, is ecologically and biodegradable easily and is extremely skin-friendly.

Domaske started with the idea of creating clothes with a non-chemically treated fabric. She realized that she could use milk proteins during her research and saw that this kind of production technique dates back to the 1930s. However, since performing the necessary operations is not energy efficient and requires chemicals that are harmful to the environment, she decided to prepare everything in her own laboratory.

Domaske says that she bought the necessary equipment from a supermarket for only two hundred euros and started work in her laboratory in Bremen Fiber and Wool Institute. Then she finally succeeded in obtaining an organic and biodegradable milk fiber. Moreover, this new fiber technology she created has been deemed worthy of numerous awards so far.

What is milk fiber yarn and how is it produced?

A milk protein called casein is used to make innovative fibers that resemble wool. In the fiber manufacturing process, casein is first dried and mixed with other ingredients such as beeswax, wheat bran, and water. It is then heated and kneaded. The resulting mass is pressed to form fibres. The fibers are turned into yarn after undergoing a thermal drying process.

Milk-blend cotton yarn was first created in Italy and the USA in the 1930s and was called milk casein. It was made to compete with wool, but production stopped during WWII. Initially, formaldehyde and large amounts of water were used in the manufacturing process. However, this resulted in an unprofitable production method.

In the 1930s, Italy was a pioneer in the making of Lanital, a wool-like textile made from milk. Production started with the separation of milk and cream. Cream is used to produce butter, and skim milk is then coagulated to remove casein.

By mixing acid with milk, chemists can extract casein protein, which looks like cheese in appearance. Casein is dissolved in a molasses-like liquid and passed through nozzles. It is put in a chemical bath. The resulting milk fiber fabric is hardly distinguishable from wool.

Historically, milk fiber yarn was mixed with various substances to give them a cotton-like texture and tension. But today, it’s mostly made with a mix of casein protein and acrylonitrile. Therefore, it is not a true organic or natural fabric as it is semi-synthetic.

The future of QMILK

QMILK has developed a process that is 100% natural and uses renewable resources. No plasticizers, solvents or chemicals are used. The fiber can be composted at home and decompose and biodegrade in the environment within a few months.

Because no formaldehyde is used, a certain cost efficiency and minimum CO2 emissions are achieved. It is 100% natural, soft and smooth as silk. It is skin-friendly and meets the requirements of innovative material developments.

QMILK received the Green Tec Award in 2015. QMILK fiber has also passed the OEKO TEX standard 100 green certification for international ecological textiles. It answers the call for sustainable natural fibers and opens up exciting new possibilities for innovative textiles.

“We want to make a difference and solve problems,” Anke Domaske says of QMILK. “We were concerned that too much milk was being thrown away because it did not comply with food regulations. This is a problem that arises even when, for example, a milk truck arrives at the farmer’s plant too late. In Germany alone, two million tons of milk are thrown away every year. For us, this discarded milk is a valuable raw material that enables us to produce milk fiber.”

Domaske’s ambitions for the future of QMILK are also quite exciting. “We have developed a new process that allows us to produce things sustainably and without waste. In addition, we recycle a number of by-products from the food industry and reap the benefits of nature. Our ultimate goal is to build a house made entirely of QMILK. And yes, it is possible in theory to do that!”

Insprad Creative Agency

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