There is something about the hipster trend coming through into fashion and style these days that sends me out into the op shops and vintage clothing stores in search of a treasure. I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet but I hope that I will. I am in search of clothing made from milk. Yes, milk.
But first, a little background into what it is in milk that can be used to make clothing.
What does milk have to do with clothing? In Germany in 1897, mass printing press owner, Wilhem Krische, was commissioned to develop white school boards that could be wiped off without burning. German teachers no longer wanted to use chalk to write on blackboards. Krische collaborated with Austrian chemist, Adolph Spitteler and produced a plastic resembling horn from casein in the development of the first whiteboard. Even though it wasn’t a suitable material for use as a whiteboard and no one could find a use for the product, the duo changed and improved the characteristics of casein by treating it with formaldehyde.
This new plastic was given the name galalith. It was inexpensive to produce and was very easy to process. It was easy to cut, drill, emboss and dye the material without difficulty which meant that producing gemstone imitations was an easy process and some looked very much like the real thing. By 1913, 30 million litres of milk was used to produce galalith in Germany for use in boards, pipes and rods.
The popularity of galalith really picked up with Chanel’s costume jewellery trend. By the mid 1920s, French merchant, Auguste Bonaz was producing chains and brooches made of galalith, chromium and bakelite. Jakob Bengel also had a factory producing galalith jewellery. This high level of production of galalith was interrupted with the advent of World War II. The production of galalith for jewellery was banned because milk was needed for daily nutritional requirements and by the end of the war, modern plastics had supplanted the requirement for galalith.
There was another shortage in World War II, wool. Scientists in Italy and the United States of America searched for substitutes looking at soy and milk while scientists in Japan and Germany looked to fish protein as a source of fibre. In Italy and the USA, wool made from milk, called lanital, (Italy), and aralac, (USA), became available for use to make clothing. The common complaint however was that when the clothes were wet, they smelled like sour milk.
Lanital or aralac was made by mixing skim milk with acid to extract casein. This was then evaporated to crystals before being crushed and made into a solution with the same consistency as molasses. This was then forced through spinnerets and passed through a chemical bath to harden the fibres ready for cutting into desired lengths. It was amenable to being dyed. And according to a 1937 Time article, the wool was considered to be mothproof.
Call me odd but I wouldn’t mind having something in the wardrobe made from milk. There is some clever chemistry involved. The search continues.