Milk churns into butter, yes. It curdles into cheese, OK. But milk made into socks? A pair of pants? A gown?
“It’s almost like a nylon and a silk, but it’s pure milk,” said Dolores Piscotta of Brooklyn, N.Y., who sells a Spa Collection line of clothing made from 100 percent “pure organic cow’s milk.”
The line includes knitted socks, pants, long-sleeve T’s and jackets made from milk, said Piscotta, whose $110 T-shirt is featured in the July issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.
Tulare County, with its rich expanses of agricultural land and its Central California location, dominates the country as a dairy powerhouse.
But clothing made from milk is a little-known use for the commodity, even here, where the local economy sits on $1.4 billion of its creamy base.
“Fabric made from milk?” said Brad Caudill, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau and one of many locals who has never heard of milk fibers woven into cloth. “That is a new one for me.”
Piscotta said she’s used to customers’ disbelief at the thought that clothing can be made from the calcium-rich liquid.
“They kind of look at me with their mouths open,” she said.
Piscotta said milk fabric has many of the same properties of other clothing.
It holds dye; it’s breathable; and it has a luxurious, dressy sheen that resembles silk, she said.
The drawback she’s noticed is that it wrinkles easily after washing and should be ironed. She recommends washing by hand.
That’s because it’s not a very hardy fiber, according to Dr. Samuel M. Hudson, a professor at North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles.
“If you’re environmentally conscious, it’s a renewable fiber. It biodegrades. It should be compatible with the skin,” he said. “But it’s not much of a durable fiber.”
He said a shirt made from milk would have the strength of a rayon, but it wouldn’t survive the washing machine many times.
Milk fiber goes back to World War I, when the Germans, interested in other sources for fabric, discovered milk’s potential for cloth, he said.
“People observed that when milk dries out it makes a tough film. There’s a potential to make fibers out of that,” he said.
After getting rid of milk fat, the milk is curdled and the proteins are separated and concentrated into a viscous solution, he said.
That solution is forced through a capillary and is then hardened into a solid fiber that can be spun around a bobbin, he said.
It requires 100 pounds of skim milk to make 3 pounds of milk fiber, he said.
For those reasons, including its durability and the proliferation of other fabrics such as polyester, he said, milk fabric never really became popular.
Even the Chinese company that manufactures the milk fiber for Piscotta’s clothing line didn’t understand the market potential for clothing made from milk, she said.
The company, which she declined to name for proprietary reasons, was making underwear with it when she requested that they make her designs such as knitted socks out of milk.
“They thought it was stupid,” she said. “They said: ‘Who would wear milk socks?’ I said: ‘American women will wear milk socks.’ ”
Piscotta said there’s been great demand for her product, which is carried at upscale boutiques and spas.
She said that some of her buyers believe the fabric itself makes them feel better.
“It’s like wearing a milk bath,” reads a clothing tag.
Caudill said that he supports any product that might create more demand for dairy products, but after hearing the price for some of the items, he isn’t planning to splurge on any milk wearables.
“I’d rather drink my milk than wear it,” he said. “That is one expensive T-shirt.”