Even though the pandemic has accelerated the shift towards sustainability by using organic, recycled or natural materials, it is not enough for the fashion industry to be truly sustainable. The real challenge is to replace the majority of textiles and materials created with fossil fuels with biodegradable materials. In the early 2000s, Suzanne Lee introduced biodesign into the fashion industry through Biocouture, which started as an academic research project. It resulted from a conversation with a biologist that answered the question, ‘how else can we create materials for a sustainable future?’
Biocouture envisions future manufacturing systems that inevitably consist of biodesigned living organisms and forming engineered materials into biodegradable products. For a few years, we have seen the advancement of some alternative materials like Piñatex, a natural leather made from fibres extracted from pineapple leaves and Mycelium, a network of interwoven thread-like polymers that constitute the vegetative part of mushrooms. Let’s dive deep into biodesign processes and discover how Biomaterials are changing the face of sustainable production and consumption.
Nancy Diniz, a course leader of MA Biodesign at Central Saint Martins (CSM), describes biodesign as “a means to incorporate the inherent life-conducive principles of biological systems, data and inter-species relationships into design thinking and making, with the aim of protection of natural resources, the environment and ecosystems”. At CSM, they are training and teaching students to work with different types of biological specimens, including mycelium, micro and macro algae strains, pigmented and bioluminescent bacterium and moss, both in and out of their Grow Lab. “
“We collect samples of living specimens from natural and built environments, then we examine and propagate them. We teach about the biological, biochemical and biophysical processes which govern how living systems grow, interact and thrive. This understanding of complex interconnectedness of the organic and inorganic and amplification of inter-species relationships is a core component of our design thinking strategy,” states Diniz.
Working With Mycelium
NEFFA, a Dutch Research, Design and Development company focusing on fashion innovation, is making waves internationally by working on the intersection of technology, microbiology and textiles. We caught up with their founder Aniela Hoitink to understand their unique approach. “We focus on changing material and production techniques instead of changing human behaviour. We believe this is easier than changing our consumption behaviour, as it is older than our production techniques,” she shared.
They are currently working on MycoTEX, a spinoff project that they want to bring to the market. “It is an award-winning, all-in-one solution for fashion brands. We use an automated, seamless production technology to create custom-fit products out of sustainable, vegan textiles made from mycelium (mushroom roots).”
Her quest to create innovative textiles and products based on personalisation inspired her to establish biodesigned production cycles. Gathering inspiration from the biological life cycle and how nature has its own consumptive behaviour, she further explains: “While working with mycelium, I discovered we could re-think not only the material but also the production technique. Every year a tree sheds its leaves to get a new set. Could we make garments that can be grown and composted after wearing, just like the tree with its leaves? This is how the concept of MycoTEX was born.”
Testing Out Biodesign
Acclaimed London-based photographer and artist Ram Shergill who is known for questioning the notion of identity, dress, and the power of performance, is merging biodesign in his work. Currently, he is in the third year of pursuing a PhD on ‘The Critical Posthuman Carapace: Constructing Exoskeletal Hybrid Living Systems’ (a bioregenerative system). According to Ram, his research focusses on exploring the creation of forms of design, architecture, constructing a bioregenerative carapace (a protective covering), acting as a shield for the body for use in harsher environments such as the Moon and Mars, and to see how their application would be beneficial on Earth.
Ram is collaborations with space technologies that deliver algal experiments to the ISS. “Using architectural design in combination with biochemical engineering, hybrid bioregenerative outputs are created, combining human with non-human organisms (microalgae) explicating a mode of critical posthuman practice,” he explains. In his research so far, the work created by Ram in fashion has been the crux of his design aesthetic to develop his upcoming design strategies.
What Does All This Mean For Designers?
Aniela and her team believe that a combination of technologies can pave the way towards the future of design. She states that “many companies focus on material development and the recreation of existing types of material. They are also working on improving different parts of the manufacturing processes. We feel that by bringing the two together and developing a new method from scratch, we can truly challenge the status quo and make improvements in terms of the environmental and economical footprint that are not possible when only focussing on single aspects of the fashion life cycle”.
On the other hand, Ram believes that biomaterials combined with biodesign can enhance the future of fashion. Biodesign can support new ideas in fashion and can be incorporated with new materials. “My research, which is focused on bioregenerative systems through speculative bio-integrated design could potentially be a future concept for fashion on planet Earth and beyond low Earth Orbit.”
According to Nancy, biodesign is the future for all design disciplines. She feels that it is necessary to raise awareness about the positive impact of bio-based fashion apparel to see a change in the production systems and consumer behaviour. “In designers and consumers, we already see a desire to have a less harmful impact on natural resources. The devastating impact on ecosystems and biodiversity caused by the fashion industry has to be addressed by stakeholders from a multitude of disciplines, including bio designers,” she adds.
Recently, we have seen Phillip Lim team up with industrial designer Charlotte McCurdy to create a petroleum-free dress covered in bioplastic sequins. Stella McCartney has also showcased the world’s first garments made using Mylo, the mushroom-based vegan leather. Without a doubt, companies and designers will accelerate natural, renewable material sources and regenerative practices as solutions that will actively improve nature’s ecosystems rather than just do less harm.
Thumbnail: Courtesy of Stella McCartney | Banner image: Courtesy of MycoTEX.