I’ve been doing some research into ‘grown materials’. It’s an exciting concept which is gaining popularity and I hope will eventually make its way into the mainstream. The idea is that we can grow materials which are completely biodegradable thus reducing the toxic waste and landfill that is generated through the production of familiar materials such as polyester and cotton.
Sheets of ‘vegetable leather’ can be grown by fermenting green tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast and a thicker material can be created with tree mulch and the fungus mycelium. Compared to regular materials the process is less wasteful, more energy efficient and is non-toxic to the environment. It could be a solution to one of the world’s biggest environmental issues, which is only growing worse as society continues to consume more rapidly.
Artist Erin Smith takes the traditional wedding dress as a symbol of our throw-away culture: “The wedding dress is a perfect example of a one-time-use, energy intensive and entirely non-sustainable model that is representative of so many of the choices that we make daily”. She decided to design and make her own wedding dress out of homegrown materials so that the garment would have a more “appropriate material lifespan”.
But will everyone be so receptive to the idea of wearing clothes made out of fungus and bacteria? I imagine that a lot of people will find the idea repulsive, and even those who are more open might just prefer the conventional materials for their desirable properties such as softness, warmth, stretch etc. I think this new type of material has a long way to go before it will appear as a mainstream competitor but I believe it’s the job of designers and marketers to make it happen. When you consider the fact that we wear sheep’s hair, cows skin and worms silk without question, is it so unreasonable to consider fungal and bacterial materials as a regular concept?
Here are some particularly attractive garments designed by Suzanne Lee and Aniela Hoitink. I think this is the sort of direction I can see flourishing in the market, a more refined style that Smith’s wedding dress. The translucent and leather like properties of the material are used to great effect here and whilst the origins of the materials are subtly hinted at, they are not the main event and could even be unknown to someone who didn’t know any better.
So maybe the public don’t even have to know what these ‘grown materials’ are made from, you can’t be grossed out by what you don’t know right? However I do think that it’s critical that we have a shift in culture towards feeling more responsible for our environment as communicated by Smith’s wedding dress project, “It’s essential that consumers become more aware of the continued lifespan of their things once they’ve been thrown away,” she says. “Any object made from materials that will outlive its intended use is a part of our global waste problem.”.
McEachran R. (2015) Would you wear a wedding dress made of fungus? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainable-fashion-blog/2015/feb/17/grow-compost-wedding-dress-homegrown-fashion (Accessed: 9/11/16).
Fairs, M. (2014) Microbes are “the factories of the future”. Available at: http://www.dezeen.com/2014/02/12/movie-biocouture-microbes-clothing-wearable-futures/ (Accessed: 9/11/16).