When I was studying for my MA in Fashion & the Environment I came across a number of people experimenting with bio-engineering to create new fabrics without impacting the environment. One of my discoveries was an artist called Nöle Giulini who had been working with kombucha since the 1980s, who has not been properly recognised for her discovery at that time. Someone who has been a major catalyst in the area of bio materia development is Suzanne Lee from BioCouture.
“Would you wear clothing grown from a mixture of yeast, bacteria and a sugary green tea solution? How about from a combination of plant matter and microscopic mushrooms? These odd materials may sound like something out of the Jetsons’ wardrobe, but they could have an influence on how fashion is manufactured.
“I think the ability for us to grow our own clothing could have great positive potential,” says Erin Smith, artist in residence at Microsoft Research who brewed her own wedding dress. “Growing clothing from scratch could both eliminate carbon emissions caused by transportation and allow for a garment that can be grown to your precise dimensions and specifications.”
Smith produced her dress using a combination of tree mulch and mycelium – a type of naturally white fungus. The mycelium was bred in a tub of agricultural waste requiring very little added energy. Once the dress had been worn, it could be composted in the garden. She made the decision to grow her own dress because she didn’t want her wedding to be dictated by tradition and to have to wear something that would just sit in her wardrobe after the event.
The concept behind a grown wedding dress was to take a one-time-use object and rethink its construction in order to have an appropriate material lifespan. The average cost of a wedding dress in the US is roughly $1,200 (£792) and can contain nearly 12 yards (11m) of fabric,” explains Smith, adding that making the fashion chain circular not only brings us closer to the environment but also reflects how needless our consumption habits are: “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.”
Growing a garment from mycelium isn’t a novel concept. The most notable figure in the field of biomaterials is Suzanne Lee, founder of BioCouture, a design consultancy that works with brands to apply similar technology to sportswear and luxury fashion products. Lee has been experimenting with the idea of fermenting clothes for over a decade and has grown a type of vegetable leather from green tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast.”