Did you know that bacteria and wood are wearable? It might sound absurd but in current haute-couture fashion there are designers that put sustainability and ecology first, creating innovative technologies. When 63% of textile fibers come from petrochemicals and only 12% of the materials used in clothing manufacturing are recycled, fashion designers and scientists all over the world are looking to create eco-friendly alternatives and initiatives.
What does Biocouture mean?
Biocouture is a new fashion concept used to describe the usage mainly of bacteria in the production and manufacturing of textile materials for crafting high-end clothing. Other raw materials such as wood, starch and sugar are also used. It took its name by replacing the old time classic term of haute couture with a more ecological one. In haute couture, any garment is handmade and one-of-a-kind, designed by French high fashion houses with really exclusive clients. In Biocouture, the garments are made exclusively out of raw, natural sources and materials that have been grown from different types of organisms.
Where does it come from?
The term was firstly introduced by Suzanne Lee, a senior researcher at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, who specializes in future technologies in the fashion production industry. Suzanne has a vision of producing eco-chic garments out of microbes, that are also used on fermented green tea. She works with scientists and biologists in the procedure which goes like this: by throwing yeast, sweetened tea and bacteria into bathtubs with specific temperature they produce sheets of cellulose that can be molded on a wearable fiber. As moisture turns into vapour, the fibres fuse together. Later on, they are dyed with vegetable or fruit dyes. The final result of bacteria and yeast feels a bit like a thin leather fabric as scientists argue. You can imagine that a garment made out of this process is not only unique but also...compostable!
Biocouture ‘on the microscope’
Apart from Lee’s initiative, the term is used to describe many innovative bio-procedures in textile production worldwide currently. Some academics from the University of Aalto in Finland have developed a technology for birch-based textile manufacturing. In Finland, forests cover more than 70% of the country’s surface and reduction control of some trees is allowed to make space for new ones. Some of these trees are currently used in the textile industry. The wood-derived fibers come mainly from birch and bamboo, trees that can produce up to 60% cellulose fiber after processing. "We need to make a systemic change where sustainable materials are embedded in the system and people can easily buy beautiful and comfortable garments which don't cause environmental problems, says Professor Kaariainen of the initiative in Aalto University. She and her colleagues aim at making the tree-based clothing available for Christmas shopping lists by 2025.
Other initiatives worldwide include the use of biosynthetics which are mainly fibres consisting of polymers that derive from renewable sources, known as biopolymers. Some of the most common commercially available biopolymers come from renewable sugars, starches and raw materials such as sugar cane, corn and plant oils. Currently, various technologies are under development and regular tests for the production of biosynthetic fibres that can be commercially available soon.
Why do we need to know about it?
Synthetic biology is the new compostable and promising technological achievement for the production of bio-textiles in the fashion industry. Sustainable fashion attempts might be on the spotlight, however with the current exploitation of natural resources and the rapid fast fashion market, more ecological processes are needed. For example, organic cotton is a natural product, however it needs a tremendous amount of water to grow and process it, so again it is not the ultimate sustainable alternative to synthetic production. The solution does not only come from producing less synthetic fibers that are not degradable, but also to reduce to the minimum the exploitation of natural resources. Namely, the concern is not merely about the materials used but the whole approach to manufacturing where a really complex supply chain is involved in producing a single piece of garment.
The new bio-processes in fashion suggest alternatives that are actually closer to the food industry or brewing than to a textile factory. So, why not compost our “old” garments into 100% non-toxic organic matters instead of letting them rot in landfills and incinerators?
How does Kleiderly contribute?
At Kleiderly, we have made it our mission to reduce the amount of clothes that end up in landfills and incinerators. We want to give unwanted clothes and overproduction a new, sustainable life by turning them into a new material. We solve two problems: Unwanted clothes and oil-based plastic use.