If someone told you they could grow a dress from a vat of liquid, you probably wouldn’t believe them. Suzanne Lee is heading the world’s first biodesign consultancy firm, which brings knowledge from scientists’ labs into fashion production. Biocouture offers a completely new perspective on how we could manufacture clothing, accessories and sportswear in the future. This is the only completely organic garment you can create, from its birth to death. A living cloth.
The designer came up with the idea when researching a book about how fashion would look in 50 years time. Lee may be cultivating leather from petri dishes right now, but she remembers the awe she felt a decade earlier, when she and Scottish biologist David Hepworth first began experimenting with “living materials”—her in her bathtub and him in his garage.
Starting with tea, sugar, and the same bacteria and yeast used to ferment the Korean health drink kombucha, Lee and Hepworth made a discovery: Microbes, after feasting on sugar, sprout fibers that fuse into thin, pliable sheets of cellulose. When molded onto a dress form, then left to dry out, overlapping pieces of the material knit themselves together to form a structured garment with no visible seams.
“You can actually have a dress growing in a vat of liquid,” Lee says. “I had never imagined a piece of clothing could be alive. And I have nothing to do with its creation. It’s growing for me.”
This is Lee’s recipe to make your own cow-free “leather,” right in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Animal agriculture is the single most environmentally problematic aspect of the fashion industry, however, the need to actually breed, farm, trap, confine and kill animals in order to attain their fibers could soon be obsolete due to the advances being made by synthethic biology companies.
Cotton, rhino horns, leather and fur are being grown in laboratories. The exciting thing about these companies is that this is just the beginning. This is a field of development and production that will be endlessly customizable, increasingly high-performance and efficient, and inherently more sustainable and less cruel than raising animals to kill them.
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