Grow Your Own Clothes: The Merging of Fashion and Science
Yesterday, I came across a tremendously fascinating and revolutionary woman. Her name is Suzanne Lee. She is a fashion designer and biotech innovator. Lee came up with a novel approach to fashion – she grows her own clothes! She came up with the idea because of a chance encounter with a biologist named David Hepworth. At the time she was writing a book about fashion and future technologies called, Fashioning the Future: Tomorrow’s Wardrobe. Hepworth introduced her to the concept of living materials and how microorganisms can grow cellulose. From this small encounter, they decided to collaborate on a fashion experiment.
As a fashion enthusiast and biologist concerned with protecting the environment – Lee’s revolutionary concept has thrilled me. As a result of this chance meeting between Lee and Hepworth, a bond was formed and they began to address the problems with the rapidly rising prices of commodities, the vast quantities of harmful pesticides and chemicals being used in the processing of clothing, and fast fashion producing mountains of toxic clothing that goes straight to landfills every year.
For those who don’t yet know, fashion is the third most polluting industry in the world where global production of all textile fibers consumes 1 trillion gallons of water, 33 trillion gallons of oil, and 20 billion pounds of chemicals annually. To give you some context, in order to produce ONE pair of denim jeans, the manufacturing process requires over 900 gallons of water! To top it off, on average, Americans throw away over 14 million tons of textiles a year. That is crazy!
Lee’s process of growing clothing began by using yeast, bacteria and other microorganisms cultured in a vat of liquid in her bathtub at home. The microorganism can spin threads of cellulose as a waste material which can then be used to create a cloth.
The tools of the fashion trade have transformed for Lee.
She created a collection of coats using the microbial cellulose and is continuing to work on her couture biomaterial pieces in collaboration with a company called Modern Meadow. Lee founded the world’s first biocreative design consultancy called Biocouture to empower fashion, sport, and luxury brands to understand and adopt these new biological materials to accelerate innovation and sustainable materials to protect our environment.
This might very well be the first step for a new direction in the fashion industry in the way fabric is created. I look forward to hearing more about the progress of this idea and how it becomes manifested later on in the process!