For any type of designer, materials play an incredibly important role in determining the outcome of each project. Yet while the major fashion houses are playing with black silicone and PVC, Suzanne Lee has been at the forefront of what promises to be a revolution in terms of fabric engineering. Having teamed with a group of biologists and material scientists, Lee has actually begun to grow her own textile biomaterial, which she uses throughout her limited and experimental line of BioCouture clothing.
It is somewhat challenging to appreciate exactly what it means to grow your own textile material. Rather than planting, harvesting, and weaving, Lee simply manipulates natural fermentation processes to create her “textile” material. Oddly enough, the first component is a lukewarm vat of green tea. Having added sugars, yeasts, microorganisms, and a culture of bacterial cellulose, the solution is left to ferment for two to three weeks. As the different bacteria feed on the sugar, they produce threads of cellulose throughout the mixture. Over the course of fermentation, these threads will amass together – forming a 1.5 cm thick skin on the surface of the liquid. Once it is finished, the skin is simply removed and the liquid can be reused to create future batches of biomaterial.
What is even more remarkable is the diversity of this material. It can be cut and sewn like conventional fabric or it can be molded into three-dimensional forms. Depending on the project, the material can be manipulated to resemble anything between a lightweight paper to a flexible leather. It is 18 times more receptive to dyes than cotton and thus eliminates a great deal of strain on the environment. On a similar note, it is completely biodegradable.
Although this process has obvious implications for the future of fashion, Lee suspects that there are even more wide spread uses for this technology. Although there are still kinks to smooth out, it is reasonable to assume that in the near future we may be granted the option to grow materials with specific characteristics in mind– whether they be tensile, tactile, or talismanic.
Click on the images below to see some examples of her recent work, including a look at the fermentation process. If you are interested in learning more, visit the BioCouture website for more information.