Suzanne Lee is Director of the project and a Senior Research Fellow at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. She is collaborating with scientists to unite design with cutting edge bio and nano-technologies.
“BioCouture is a research project harnessing nature to propose a radical future fashion vision. We are investigating the use of microbial-cellulose, grown in a laboratory, to produce clothing. Our ultimate goal is to literally grow a dress in a vat of liquid..”.
Rather than exploit plants or petrochemicals to provide the raw material for fabric BioCouture is investigating the use of microbes to grow a textile biomaterial. Certain bacteria will spin microfibrils of pure cellulose during fermentation which form a dense layer that can be harvested and dried. To a sugary green tea solution they add a mixed culture of bacterial cellulose, yeasts and other microorganisms to produce a flexible cellulose mat. The bacteria feed on the sugar and spin fine threads of cellulose. As these start to stick together they form a skin on the liquids surface. After two to three weeks, when it is approximately 1.5cm thick, they remove the cellulose skin from the growth bath. They can then either use it wet to mold onto a 3D form, like a dress shape, or dry it flat and then cut and sew it into a garment.
Although these can only be worn in dry weather, and very carefully, BioCouture is pioneering a new eco-friendly and sustainable alternative. The future scale up of this material would also seek to use waste streams, for example from the food or drinks industry, to fuel the microbial-cellulose production. What started as a fashion project has now evolved into a biomaterials project – They are only just beginning to imagine what other uses there might be for this material. Right now these clothes are experimental prototypes and not commercially available, and, as the material is still in development, they are unable to provide samples.