Second only to oil, fashion is second most polluting industry in the world. Fast fashion supplies the needs of today’s rapid lifestyle, but to what extent is this sustainable? Fortunately, there is a thriving community of innovative, fashion-loving designers and scientists who are committed to guiding this industry towards a more eco-friendly path of manufacturing garments. And they do it daringly, with bacteria.

Sonja Bäumel | (in)Visible

We often associate bacteria with pathogens, disease, and infection. Most of us are conditioned to react with a certain level of disgust when we hear this word. But there is a yin-yang quality to bacteria; it also has many beneficial functions, from aiding digestion to decomposing organic waste and cleaning up oil spills. More recently, technological experimentation with bacterial properties has yielded a new era of ‘biocouture’, a niche in the already microscopic organic garment factory. The capabilities of bacteria demonstrated by designers such as Sonja Bäumel, Sammy Jobbins Wells and MIT Media Lab’s BioLogic team provide a convincing argument for bacteria as the new interface of fashion technology.

BioLogic

BioLogic | Second Skin | 2015

Presenting bacteria as the fabric of the future, Lining Yao and Hiroshi Ishii of MIT Media Lab’s BioLogic team skillfully tame biology by utilising the hydromorphic behaviour of the bacteria Bacillus subtilis natto to create a Second Skin of breathable clothing. To enable the transformation of this bacteria into wearable garments, the ‘natto cells’ were turned into a biofilm then printed onto layers of spandex.

BioLogic3

BioLogic | Second Skin | 2015

Depending on the pattern configuration the biofilm is printed, the fabric ‘behaves’ in a certain way. Reacting to heat and humidity on the skin, the cells expand, manipulating the fabric to curl and bend, an effect achieved when the biofilm is printed uniformly across the fabric (Wired, 2015). Their collaboration with designers from New Balance and Royal College of Art resulted in the Second Skin activewear collection featuring spandex suits with triangular flaps built in the back. The flaps, integrated with biofilm, expand and cause the flaps to curl up when the wearer perspires, allowing for a breathable garment.

ExpandedSelf

Sonja Bäumel | Expanded Self

Harnessing the power of bacteria, Austrian designer Sonja Bäumel’s (In)visible Membrane thesis project seeks to explore and “magnify the micro world” (Dezeen, 2009), achieved through different experimental techniques. Bäumel’s growing collection of projects serve as a scientific investigation and reference to help future designers understand how our bodies communicate with the environment. Highlighting the invisible lifeforms that coexist with us, ‘Expanded Self’ portrays a living landscape of the skin bacteria on the human body when imprinted on a giant petri dish.

TexturedSelf

Sonja Bäumel | Textured Self

‘Textured Self’ represents a “design language in between science and art” (Bäumel, 2011). The hand-knitted and crocheted silhouette is a translation of bacteria on Bäumel’s skin, serving as a visual metaphor for the amount, colour and structure of the bacteria found on her body. This is only a taster of a few of Bäumel’s multitude of projects, which when considered together, engages the viewer in an exploratory fashion, confronting people with the reality that we are super-organisms playing host to microorganisms cooperating with the body for a collective existence.

SammyJWellsSkin

Sammy Jobbins Wells | Skin | 2014

Inspired by Suzanne Lee’s famous ‘Biocouture’ in which fermenting microbes were used to grow a range of garments, Sammy Jobbins Wells experiments with cellulose produced by bacteria from a kombucha mushroom for her project ‘Skin’. A solution of glucose mixed with white Sencha tea (for transparency) creates the optimum conditions for the bacteria to ferment. The resulting cellulose material is flexible, organic and tensile, which hardens into a leather-like texture around a physical form when it dries.

Sammy Jobbins Wells | Skin | 2014

Wrapping the cellulose sheets onto wood frames created using the Delaunay triangulation algorithm, she produces a structural piece that wraps around the waist and extends around the head (Dezeen, 2014). Although the cellulose material’s greatest flaw is that it is not waterproof, it serves as an initiative to stimulate a conversation about how bacteria and other bio-materials can be manipulated to produce objects and garments in the future.

Niiro | Entangled Red Multi-Dome Bracelet | Entangled Purple Simple Dome Necklace

Hausie jewellery designer Niiro creates intricate adornments from knitted wires. Like the rest of their collections, ‘Entangled’ is based on organic microstructures and natural forms. The irregular, random chaos of the pieces are transcended by the reflective and sparkling qualities of the industrial material. The fine, intricately webbed structure the jewellery imitates the fragility of microorganisms, yet the material provides durability to its form.

Niiro | Yuki Round Pendant NecklaceYukki Textured Cotton Band Bracelet

Unified by their knitted structures, all the pieces in Niiro’s collections achieve a perfect harmony of sophistication and delicate chaos. This construction allows designer Rosanna Raljević Ceglar’s the freedom to facilitate a range of concepts that embody the various forms, colours, and textures of nature.

“Even though we live in a chaotic world, nature’s perfection is the solution and no matter how simple the things you work with are, in every piece of nature there is an enormous potential.” (Niiro, 2009)

SHOP NIIRO

Written by Alice Pearce

Edited by Christina Wright

“References”
 Liz Stinson, Wired (2015). This Living Clothing Morphs When You Sweat. Available from http://www.wired.com/2015/10/this-living-clothing-morphs-when-you-sweat/ [Accessed 19/04/16]

Sonja Bäumel (2011). The Textured Self [Online] Available at http://www.sonjabaeumel.at/work/bacteria/textured-self (Accessed 19/04/16)

Dezeen (2009). (In)visible Membrane by Sonja Bäumel [Online] Available from http://www.dezeen.com/2009/10/22/invisible-membrane-by-sonja-baumel/ (Accessed 19/04/16)

Dezeen (2014). Bacteria produces textiles for skin body adornments by Sammy Jobbins Wells [Online] Available from http://www.dezeen.com/2014/08/12/skin-sammy-jobbins-wells-wearable-objects-bacteria-cellulose/ (Accessed 19/04/16)