As fashion conscious teenagers we are aware that many people have to have the latest style and since prices are low many consider clothing to be disposable. This so called ‘fast fashion’ leaves a pollution footprint with each step of the clothing life cycle generating potential environmental and occupational hazards. Influenced by fashion designer Suzanne Lee we want to investigate her idea of growing a more ecological and sustainable material ‘to grow a dress in a vat of liquid’. We want to use microbial-cellulose produced by a symbiotic mixture of yeast and bacteria grown in bathtubs of sweet green tea.
Our aim is to raise awareness that with the right simple ingredients, green tea, sugar, a few microbes and a little time we can grow our own ‘green material’ and subsequently make our own environmentally friendly, biodegradable clothes.
We also want to:-
- educate a wide audience about the environmental impact that the throw away fashion industry has on the planet.
- show how different technologies are possible solutions to issues involved with exploitation of natural materials for the disposable fashion industry.
- produce material for other students to use and explore within textile, technology and art lessons.
- showcase the clothes and items made and to show people that the clothes we have grown are not only functional but what they are formed from is unique
- show the community that not only scientists but ordinary school children like us can create ‘biological clothes’.
- look at other potential uses for the material.
The project has only been running for 8 months and yet it has attracted considerable media attention from film crew, radio and newspaper both nationally and internationally.
Our impact is to hopefully get people talking and discussing the issues.
As teenagers our age group are buying and discarding a lot of clothes to keep up with the changes in fashion. This issue is a concern to us and we see our project as a means of raising awareness of the environmental impact of ‘fast fashion’.
Our project was influenced by watching a BBC video article on Suzanne Lee’s BioCouture research project. We were inspired by the simplicity of the process and decided we would like to experiment ourselves. We wanted to grow our own clothes and spread our message.
Our research into clothing materials made us aware that the demand for man made fibres especially polyester has doubled in the last 15 years. The manufacturing of it and other synthetics fabrics is an energy intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil Nylon creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Cotton is one of the most popular and versatile fibres used in clothing manufacture but growing cotton requires large volumes of water. It is a crop that requires more pesticides than any other. This is not only a health hazard to workers and local population but a major assault on biodiversity. Leather a bi-product of meat and milk production requires intensive chemical processing and although a natural material some people see its use as an animal right issue. In America more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles are discarded per person per year.
We researched how to make the process and manufacture the clothing.
The material is produced using a kombucha recipe which is a symbiotic mixture of bacteria, yeasts and other micro- organisms which spin cellulose in a fermentation process. The bacteria feed off the sugar and green tea spinning tiny fibres of cellulose which stick together to form a sheet. Materials like cotton need to be dyed 18 times to get desired colour, for our bio material it needs only to be dyed once to get similar results.
June 2012 – Saw BBC News article on fashion designer Suzanne Lee Growing Own Clothes
Started our research.
July 2012 – A Kombucha starter culture was bought from Internet.
Purchased – 3 plastic storage boxes (baths), 3lb sugar, 60 green teabags.
July – August 2012 – 3 batches made and grown in Polytunnel.
Material dried on boards in sun
September 2012 – Waistcoat – 1st garment made from material. The material was like vegetable leather and was cut and sewn conventionally.
October 2012 – More green tea and sugar purchased. Previous fermented liquid recycled to use again. 3 more batches grown.
Apron made – The wet material was moulded around a mannequin. It knitted together to form seams, no sewing required.
We experimented by plaiting making flowers, pockets to decorate apron.
November 2012 – Film Crew from Abu Dhabi came to school to film school sustainable projects for Zayed Future Energy Prize. They Interviewed and filmed us working on ‘Growing our own clothes project.’
November 2012 – More green tea, sugar purchased, 3 more batches grown
January 2013 – Skirt made – material moulded around mannequin
Sudden media interest in Project
- Video shown at Zayed Future Energy Prize Ceremony part of World Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.
- Filmed by Manx TV MTTV
- Interviewed by Manx Radio
- Articles in Manx Independent and Manx.net
- Discussed at Island Environmental Education Network Meeting
Media coverage was an opportunity for us to draw attention to the environmental impact that the throwaway fashion industry has on the planet?
We have managed to make a completely environmentally friendly material from bacteria. We have produced three garments- a waistcoat, an apron and a skirt. We have produced various thickness of material some lightweight and transparent like paper and some more flexible like leather. We have sewn it conventionally and have used the wet material to form around a 3 dimensional shape forming a garment without sewing it. The project has caused a real stir in school as students cannot believe that our small bacteria ‘mother’ can create an item of clothing. It has provoked a great deal of curiosity and
discussion. ‘A’ level students studying Art and GCSE textile students are now interested in using the material in their work.
The project already has had great media interest both nationally and internationally as one journalist said “he couldn’t believe our press release and wanted to see the project for himself.” This media curiosity has not only enabled us to talk about growing our own clothes but enabled us to speak out about the issues around ‘fast fashion’. We have started to educate and make people aware about the environmental impact that the throw away fashion industry has on the planet and both animals and people. The project has got people talking, provoked discussions and now the question is what could we grow next, clothes are only the beginning.
Summary of Project
The synthetic materials dyes and chemicals used by the fashion industry are notorious pollutants. We wanted to find an alternative ecological way of creating new fabrics. We realise that growing your own fabrics is a strange concept but by using microbes, sugar and tea we have demonstrated that we can produce a material to make clothing. This unusual project has caused excitement and genuine interest throughout school, community and amongst media. This has given us a platform to speak out about our concerns of the rise in ’fast fashion’ and the pressing ecological and sustainable issues that surround it.