Countering fossil fuel-based textiles and synthetic dyes extraction, production, uses, and end of lifewithin the fashion and textile industry. Humans’ disconnection to non-human nature causes rampant overconsumption of anthropocentric products. Textiles and garments are produced, worn, and discarded with no regard for people, planet, and non-human organisms.
We are at the dawn of algae research for material development and symbiotic systems for coexistence and planet-centric design. Algae is suitable as a biodegradable textile material, as a natural pigment or as a potential energy and oxygen source.
Future Wardrobe is a material-based proposal where micro-algae is grown and nursed as a companion, harvested, and used for the material within the garment. The challenge is to merge biotech and fashion, demonstrating innovation in materials, technologies, and digital fabrication and mutating the concept of wearables to a human-microorganism symbiosis.
Future Wardrobe is a bioplastic “living” garment, drawing on the hydrophobic properties of alginate, allowing the garment to host living algae in a continuously circulating liquid chamber. The “future” feature is a biome where the algae can interact with the wearer, through movement, sound, and environment.
The project will showcase algae’s potential uses as a non-polluting energy and light source, air purifier, food source, and future textile fabrication. The design will follow circularity principles by creating a fully biodegradable material, sourced locally, minimizing negative impacts on people, place, and non-human organisms.
Rise of the ALGAE
The concept for Future Wardrobe popped up in the summer of 2019 when Lara and Catherine started wondering what the wardrobe of the future could look like if we began to wear garments that take care of nature and living organisms.
We dreamed up a special wardrobe to house and care for a collection of garments made or grown from and for non-human organisms. To bring our vision into reality, our aim is to show that we can and must redesign our thinking towards the earth and our neighboring species. The dream is BIG – we know, so we have had to divide the wardrobe, refine the idea and focus on creating our debut garment as our first interspecies collaboration with: our algae allies.
Later that year, while working on a proposal for the algae garment, Jessica and Thora met up with Catherine at the MIT BioSummit. Lara and Catherine required a partner that would complement their material exploration with knowledge about microalgae – their needs, cultivation, and properties.
Jessica and Thora of BioBabes were working on a similarly ideological project to show at the House of Electronic Art in Basel. Their project explored carrying a living culture of glowing algae in a wearable pouch that interacted with the wearer and emitted light.
This lucky meeting started our collaboration and journey into the lives of algae, the potential of biodegradable materials from kelp, and the possible futures for a more than human world.
THE BIRTH OF THE PROJECT
The Time for a Project Like This IS NOW
We all come from a design background, whether textile or architecture, we have all seen first hand the immense amount of damage these sectors can pose on living systems and networks of biodiversity.
Overall, the project is a critique on human centered thinking.
We are now in an era where we humans consider ourselves the epicenter of life on earth, for better or worse, because we collectively take up the most space or make the most impact.
We need to urgently decenter ourselves from this narrative and realize that if we do not take care of our neighboring species or our land, water, and air, we aren’t taking care of ourselves The earth is resilient. Life will always find ways to create from destruction and to use waste as food. We must learn from these fantastic regenerative powers, and help the earth on this mighty mission, doing no harm, and creating to benefit others, not only ourselves. Our human well-being depends on the well-being of our living planet.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Our practice is rooted in collaborating with people of different trades and disciplines, pushing the boundaries of design to be inclusive of people, planet and biodiversity.
This mutual understanding within our collective was the seed of intention that became the Future Wardrobe. Our project is driven by finding alternatives for toxic material and dye processes within the textile industry that permanently damage habitats and are detrimental to human health.
We began asking important questions, sometimes without clear answers, determined to find unexpected outcomes through our unconventional design approach.
Some of those questions were:
● Why use materials that take thousands of years to break down?
● Why use chemicals that are non-biocompatible and threaten the wellness and livelihoods of our living systems.
● What is an interspecies collaboration?
● How to develop empathetic coexistence?
● What are the ethics and boundaries of bio art & speculative interspecies design?
●Can we consider algae our non-human client?
● What practices do we need to adapt to de-center human based design and shift to design that puts the planet first?
These questions were present in our minds through each stage of developing this project. Our research and development outcome is an artistic, speculative future garment based on living together with non-humans in our living planet.
We are showcasing a kelp-based material that can replace some of the most toxic plastics like PVC, largely used in the medical and textile industries. The potential of new plastic-like materials from algae that is organic, renewable, non-toxic, and compostable (breaking down after just a couple of months) is one that really excites us!
The Future Wardrobe is primarily a vehicle to shift careless consumer consciousness. Through the algae centered design we are raising awareness of the damage we are causing through careless practices on our water world, the first life environment, and the home to the first ancestors – algae.
Our garment is no simple cape and skirt combo, it holds a delicate microhabitat designed considering an unlikely client’s needs – microalgae. By creating a space for two impossibly different species such as humans and algae to live together and interact daily as companions we want to nurture a sense of closeness. We want to stimulate the human senses allowing the wearer to smell, feel, touch and hear their algae companion. And most importantly, we want to stimulate an emotional response, to educate and empower our audience to care for other living beings and our underwater worlds.
Though largely material driven, we were also inspired by the fantastic creatures that are algae – in all their forms, large and tiny, and the countless benefits they provide for people, the planet, and neighboring organisms! This is why, early on, we shifted our process by leading our design and the functionality of our garment to satisfy our algae’s needs for wellbeing.
The material development, sewing, sealing, handcrafting, creating custom machines, biodegradability tests, growing algae cultures, and testing the algae’s metabolic evolution when in contact with our material over time, were the main tasks we took on.
Regarding difficulties, we had some setbacks due to the Covid restrictions, so some parts of the project were delayed, and we didn’t manage to do the physical tests we long for to take our material to the next phase. We know that to be viable alternatives for industry use, our materials should meet the highest technical performance and withstand long term wearability and user performance. Meeting this duality is a major challenge, for now.
We are finalizing electronics and 3D printed details for our project and have sparked collaborations with a local textile technology center to conduct our material tests in the upcoming months!
The Magic of Collaborations
It would have, quite literally, been impossible to carry out this larger than life project without each other. Our different strengths, experiences and individual philosophies helped us evolve as designers and it shows in our final pieces. From the yogic philosophy, to biology, microcosmic worlds, futurism, nature, science fiction, costumes, biomaterials, sound, music, stories… all of our interests were woven together into this garment.
Not to mention the influence of the many designers, researchers, artists, philosophers and species that preceded our work and greatly inspired us to rethink planetary care.
For this work to continue to grow and evolve we will need to apply for more funding, we are always on the lookout for material innovation or bioart open calls, research grants and opportunities for further development. We have also really started sparking the interest of cool new collaborators, some who can provide services we need in exchange for our material expertise.
We see so much potential in this material to really make tangible change in the textile industry.
We aspire for great collaborations with fashion houses to push the material onto the scene. We are seeing this new area of design creating a huge buzz right now as the industry is looking to be more responsible for their impact.
We are also looking at new places where our material can be used to replace plastics – such as a collaboration with a PhD student working with NASA to create culture bags for microalgae grown in space.
We definitely will continue to share our knowledge on this material. We will continue to offer services to companies and designers interested in sustainable materials, teach community workshops, mentor biodesign students, attend discussion panels, give talks and presentations at activist events, textile and dye conferences, biodesign summits and more!
We would love to exhibit our work at fashion, material, biotech and innovative design events, virtually or in person. We are particularly interested in showing at the MIT BioSummit, Ars Electronica, Biofabricate, Materfad, London Design Festival, Milan Design Festival and Dutch Design Week.
We are only a tiny spec of stardust within the immense nodes and networks of LIFE.
Let’s respect this life, living and caring for each other, as more than human relatives.
Only by acknowledging this planetary togetherness, co-creating and collaborating rather than competing and overpowering, do we allow space for all beings to live well.
We are not just human, we are symbiotic beings.
Art director: Lisa Herzog
Assistant Art director: Diana Boier
Photography: Jonathan Rodrigo
MUAH: Kristiana Zaula
Styling: Lisa Herzog & Khaliah Jones
Model: Kira abi Rafeh
Production assistant: Laura Elias Soler