fashion / innovation

bacteria as factories

Suzanne Lee's Bio Denim Jacket Suzanne Lee - Bio Biker Jacket

Last Thursday I treated myself to a day and night full of inspiring talks. During the day I attended What Design Can Do at the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam. Skipping dinner, I went straight to Pakhuis de Zwijger to participate in Indie Brands – the Denim EditionIt was interesting to see how at both events sustainability was a recurring theme, even though the main themes where connectedness and denim, respectively.

While the discussion at Indie Brands at one point focussed around the question if sustainable denim is a contradictio in terminis, my mind drifted off to a presentation I saw a few hours earlier. At What Design Can Do London based fashion designer Suzanne Lee showed the audience her way of making fabric. Instead of using natural or synthetic threads, she produces fabrics using bacteria. When given a bath of a brew of sugar and green tea, her mixture of bacterial cellulose, yeast and other microorganisms produces a kind of cloth. When used wet it can be molded onto a 3D form. When dried, it can be cut and sewn into a garment.

Besides needing relatively small amounts of water compared to plant based fabrics and not using up any raw materials as is the case with petrochemical fabrics, Lee’s bacteria fabric can also be dyed with far less dye than any other fabric. The color of the denim jacket pictured above was achieved with only one bath of dye. While this fully biodegradable fabric won’t last nearly as long as for instance denim will, this does not per se has to be a problem. Most garments outlive our need or want for them anyway.

Together with biologists and material scientists Lee is focusing all her attention towards turning these bacteria cultures into proper fabric factories. She is still very  much in the research phase, so you won’t be able find any garments in the stores made from this ‘living’ fabric. Not yet, anyway.


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