Suzanne Lee doesn’t just foresee a future in which “the frontier of fashion will be where designer jeans meet designer genes” and “white-coated workers combine with white-coated scientists” to produce the latest in luxury apparel derived from microbes, the root systems of mushrooms and even cells borrowed from animals.

This story first appeared in the October 28, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

As founder and president of Biocouture, she’s already at work on such ideas and, as she demonstrated for guests, she has samples to show for it.

Lee supplied photos of a knitted mesh dress produced from mycelium, part of the root system of a mushroom and endowed with properties not unlike suede. “It’s soft, robust, flexible…naturally combustible and naturally fire- and waterproof,” she noted.

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“What if we could make leather as lightweight and transparent as a butterfly’s wing?…What if we could make a fabric that has the dynamic responsiveness to your body or our surroundings of a chameleon?” she wondered aloud.

“Around the world today,” she said, “scientists are actually looking at producing a new generation of materials which seek to not mimic nature using synthetics, but to actually harvest living cells to divine and fabricate materials for us that are newly synthesized natural materials.

“And they’re using living cells, living organisms to produce those materials, so bacteria, yeast, algae, fungi and even animal cells” are all components of the toolbox.

Biocouture was among a number of companies commissioned by Selfridges department store for its Festival of Innovation earlier this year. It presented products derived from, among other nontraditional sources of apparel and textiles, bacteria and worm excreta.

“Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?” she asked the audience, adding that silk is essentially the waste product of a silkworm.

Likewise, the idea of apparel products derived from cellulose is well within the traditional experience of apparel merchandisers, but she offered a photo of a skirt made from cellulose derived from microbes, rather than an agricultural product.

Her brave new world of textile technology also allows for the possibility of leather based on an animal’s genetic makeup, but produced without the slaughter of or even injury to an animal.

“Animal cells could fuel the luxury industry of the future,” she said.

Among the ancillary benefits of innovations in bio-manufacturing, she noted, will be a decreased toll on the planet and its animal inhabitants, and a higher-tech approach to sustainability.

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