Grow Your Own Clothes


Suzanne Lee, Creative Director of Modern Meadow, and creator of Biocouture has engineered a vegetable leather fabric using a bacterial reaction with tea and yeast.  The result is a thin, rubbery, biodegradable transparent cellulose with super absorbency.  As a fashion student, I have studied the ethical and environmental issues with garment production as well as witnessed the great amount of waste produced by the industry first hand.  When I interned in a sample room last semester, I was often given yards of fabric and prototypes and told to shred them so that they the materials and designs would be unusable to anyone rummaging through garbage.  Everyday I would cringe when handed a pretty much completed garment, or a piece of fabric that was large enough to create 3 more dresses, but reluctantly obeyed as an intern.  

The fashion industry is one of the leading industries in pollution as vast amounts of water are used to create textiles, and fast fashion produces more unused garments and waste than ever.  Brands such as H&M and Zara have released “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” lines, but as fast fashion thrives off overproducing products quickly and cheaply they are anything but eco-friendly.  Even more conscious brands such as Stella McCartney and Reformation produce waste through garment production, but Lee’s biocouture fabric is natural, organic, and completely biodegradable.  

The only issues are that it is not yet a stable medium as interaction with liquid would cause it to decompose, the ability to manipulate the finished material as far as colors and embellishments is minimal, and as it is a vegetable leather it can be used only for specific garment types.  For the midterm I would like to play around with Lee’s growable fabric by cultivating my own cultures at home and experimenting and researching different ways to help manipulate the fabric to create something that can be more durable and mainstreamed.  The fabric takes 3-4 weeks to cultivate and dry so I have purchased the necessary materials to begin the process as soon as possible.  I hope to manipulate the fabric with different methods of embellishment such as pleating, embroidery, beading, dying, and paint with an end result that can be incorporated in a photo series along with a few of the garments I created last year for the TechStyles: Gallatin Fashion Show.  My collection focused on using recycled fabrics from clothing found at thrift stores to create garments sustainably and reduce the amount of waste produced.  

Stars are the most widely recognized astronomical objects as they represent the most fundamental building blocks of the galaxy.  Stardust emphasizes the use of recycled suede, which mirrors the nebula stage of a star as dust and ionized gases create an interstellar cloud, or nebula.  As the collection progresses, iridescent sequins are combined with light airy fabrics that slowly shed away the nebulous suede symbolizing the formation of a stable star.   The sheer elements of the designs simulate the way humans see stars with a naked eye.  While it is possible to see stars that are deceased, the saying that “the stars we see at night have already died” is a myth.  Most of the stars we see at night are very much alive due to their proximity and the speed of light.  With fabrics recycled from previously used garments, most of the materials used to create this collection are sustainably curated to minimize production and waste.  The leading cause of CO2 and methane gas emissions, as well as water and energy consumption is animal agriculture.  In turn, this means the raising of animals for both the leather and fur industries.  While much of these materials are by-products of the meat industry, factory farming practices are widely used to meet consumer demand.  The way to combat this is to ultimately refrain from buying any animal products–including: meat, dairy, and egg products, as well as leather and fur goods.  By purchasing leather secondhand, we can support environmental sustainability over destructive fast fashion.   Stars are born within clouds of dust and scattered throughout most galaxies.  For this reason the use of secondhand suede resembles a nebula. The birth of a star evokes the way that our resources can be reused from muddled matter to create something new and beautiful, just like a star.  

You can watch Suzanne Lee’s Ted Talk here:

One thought on “Grow Your Own Clothes

  1. You very much might already know about this, but I find it cool that in the Philippines they have been using pineapple fibers to make clothing. This company started using it to make leather. (I must note, though, that she takes a fair amount of credit for “discovering” it, but the locals are the ones that have known about this for years. So that part makes me uncomfortable. Otherwise, its a cool idea!)

    Here’s a video of it: