From transgenic silk to 3D printed hair, cutting-edge experimental materials are changing what’s possible in fashion and how textiles are made.
Sixty-two international design teams presented work at the Cooper Hewitt and Cube Design Museum Design Triennial. Five of those teams dealt specifically with materials for fashion. Each new material required new behavior in the manufacturing process.
GROW: Design studio Another Farm created Fantasma, a set of 3 bioluminescent dresses of christening length. The material was engineered by injecting silkworm eggs with coral DNA to glow. The dresses look blue until you put on special glasses. Then the material looks green.
Transgenic silk is a new material changing what is “grown” for use in textiles. Potential uses include clothing for activities in the dark from athletic apparel and theatre and dance costumes to rave attire.
The transgenic silk was woven into a textile by Japan’s Hosoo textile manufactory. This material can still be manufactured a textile manufacturer. Not so the next one.
Designer Jifei Ou presented a coat made of 3D printed hair structures called Cilllia. And yes, that’s three letter ls.
The hair structures stick up perpendicular to the fabric and are programmed to control how they function. They can be grown in different directions and patterns.
Cilllia changes what is “grown” for use in textiles. The coat was manufactured by Tangible Media Group, not a typical textile company. New industrial capabilities were required.
HARVEST/SPIN: The Department of Seaweed experiments with the seaweed as a material for fabrication. For example, Designer Violaine Buet created a tank top by knitting sugar kelp.
Traditionally, material for clothing is intentionally planted or raised at scale on land, then harvested using a variety of techniques and much of it is machine woven. The use of seaweed for a material changes where the growing occurs, how the harvesting is conducted and removes the need to spin yarn. The manufacturing in this case was by hand.
DYE: Designer Natsai Audrey Chieza dyes textiles with bacteria such as Streptomyces coelicolor found in plant roots.
The color ranges from red to purple to blue. The intensity of color is controlled by time of exposure and degree of acidity as well as exposure to oxygen. The resulting color shapes are quite organic at this point.
This process was relatively intimate without an external manufacturers involvement. Chieza is investigating what it would take to scale production.
WEAVE: 3D printing has been around for awhile but new things are still happening. Designers threeASFOUR, in collaboration with Travis Fitch and Stratasys, showed the Voronoi Dress, a 3D printed dress. 3D printed materials result in a product that may have drape but it is too brittle for body movement. The team used geometries found in nature to increase the amount of movement (aka wearing ease) that is possible.
3D printing is typically outside the wheelhouse of traditional textile manufacturers. The collaboration required to create these designs attest to this fact.
These 5 cutting-edge experimental materials have far-reaching implications for fashion, certainly, but will also redefine the textile supply chain by creating new industries and reducing the need for some. How buyers vote with their dollars for environmentally conscious materials will make a difference.