Imagine taking a carpet of home-grown bacteria, slipping it over your shoulders, and after a
satisfied double-check in the mirror, dashing off to a friend’s birthday party, or anywhere for that
matter. If Suzanne lee and her team of expert scientists are able to perfect their innovative new
textile, the above mentioned scenario may very well become routine.
Suzanne Lee – a fashion designer by profession – is a senior research fellow at the prestigious
Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design. She is experimenting with growing her own
clothing using bacterial-based cellulose as opposed to plant based cellulose from which cotton,
for instance, is made. Construction of BioCouture, as she is calling this experimental fabric,
begins by taking the mat of microbial matter (much like the waste material of a Kombucha
recipe) found floating at the top of a yeast and bacteria fermentation, and placing it in a tub full
of what is essentially sweet green tea . The microbes feed on the sugar and weave very tight
fibres, resulting in a solid, stretchy, skin-like material that can grow as large as desired.
This fabric truly has the potential to become the “next big thing” in fashion, possibly even in
luxury design. (If silk, one of the most exquisite fabrics on earth can be woven by a worm, then
having bacteria spin a delightfully opulent fabric isn’t such a far off idea, is it?) Suzanne has hit
on something that is right on trend – the re-greening of our planet.
What makes the textile cool and modern is not just that it comes from an unlikely source, but the fact that it could possibly become one of the most eco-friendly fabrics ever conjured. In its production alone we find the re-use of waste materials (the microbial mat), and Suzanne herself has mentioned that the “sweet tea” solution can possibly come from any waste sugar stream, like a processing plant for example.
The fabric is easily coloured using a metal-oxidation process and fruit and vegetable
stains, which save our planet from the toxic waste of traditional dyes. The fabric also takes a
very short time to grow and harvest without the use of harmful fertilizers to spur growth, making
it even gentler on our planet than cotton.
There are still many kinks to iron out of this cloth, like the fact that a wet BioCouture rain-jacket
means walking around with a heavy, slippery slab of cellulose that could quickly render you
exposed to a torrent and soaked to the bone. However, this fabric‘s potential to change the way
we make our clothing and style ourselves is enormous, so let the bacteria weave away. -Michelle Duncan