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Searching for the New Luxury?

What if Our Clothes Were Alive and Photosynthesized?

Figure 1, Roya Aghighi, Biogarmentry at Vancouver Design Week, 2018

“To be human is to be involved with cloth”

– Beverly Gordon


We are touched by fabric and textiles since birth. We interact with textiles in every little action we make, from surrounding our naked bodies with clothes to covering ourselves with textile while sleeping at night. We use clothing to express our personal, social, and cultural identity. We use clothes to protect ourselves and keep warm. We seek shelter under textiles, sit on rugs, use nets to provide for fishing to survive, wrap our funds in textiles, and light up our spaces with candles that are made by tiny twisted fibres. We use textiles for indisputably everything. And there is a long history we could learn from.

What if Our Clothes Were Alive and Photosynthesized?

Figure 2, Roya Aghighi, Biogarmentry, 2018

The fashion and textile industries need to be urgently cared for. They need more permanent and deeper solutions rather than temporary ones, which have to be immediately addressed. Making less wasteful clothes is no longer enough; we need to restructure the fundamentals of our global/economic fashion industry, beginning with the destructive nature of our current mainstream relationship to clothing. This dynamic has significant consequences. Fashion consumption has become a passive act, and we no longer care for the longevity of our clothing. Clothing is often disposed long before it reaches its expected life. How can we urgently address all the negative impacts of the fashion industry and have an impact on fashion consumers? Fashion needs to be rethought. Our understanding of textile as a material needs forward and active thinking.

“We are potentially on the brink of materials revolution that could help rebalance our relationship with our planet and reshape society for the better” (Radical Matter: Rethinking Materials for a Sustainable Future, Kate Franklin and Caroline Till, 9)

The era of thinking of material as a natural resource and relying on it is over. Humanity has created a mess that is no longer manageable. We need new, impactful approaches. We need to look into infinite qualities of materials for a potential revolutionary shift and explore new ways in which they could be understood by society, designers, artists, scientist and all creative fields. Therefore, alternative practices need to adopted by practitioners.

“Design with sustainability at its core has the power to change the world as we know it”.
– Carole Collet

As result of rethinking our world, merging the fields of design, art, technology, and science has become more common and the results are quite powerful. We need better, deeper, and cyclical approaches to our relationship with materials as the core of design. Emphasizing on materials opens up possibilities for reconsidering the building blocks of design process from the bottom up. Now The world has a clearer vision of potential possibilities for textile thanks to pioneering designers such as Suzanne Lee, the founder of Biocouture, who reimagined the design process by placing the focus on material itself. In her creative process, she refers to living bacteria as “the factories of future” and has created the first bacteria-generated clothing.

Figure 3, Roya Aghighi, Photosynthetic and Compostable Garment, 2018

In a similar vein, Biogarmentry aims to challenge our perception of natural materials and exceed the material potential capabilities. What if living organisms are simply the new materials? And if this became part of today’s reality, how would it change our relationship to materials such as textiles? How would it change our behaviour towards fashion?

Biogarmentry is a transdisciplinary collaboration of nature, science, and design in which living organisms become an essential part of the design process. In order to tackle the complex issue of the fashion industry, the project employs the fields of synthetic biology, material science, and design as a way to open up possibilities for the future of fashion. Biogarmentry works through implementing a deeper, more holistic idea of change, creating a new material—while focussing on a transformation of our values, goals, and collective behaviours around our consumption-oriented habits— embracing values that emphasize an ecological system and are capable of lowering waste and carbon emissions. It also explores what place design should have in our relationship to living things. Biogarmentry at the core aims to detach one from objective approach to clothing by challenging one’s briefs and values around it. Thus, it aims to open up one’s mind to re-create relationships with textiles. To achieve this goal the work has found a special condition in clothing that users will connect to—a living textile that is capable of photosynthesis.

Figure 4, Roya Aghighi, Preparing the Cells for Creating the First Photosynthetic Textile, Botany Lab, UBC, 2018

Biogarmentry’s first proof of concept was created through collaboration of design, science, and technology. With the help of a group of scientists—Dr. Jae Lee and Dr. Sun-Joo Lee from Biological Sciences department and Dr. Addie Bahi and Dr. Frank Ko from Material Engineering department all from University of British Columbia—we created the first proof of concept for the survival of photosynthetic living cells on natural textiles, such as different kinds of cellulose and protein-based fibres. As a unique approach to this project, biological manufacturers replaced industrial ones, and living entities are designed to make textiles.

Figure 5a, Roya Aghighi, The Result of the First Experiment of Making Living and Photosynthetic Textile, Botany Lab, UBC, 2018

Figure 5b, Roya Aghighi, PAM Measurement of Cells Activities Proving the Life and Photosynthetic Activity, Botany Lab, UBC, 2018

Figure 6, Roya Aghighi, Desired Nano Fibre Scaffold for Survival of Cells Made at AMPL UBC, 2018

In developing the living fabric further, a mixture of cells was spun into natural fibres. The outcome of this experiment was the first non-woven living and photosynthesizing textile, which feels close to how linen does [Figure 7]. This textile is 100% natural and biodegradable, fully compostable, and, more importantly, the material will work-while living-to purify the air through photosynthesis. Thus, by simply being present in the environment, we can reduce the harm we do to our planet. The work focuses on reducing the negative impacts of fashion on environmental levels such as waste, carbon footprint, and air pollution, as well as acting as a catalyst for behavioural change through challenging our current relationships to clothing.

figure 7

Figure 8, Roya Aghighi, World’s First Living and Photosynthetic Textile Spun at AMPL UBC, 2018

After proving the feasibility of this concept, the biogarmentry family of living textiles was created with specific attention to both the variety of pollutant gasses and the need for a variety of clothing. The biogarmentry family consists of six textiles that come from different plant sources and absorb different gases from air. Based on their source, each one needs a different care instruction and grows differently.

Figure 9, Roya Aghighi, Biogarmentry Family of Living Textiles and Their Required Care Instruction, 2018

Biogarmentry’s targets fashion and textile industry on a larger and deeper scale. Making changes and impacting the future will not happen fundamentally unless behaviours, values, and thoughts change. With a specific focus on seeking alternatives for textiles, biogarmentry ultimately introduces a shift from traditional models of buy, use, and dispose to buy, care, and compost.

Since the lifecycle of the living photosynthetic textile is directly dependent on how it is taken care of, caring for clothes would regain ascendance as a crucial part of the system, encouraging users to actively embrace habits that work to support their living textile to flourish. In other words, Biogarmentry aims to employ one’s emotional attachments to living things that bring agency back to textiles and clothing. Simply put, regardless of how deep is one’s connection to living things, they wouldn’t want to harm them. This will change the way we engage with our clothes slowly but surely.

Figure 10, Roya Aghighi, Biogarment Growth Process Illustration, 2018

Figures 11 and 12, Roya Aghighi, Biogarmentry Care Tag, 2018

The biogarment comes with exclusive care instructions in order to help the user keep the biogarment alive and last longer, which encourages a shift in our current perceptions of fashion and how we value and treat it. More importantly, since keeping each piece of biogarment alive and healthy requires user’s attention and time, users are encouraged to buy less clothes to manage to keep them alive.  Which helps to slow the fast fashion and revers current consumerism habits.

Figure 13, Roya Aghighi, Biogarmentry in Use, 2018

When garments are dependent beings, we build a more intimate relationship with our clothes through caring for them. Biogarmentry ultimately aims to introduce a possible future for textiles and to explore the application of biology in design to provoke thinking and facilitate new roles and ideals for design.

Figure 14, Roya Aghighi, Biogarmentry, 2018

Now in a near future when textiles are alive, photosynthesizing, and compostable, how would you take care of your biogarment?

Figure 15, Roya Aghighi, Biogarmentry, 2018

Roya Aghighi

Roya is a multidisciplinary designer holding two industrial design degrees from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Canada and Iran University of Science and Technology. Through her practice she aims to highlight the critical role of design in shaping human behaviors. Being a multidisciplinary designer, she activates the gap between various fields and aims to push the borders between traditional academic disciplines to explore and introduce alternative future possibilities.

She has been exploring with materials as the fundamental element to re-imagine the role of designer as well as shifting the emphasis from product to process. She believes that focusing on materials could shape a new way to experience the world and how we position ourselves within it. Roya has been one of the material activist designers-collaborating with material engineers, scientists and biologists at University of British Colombia for past years to activate bio-design practices in Canada.