Biofabrication: From Fungi to Fashion

This content requires cookies to view

Accept All Cookies

Open Cookie Preferences

What if we could grow our clothing?

Suzanne Lee is a fashion designer who works closely with engineers, biologists, and material scientists to do just that.

In this episode of Create the Future, we speak with Suzanne about biofabrication, a process that creates sustainable alternatives to materials like plastic and leather by engineering with life, not taking from it. We hypothesise the future applications of biofabrication in the construction of Mars habitats, discuss the ecological benefits of the technology, and explore the challenges of using bacteria, fungi, cellulose, and silk in the creation of everything from biodegradable packaging to artificial tissue.

About the guest

Suzanne Lee is a fashion designer working to engineer organisms to tackle ecological and sustainability issues surrounding fashion and consumer products.

She is a Senior Research Fellow at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, the Director of The BioCouture Research Project, and Chief Creative Officer at Modern Meadow. In 2007 she published ‘Fashioning the Future: Tomorrow's Wardrobe’, a book which examines the work of scientific researchers, engineers, and fashion designers at the heart of the “biofabrication revolution”.

Episode highlights

  • “The field of biofabrication is employing all kinds of living organisms - from bacteria, yeast, fungi, algae, and mammalian cells - to grow ingredients or materials for fashion. It's a new era of fabricating without the need to slaughter an animal or plant a crop.”
  • “We can create leather-like materials using microbes that turn sugar into cellulose. If there is a living organism that can not only synthesise a material for you, but organise that into a finished structure, there are huge efficiencies to be gained there. Nature still has so much to teach us.”
  • “As we look to the future, synthetic biology and biofabrication is going to play a major role in how we engineer habitats for colonising Mars.”
  • “There's no limit to the supply of microbes. Microbes will multiply so long as they are given sufficient nutrients to multiply. That's what's incredible about this technology.”
  • “If there's one industry that needs massive disruption, it's the construction industry. Its carbon footprint is so much bigger than the fashion industry. Cement alone is about 8% of global emissions. We've worked closely with a company developing ‘bio-cement’ which uses a naturally occurring soil microbe to bind together loose aggregate materials, just like coral.”
  • “Mycelium is one of those materials that has vast applications that we're only just beginning to appreciate. Floor tiles, acoustic tiles, packaging is a huge area - you can just break it up, throw it into your garden and it will feed the soil.”
  • “The fashion industry is very immediate, there's no such thing as R&D. You expect a finished product very quickly. The kind of fundamental discovery with biofabrication is the opposite of that. I had to completely shift my creative process.”
  • “I’ve always had an interest in technologies that would enable you to create clothing in new ways. […] Through serendipitous meetings with scientists and engineers along the way I got inspired by the work they were doing in biofabrication.”

Photo by Damir Omerović on Unsplash

The Create the Future Podcast is available to listen on: