Imagine a brave new world where microbiologists and marine biologists work hand in hand with fashion designers and engineers to create your wardrobe! Believe it not, that seems to be exactly where we’re headed and this bit of news is one of the most exciting topics to hit the rubbish clearance world in quite a while. Fully sustainable, non-toxic, and compostable clothing would go a long way toward solving the environmental crisis we currently face with the making and disposing of our clothing.
The fashion industry has a sullied reputation for being one of the dirtiest, least sustainable, business types of all time. The amount of pesticides and herbicides required to grow cotton and linen is mind blowing. The list of toxins used in the manufacturing of textiles from cotton and other natural fibers is also astonishing. Then we have the whole rubbish clearance issue of binning these clothes almost as fast as we can buy them and then sending them to the landfill, producing greenhouse gases faster than our gasoline (petro) guzzling cars!
The good news is that all of this clothing madness is on the cusp of changing due to a totally new way of making textiles and manufacturing clothing. Remember where you heard this first: keep your eyes and ears open for something called “MICROBIAL CELLULOSE.” It’s headed soon to a clothing store near you! It’s a completely new way of making clothing and far more sustainable.
Cellulose is the most abundant polymer in nature and the structural component of all plants. Cotton is about ninety percent cellulose, linen (made from the flax plant) is about seventy-five percent cellulose, and hemp fabric is about about sixty percent cellulose. So, if you wear any type of natural fiber clothing, you are no doubt wearing cellulose garb engineered by plants but also heavily processed by humans in an environmentally destructive way.
It turns out that microbes can produce cellulose under certain conditions like those found in the fermentation process that occurs in the production of kombucha tea. These busy microbes include bacteria, single celled yeast, micro fungi, and marine algae. Using cultures of these microbes, sheets of cellulose can be created in labs (or even dorm rooms… see below), without pesticides, herbicides, or nasty chemicals being used. These microbial cellulose sheets can then be fashioned into clothes, shoes, and accessories that are readily compostable and could be easily used as part of a circular economy.
Suzanne Lee, a fashion designer based in London and owner of BioCouture, is one of the most vocal advocates for using microbes to create clothes and accessories. She has spoken publicly to highly enthusiastic audiences and even wears her fashions made with microbial cellulose on stage. These are beautiful garments that make a great impression but she also jokes about the fact that they have not yet perfected making the microbial cellulose material water proof, so her own sweat is making the garments biodegrade right before her audience! However, there is little doubt that waterproof microbial cellulose garments will be made in the near future and will be a boon to our rubbish clearance problem in the fashion industry.
Yes, Suzanne Lee not only has vision and style, she also has personality and humor, partly why she has been so inspiring to others who are searching for a green solution to the quagmire of putting our clothing in rubbish clearance landfills. Take Luis Quijano, a senior at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, for example. This college senior was inspired by Suzanne Lee to begin growing his own microbial cellulose sheets on the floor in his college dorm room — and he’s creating clothes from them! He’s also headed to Queensland University of Technology in Australia for graduate school to study microbiology, fashion design, and engineering! This is not an academic combination we would have heard about a decade ago. Oh my, how the world is changing!
One of the unique advantages to working with microbial cellulose is the fact that you can mould it to a mannequin while it’s still wet to shape it as it dries! This eliminates many of the steps needed to plant based cellulose fibers into clothing, shoes, and accessories. It’s also a feature that has fashion designers like Suzanne Lee thoroughly excited about the future. Further, this type of futuristic clothing will be far more easy to compost than the clothing we wear today!
If you have old clothing that you need to get rid of, please do not put it in the rubbish clearance bin as it will very likely end up in a landfill. Instead, take it to a recycling centre or call Clearabee to pick it up. Clearabee recycles ninety percent of all the rubbish they pick up overall, and if you tell them it’s clothing and mark it as such, there’s even a greater likelihood it will be taken to a place that will either reuse the clothing or recycle it.