Nature Designing: Starting with Biomimetics
Sustainability is no longer accepted blindly, and the word green has become questionable as companies have “green washed” us. What claims to be “green” is not quite what they led us to believe. “Eco-friendly” is just a convenient slogan.
1 million tonnes of fabric waste ends up in landfills each year. Right now, fashion manufacturers use bleaching, dying and printing processes that place clothing fabrication on a par with petro-chemical production.¹
Many of these chemicals or fibers do not decompose, such as the traditional polyester.
Manufactured fibers, such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic have many features that scientists and chemists can manipulate to provide unnatural results. On the other hand, natural fibers such as cotton, silk, hemp, jute, and rayon have more breathable and comfortable properties-but cotton requires pesticides and requires a vast water supply.
Biomimicry or biomimetics- is a new way to think of how we may be producing new materials in the future. Biomimicry is derived from the Greek word ‘bio’ –meaning life and ‘mimesis’ meaning ‘mimic.’¹
Although this particular science is relatively new, the idea is not. We can look at many aspects in history such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “helicopter” reflecting a bird – or even a camera that mimics the human eye. We have been transforming our environment-using it as a template- to create technologic gadget to suit our needs- an efficient design process.
According to Janine Benyus, author of ‘Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature’, biomimicry’s three approaches are:
- Using nature as an inspiration to solve human problems
- Using nature as a judge or measure of the ‘rightness’ of our innovations
- Using nature as a mentor, looking metaphorically at us designing with values and perspectives present in the natural world. ⁴
Several designs inspired through this process include, Stomatex, Freeskin, and Bio-Couture.
Stomatex Neoprene is a high-performance fabric made from a lightweight, ultra-thin, non-porous polyester membrane that is weatherproof and highly breathable.² It was made to mimic the transparency of a leaf. Neoprene is used extensively in the water sports, soft orthopedic, sportswear, footwear, equestrian, and thermal protective equipment sectors.³
The fabric has a unique pumping action that flexes with the body. It pumps body heat and perspiration out-whilst bringing in cool air.
Freeskin mimics the skin of water mammals, such as sharks and dolphins- that minimizes the friction. Instead of a wax or a slimmy water resistant layer, there are sharp, sandpaper like, scales on the exterior of these mammals. These scales are not just water resistant, they are water dynamic- by reducing the drag. Another similar innovation is FATSKIN FSII, and LZR Racer Suit.
Suzanne Lee, a senior researcher at central saint martins, is the director of Biocouture. Rather than simply using synthetics to create a technologically advanced fiber-bacterial cellulose is used to make apparel.
The process from start to finish is quite simple, and truly eco-friendly.
The bacterium in used Biocouture is harmless. It is made from dried bacterial cellulose grown from a tea and sugar solution, similar to the Kombucha bacteria culture. The dried cellulose consists of dormant –not dead- organisms- it is probably best to not expose your Biocouture garment in the rain. However, It is durable enough to make a jacket. ¹
Biocouture’s long term ambition is to grow seamless. Suzanne claims that this is more biotechnology than Biomimicry because it does not mimic nature, it is nature.¹
- Quinn, B. (2010). Textile Futures: Fashion, Design, and Technology. New York: Berg Publishers.
- B Brownell. (2009, Oct 13). Stomatex. Retrieved from http://transmaterial.net/index.php/2009/10/13/stomatex/
- Fletcher, K. (2008). Sustainable Fashion and Textiles. London: Earthscan.