For most people, fashion is about aesthetics: about a sense of style or individuality, and different patterns, colours, textures and cuts.
In the past, we have documented the technology-side of fashion as new businesses embrace the likes of virtual reality, Tinder-style swiping and smart photo recognition.
Increasingly, fashion is about more than just appearance, with numerous emerging creatives incorporating technology and science into the core of their designs.
The Material Futures MA course at Central Saint Martins is one of few courses that bring the fields of science and fashion together.
Now, we’d like to introduce you to five recent graduates with incredible future-gazing designs: Sarah Da Costa, Dahea Sun, Julie Yonehara, Natsai Audrey, and Shamees Aden.
Expect drug-dispensing bras, acid rain-inspired outfits, emotion-influencing eye-masks, bacteria-stained scarves, and second-skin amoeba running shoes. Totally incredible.
1. Sarah Da Costa: the Material Pharmacy bra
Prior to joining the Material Futures course at CSM, Sarah Da Costa already had a Life Science degree, and had explored the overlap of science and fashion in a conversion course at Croydon College. However, it was the fact that she had worked in the pharmaceutical industry that inspired her project Material Pharmacy.
“I realised first-hand the waste and non-compliance with pharmaceuticals,” Da Costa explains. Over a third of all medication prescribed in the UK is not taken, she adds, with many people voicing concern over side effects. “This equates to an annual loss of £100 million to NHS England alone,” says Da Costa.
According to Da Costa, 40% of women can not physically tolerate taking Tamoxifen orally, but this is the best practice drug for prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
Working with Dr. Ipsita Roy, a specialist in microbial biotechnology at The University of Westminster, Da Costa developed a way for the drug to be absorbed into the skin via fabric, through a process known as “micro-encapsulation”.
“Micro-encapsulation has been used to deliver vitamins, cosmetics and essential oils [like] Heriot Watt’s ‘Asha’ range of headscarves,” says Da Costa. “Why couldn’t we try this method for active drugs?” she asks.
Da Costa’s drug-dispensing bra allows women to asborb the drug through infused “Foxleaf” inserts which are changed on a monthly basis.
“The Foxleaf is housed in a silk mesh inside the bra allowing diffusion of nanoparticles but also allowing the bra to be washed normally,” explains Da Costa.
“This was designed for the Typology 18-25 years with the BRCA gene marker (mainly daughters of women with breast cancer),” she says.
Da Costa’s potentially life-saving new model could progress to pre-clinical stages of testing within 2-3 years, she estimates.
The drug-dispensing bra is just part of Da Costa’s dream of using of Material Pharmacy and micro-encapsulation to treat many different illnesses.
“I hope also to microencapsulate Galanthamine and explore possible composites to prevent Alzheimer’s through bedding and sleepwear,” says Da Costa, “the active drug being delivered for eight hours in a group who may simply forget to take a tablet.”
The innovator has presented her idea to NHS England’s’ Simon Stevens CEO; has spoken at the EU Commission for TAGS (Textiles for an Ageing Society); and now plans for research focus groups to take place in Surrey (which has the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the UK).
Soon taking your medication could be so easy, you could do it in your sleep.
2. Dahea Sun: “Rain Pallet” clothing
As Dahea Sun‘s acid rain colour change collection shows, sometimes the most innovative ideas arise out of disaster.
Inspired by human reaction to dramatic natural events, Sun designed a clothing and accessories range that changes colour according to the pH of rain.
“When I was first year at CSM, I stayed in Seoul during Easter Holiday in 2011,” explains Sun, who is now studying a Ph.D and working as a lecturer at the Hongik University in Seoul, South Korea.
“At that time, there was devastating earthquake and nuclear power plant explosion in Japan, which is the nearest neighbouring country. People were surrounded by fears of radiation rain and acid rain which might have come from Japan.”
Although these concerns were groundless, the event sparked intense anxiety that was fuelled by the media, says Sun.
In response, the designer came up with a visual way to allow people to monitor their surroundings, using anthocyanins (a naturally occurring pigment, that changes to red, purple or blue according to water’s acidity), to dye her fabrics.
“Many fruits and vegetables contain pigments that change colour in response to pH,” says Sun. “I selected red cabbage as the best indicator because it showed the most variety of colour changes,” she explains.
Mixing up these natural dye baths, Sun created fabrics that are hypersensitive to acidity and change colour when they are rained on.
The designer has even created a smartphone app that allows wearers to record their garments’ hues and contribute to an online acid rain database.
“Eco fashion is the cutting-edge trend and the future,” says Sun. “Sustainability is in everything we do and in everything we wear in real life.”
Sun would like to take her product range to market, but currently faces durability-issues as at present the natural pigments are not colour-fast.
It may be a while before the masses are mapping the environment in a sea of acid rain-raincoats, but what a sight that would be.
3. Julie Yonehara: Circadian Sleep Masks
Julie Yonehara used her time at CSM to develop a range of eye masks that use colour to stimulate sleep and waking.
“During my time in London I had very bad case of seasonal affective disorder, and became interested in the way that light affected the human body,” says Yonehara.
In response to this, the designer looked into circadian rhythm studies and the effects of light pollution with Russell Foster, the head of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute.
Through her research, Yonehara learned that blue light helps the body to create cortisol, a hormone that helps you to feel more alert, while red light and darkness allow your body to create melatonin, a sleep stimulant.
“The masks essentially act as red light filters allowing you to create methods of winding down at the end of the day,” explains Yonehara. “The blue light gives you various lux levels and help you to wake up in the morning.”
Yonehara is now lead color and materials designer for trend consultancy Proef and has had offers to collaborate to bring similar products to market.
“I hope that [the project] will impact the potential of wearable to technologies to create something beautiful and also relevant,” she says.
4. Natsai Audrey: Faber Futures Silk Scarves
Natsai Audrey has invented a process to print and dye textiles with pigment-producing bacteria: a potentially zero waste approach to colouring fabric that uses an energy efficient natural metabolic process rather than chemicals.
“As the second most polluting industry in the world after the fossil fuel industry it’s high time fashion designers entered the innovation space,” says Audrey, who currently works as a researcher at Central Saint Martins’ Textile Futures Research Centre.
“As designers we have an inherent responsibility towards sustainable practice,” she says, “it’s no longer optional in my view.”
A designer in residence at UCL, Audrey works closely with Professor John Ward of the Ward Lab, the Professor of Synthetic Biology for Bioprocessing.
Her work is inherently anti-disciplinary, she explains: “As a designer I understand basic microbiology and work independently in the lab to prototype ideas; employ design thinking and industrial design fabrication techniques; and apply a sensitivity to design and aesthetic.”
“There’s no hierarchy, science doesn’t trump design and vice versa, these key strategies have to be synthesised together to truly innovate.”
“All of my research is done through making, trial & error,” she adds. “There’s a happy medium of control when co-authoring with a living organism: it had as much creative licence as I do but it’s my job to mediate it in the human context”.
The impact on the fashion industry is potentially huge, says Audrey.
“Could Nike & Philips provide a wardrobe (incubator) and DIY biofabrication kit for the home?” she poses. “One that continuously dyes your clothing so that that inherent want for individual customisation is perpetually fulfilled?”
“Value systems associated with the visibility of fashion manufacturing systems and labour would also be radically challenged,” she adds.
Audrey is currently evaluating how to take her Faber Futures collection to market.
“Key stakeholders will be in future textiles manufacture, people already working with living systems to design new materials with a deep commitment to sustainable and ethical biofacture,” she says. “Few exist but this will change rapidly in the coming years, there is plenty of investment in this field.”
The designer is now working to establish beta testing with designers and brands. Watch this beautiful bacteria-filled space.
5. Shamees Aden: Protocell Amoeba Trainers
Shamees Aden has created a shoe that grows to the shape of your foot and reacts to develop extra cushioning when you run.
“The concept of the trainers is that this life-like material would synchronise to the individual foot because this technology is responsive and reconfigurable, adapting in real time to the current activity of the runner by adding extra support in high impact areas,” she explains.
Aden developed her “amoeba trainers” with Dr Martin Hanczyc, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark who specialises in protocell technology. These are basic molecules that are not living, but can be combined to create living organisms.
After wearing the amoeba shoes, the protocells lose their energy and they must be be placed in a jar of nourishing “protocell liquid” to rejuvenate. As this liquid can be dyed any colour, the shoes can also then grow in different pigments.
Scientists are currently experimenting with how mixing different types of protocells can produce synthetic living systems engrained with different behaviours, such as responsiveness to pressure, light and heat.
“I take more of a chemist’s viewpoint to materials,” says Aden. “I seek to understand the chemical make-up of materials: if you explore the material at its early chemical states, you can best understand and utilise all of its benefit.”
Now a freelance material designer and researcher, Aden says that fashion has got to become more innovative with materials: “The material should be at the starting point of any design project and not an afterthought,” she says.
“I work with the material’s characteristics and natural attributes to create a design application which best exhibits the unique qualities of the material, instead of imposing a form that requires the use of aggressive manufacturing processes to the material.”
Sadly for barefoot runners, it may be a long wait until Aden’s footwear is realised. The designer has said that they are likely to enter the market in some form by 2050.
This post originally appeared on The Memo on August 4, 2015.