Biomimicry is fashion forward

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The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently running a fashion exhibit titled Manus x Machina that runs from May through August 2016.  The exhibit examines how technology such as computer modeling, 3D printing and laser cutting has impacted high-end fashion.  The distinction between haute couture and prêt-a-porter has been blurred by technology and Manus x Machina challenges the dichotomy of hand made versus machine made.  The exhibit features garments that were innovative in their time, starting with the use of the sewing machine in couture in 1919.  Nature has always been an inspiration for fashion and creates a striking aesthetic appeal.  What struck me was the conversation around sustainability and how the industry is looking to biomimicry to attain sustainable development in the face of resource depletion and increasing pollution resulting from fashion design, consumption and textile production.

The fashion industry is turning to biomimicry to solve problems facing manufacture of clothes and textiles by seeking different design solutions and shaping the designer’s thinking around product design, life cycle and technique used to manufacture.  Zoe Alexander Fisher designed a hand-felted wool coat while at Sarah Lawrence College that has embedded food-producing seeds.  The coat is worn in the winter and disposed of in the spring by planting it.  The seeds grow and can be harvested in winter after the summer growth season.  Fisher states “From production to disposal, the product remains a part of the environment.  By biomimicking nature’s seasons, it [serves to] draw attention to our human relationship and commitment to the natural environment.”  Fisher’s design uses material choice, technique and life cycle to make the garment sustainable but a hand-felted coat is not conducive to commercial production.

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3D printers are reducing waste through the ability to print pattern pieces to specifications as opposed to discarding excess material cut from a bolt of fabric.  3D printed designs are generally made from synthetic polymers, like the Manus x Machina exhibit piece pictured from designer Noa Raviv (photo credit Vogue).  Biomimicry is positioned to highly influence manufacturing problems through advances in sustainable 3D printed material technology and design form.  The textile industry has already looked to nature to advance textile technology such as duck feathers that possess super hydrophobic and insulating properties.  Liu et al emulated the microstructures of duck feathers and applied the naturally derived polymer chitosan to a cotton and polyester fabric that resulted in significantly improved water-repellant properties to the fabrics.  3D printing has a huge potential to use form inspired by nature and sustainable materials to improve the sustainability of a highly wasteful industry while increasing textile technology.

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