How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the design/making industry?
If anything, I believe the pandemic has us all reconsider our priorities and perhaps realize that we can get by with a little less. People are buying less clothes which is definitely positive but unfortunately in many cases it is actually the smaller retailers and designers without huge online presence or advertising budget that took the hit. I hope people continue to be more considerate about their purchases but would encourage everyone to put the effort into buying locally and ethically rather than what seems most convenient or the best bargain.
Do you think more sustainable—albeit still affordable—fashion is on the horizon? If so, how far away are we thinking?
Fashion is already getting more sustainable; most major brands have teams working on reducing their carbon footprint. That being said, there is still a long way to go and this may be provocative to say, but I think we should also reconsider what ‘affordable’ actually means because many fashion items sold today are in truth artificially cheap, which distorts our value systems around what things should cost. In regards to the new wave of biomaterials, I would say 5 years before we start seeing these more available on a significant scale.
What does the future of fashion look like, in your opinion?
There is not one but many futures for fashion. I think fashion will become more and more ‘glocal’, i.e., produced locally to support local economies but designed from all over, employing new technologies to reduce ecological footprint and empower individual creativity but at the same time embracing traditional and cultural heritages worldwide.
Are you working on any specific projects now you can tell us about?
As a society, we are utterly dependent on petrochemical based materials (like plastics), and the fashion and textiles industry is no exception. Polyester, nylon, lycra and PU leather (AKA most vegan leathers) are all examples of synthetic materials that, like plastics, are derived from the oil industry, which has an astronomical carbon footprint. Some are biobased now, like cactus leather for example, which is a step in the right direction, but at the end of the day they are still plastics and may or may not be recyclable or degrade well into the environment. At Modern Synthesis, we work with living organisms, specifically bacteria, to grow new types of materials made of cellulose, the natural building block of common materials like cotton and paper, through a process we call microbial weaving. This is a ‘bio-fabrication’ process which means the material itself is actually grown, rather than woven or knitted. We see this as the next generation of biomaterials, helping to displace petro-chemical based synthetic leathers and films with completely new types of bio-composite materials that are naturally biodegradable, infinitely renewable, and yes, inherently vegan.