Photo courtesy of www.bioalloy.org.
We know you were impressed by Anke Domaske’s Qmilch, a fabric made from spoiled milk protein. Well, hold on to your glasses wine and beer lovers: Researchers at the University of Western Australia have devised a way to turn your favorite fermented beverage into clothing. The cellulose fabric, dubbed Micro’be’, isn’t quite as advanced as Qmilch (it looks a bit like raw meat, lacks flexibility, and smells just like the alcoholic beverage it orginated from) but the material's creators are excited about its potential. Click here to read more about Micro’be’.
Gregory N. Polletta and Sung Jang, of iGNITIATE’s designed this living topiary facade overlay, called “Topiade,” for an existing Louis Vuitton store in Paris, France. Louis V’s ubiquitous monogram pattern is replicated using blocks of real plants, complete with water and nutrient delivery systems hidden behind each block.
Like a living roof, a living wall could utilize wasted or unused space, possibly reduce storm water runoff, mitigate the urban heat island effect, and help absorb air pollutants.
Just imagine the surface pattern design possibilities...
I would love to see topiary facades pop up on unadorned walls everywhere!
"What we use every day can be beautiful, creative and friendly to the world." –Waste Not Paper
We've talked a lot about fabric in the Designing Green blog series, so I would like to turn our attention to another huge market for surface pattern designers: paper. Much like the textile industry, the paper trade is one of the most damaging to the environment. From the ruinous effects of deforestation, such as habitat loss and the massive reduction of carbon dioxide-absorbing trees, to the air and water pollution that is caused by manufacturing, the pretty paper items we designers want to bring to the world have a side to them that's not so much…well, pretty.
So, what's a surface pattern designer who wants a gig in the paper industry to do? For one, you could work with a company like Waste Not Paper in Chicago, Illinois. Waste Not Paper is the wholesale division of the popular paper and gift retail chain Paper Source in the US and its mission is to supply beautiful, environmentally friendly paper products at a reasonable price.
A green ethos permeates just about every aspect of Waste Not Paper's business. Their products are sourced from within the US, keeping it local for American retailers. They work with paper mills that meet sustainable forestry and energy-use standards as well as with artists making paper items by hand. Many of their paper lines contain recycled content and are manufactured without the use of elemental chlorine (PCF), and if printed, are done so using printers with reduced volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.
Waste Not Paper even strives to maintain a green work environment. Their office promotes recycling and creative reuse of scraps and packaging materials, participates in Chicago's Bike-to-Work-Week, and is situated near public transportation.
Waste Not Paper: Thank you for proving that gorgeous, creative design and protecting the earth do not have to be mutually exclusive!
P.S. I am available for hire as your next designer.
If you missed Harmony Susalla’s wonderful and informative presentation on Monday night, don’t fret! We’ve posted detailed notes from her talk and a copy of her Keynote presentation in the archive section on the member’s page. Check it out, and don’t forget to join in on discussions in the forum—or, start your own! We’d love to chat with you.
A big thank you to Harmony Susalla of Harmony Art Organic Design for her fabulous presentation last night. And congratulations are in order too! On February 8, Harmony Art Organic Design became the U.S.‘s first solely organic fabric designer to be GOTS certified. Receiving the eco-apparel market’s top seal of approval, the Global Organic Textile Standard, is rare. Only 1,500 companies across the globe received it, according to the GOTS International Working Group. Read more here.
Environmental advocacy is a subject that has long been close to my heart. As a shy, sensitive teenager, I dipped my toes into earth activism, joining Greenpeace, educating myself about issues, and writing embarrassingly short letters to politicians and companies to petition for change (all pre-Internet). Looking back, my efforts seemed meager and a little naive but wholly heartfelt.
I remember during that time going to an Earth Day rally. It was 1990 and a serious concern for the environment was slowly creeping back into the American consciousness after being shelved during the deregulation era of the 80s. The challenges that we were just starting to face seemed much more insidious than the issues of air and water pollution that were the eco-poster children of the first Earth Day in 1970. Environmental problems seemed scarier, bigger, and more potentially disastrous—remember finding out about the hole in the ozone layer or global warming?
I was glad to see the recognition that Earth Day was getting in my community at the time, which (thanks to the 20th anniversary and some media hype) hadn't celebrated it in such large numbers since its creation. However, at that rally, I kept thinking how pitifully inadequate it was to give our planet only one day a year in which we deeply consider our impact on it. I thought people should be doing it every day. After all, the Earth sustains us so doesn't it deserve more? Although that event left me feeling uplifted from the celebration, I also couldn't help feeling a bit hopeless from my observation. The next day, when life resumed as usual and people's major concerns shifted away from the environment, I resolved to stay aware and to positively act on this awareness every day.
Years have passed since then and I've tried to stay true to that resolution. Some days are better than others, but I haven't forgotten. Now that I'm about to set out on a career as a surface pattern designer I've been asking myself what I can do within my new industry to uphold my decades-old goal of doing right by our planet. I figured that a good first step would be to find a set of environmental best practices for the trade that I could follow, so I cracked open my books from school for some guidance. An empty, howling wind whipped me in the face, then silence. Those books mentioned little to nothing of what I was looking for.
I had no choice but to embark upon a Google search. Typing in "surface pattern design and the environment" and then "green surface pattern design," I was presented with pages of links to businesses selling non-toxic kitchen countertops and research papers on eco-friendly building materials. Despite the mostly irrelevant results, I was pleasantly surprised to see SPDG's "Designing Green" blog series near the very top. Nice! Of course that meant I was back where I began—here on the blog.
Clearly, I had to dig deeper. I broadened my search terms and with the click of a button, slipped and fell down the Internet rabbit hole only to emerge with a head injury. The amount of information available on the general category of "green design" is simply overwhelming! It was encouraging to see. However, the more specific notion of "green surface pattern design" was a concept that still eluded me. From what I was finding, it seems easier (understandably) to discuss green design in terms of the impact of creating physical objects like products, materials, architecture, and landscaping rather than something like surface pattern design, which resides more in a 2-D world—and arguably today more often than not, in the digital realm.
I was starting to feel a little daft in this pursuit. Why even bother trying to define green surface pattern design anyway? Is this just a feel-good exercise in greenwashing for my chosen career, akin to lumping other more virtual world enterprises like web design under the "green" banner? I don't think so.
I still believe that we can and should come up with a set of applicable green guidelines for those practicing in our trade because change starts within the abstract world of ideas and thought. As designers, we stand upstream of how our designs are ultimately used and can therefore affect, to some degree, the real world environment downstream. And, further to just establishing a "green philosophy" for surface pattern design, I think there are real and tangible actions we can take within our daily work to engender actual change.
So if you and I were to sit down today to come up with a definition and a vision of green surface pattern design what would that include? Thanks to my research, including the discovery of the Textiles Environment Design group's 10 strategies for sustainable design and SlowLab's 6 principles of slow design, I was able to move beyond my thought paralysis on this subject and make a rudimentary attempt in the list below. It's imperfect and includes things that aren't always easily attainable, but it's a start.
Let this be a collaboration. Please consider reviewing and then adding or modifying this list. We can be precipitators of change for our profession, even if we are only able to take small steps. We'd be doing my former teenage Earth Day resolution proud!
1. Green your work place, whether it's a cubical or your home studio. Use non-toxic, water-based paints and other green materials. Design on the computer, using low-energy machines. Switch out your lightbulbs to CFLs or use natural lighting when designing. Recycle.
2. Choose to partner with or work for companies that have established green practices, or propose green practices to companies you already work with.
3. When selecting materials and products to apply your surface pattern designs to, choose those that are made of organic and/or easily recyclable materials.
4. Try to use your designs on items that are multi-functional and/or not single-use.
5. Partner with companies that use mechanical technology rather than chemicals to make surface pattern designs, such as laser, water-jet, or sonic cutting and laser/sonic welding. Or, use non-toxic or natural chemicals along with low-water and energy use processes, including digital printing.
6. Think small batch, local, artisinal. You don't have to go the mass market route to make money. Create designs for products that are customized or to-order. It minimizes production waste and creates items that have a higher perceived value, encouraging people to hold on to them longer. Try to avoid falling into the "fast fashion" trap where clothes and goods are made cheaply at the expense of the environment.
7. Make surface pattern designs that are meant for digital uses, such as computer wall paper, e-greetings, web site backgrounds, and so on.
Nike recently announced its partnership with DyeCoo Systems B.V., a Netherlands-based company that offers the first commercially available waterless textile dyeing machines. Their polyester fabric dyeing method uses “supercritcial fluid carbon dioxide,” or “SCF CO2,” instead of water and chemicals, thereby eliminating water consumption, surfactant and chemical use, water discharge, and wastewater treatment. They also claim reduced energy consumption, air emissions, dyeing time, and that approximately 95% of used carbon dioxide will be recycled. SCF carbon dioxide technology is already utilized for the decaffeination of coffee and the extraction of natural flavors and fragrances, and DyeCoo is conducting research to apply the method to other natural and synthetic fibers.
Read more about Nike’s partnership with DyeCoo here:
Nike, Inc. Announces Strategic Partnership To Scale Waterless Dyeing Technology
Anke Domaske. Photo Credit: REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
“Qmilch” is an environmentally friendly fabric that drapes and folds like silk, can be washed and dried like cotton, is soothing to people with skin allergies, and is made entirely of, believe it or not, sour milk. Anke Domaske, a 28-year-old German biochemist and fashion designer, has developed this award-winning new textile made from spoiled organic milk. Her fashion line, Mademoiselle Chi Chi, utilizes the fabric and there are plans to begin mass-producing Qmilch this year.
Domaske began her search for a natural fabric after seeing her stepfather suffer through skin irritations while being treated for cancer. Pairing up with a research lab, Domaske and her team developed Qmilch after two years of trial and error. The process involves reducing milk protein, called casein, to a powder that is then boiled and pressed (along with a few natural additives like beeswax) into strands that can be woven into a fabric. These strands can be made into a soft, silk-like jersey or spun to create a rougher, heavier textile.
Although Qmilch costs about 40% more than organic cotton at $28 per kilogram (2.2 pounds), it requires much less water to manufacture: it takes only half a gallon of water to produce one kilogram of Qmilch (enough fabric for a few dresses according to Domaske) compared to more than 2,640 gallons of water for the same amount of cotton fabric. Some critics have pointed out that cows aren’t a particularly sustainable source for a raw material, but Domaske utilizes milk that would otherwise be discarded. Qmilch is also a positive move away from oil-based synthetics.
There’s quite a buzz about this new material, and its application could extend beyond fashion. Car manufacturers are interested in using Qmilch for vehicle upholstery and hospitals like its antibacterial and hypoallergenic properties.
Making fabric out of milk is not quite as new or outlandish as you might think. Chemists have experimented with “Azlon” textiles, the generic name for fabrics made from broken-down and re-assembled fibers derived from peanuts, milk, corn (zein), and soybeans, since the late 19th century. In the early 1930s, Italian chemist Antonio Ferretti developed “Lanital,” the first trademarked and commercially manufactured regenerated protein fiber. Lanital utilized casein by combining it with formaldehyde or benzaldehyde and metal salts which were then pressed through a spinneret to form long, silk-like fibers.
The United States jumped on the milk train and also produced a casein-based fiber, branded “Aralac,” as part of the1930s and ‘40s war effort. Aralac was used as a wool substitute during WWII and blended with rabbit hair, wool, mohair, rayon, and cotton for garments until 1947. Post war, Aralac was soon replaced by new, low-priced synthetic fibers. These early versions of milk-based fabric were prone to mildew, failed to hold their shape after washing, and smelled like sour milk when damp—a major consumer complaint of casein fiber products. My overly-sensitive nose and I are glad that Domaske seems to have remedied that issue with her product!
I personally love the idea of transforming something that’s otherwise completely unusable (and rather off-putting) into an entirely different product. Let’s see where this renewed interest in milk-based fabric takes us...
Check out the Qmilch website: http://www.milkotex.com/
Watch and learn more about Domaske and Qmilch:
Information for this post was found in these articles:
- German fashion designer makes clothes from milk
- Anke Domaske Makes Milk Fashion
- Azlon information from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
See these articles for a more in-depth history of Azlons and casein fabrics:
- Meet the Azlons from A to Z: Regenerated & Rejuvenated
- WWII Fashions Never Out of Style Part 2 – All Dolled up
Quick... which is the “greener” fabric choice: cotton or polyester?
Did you automatically say “cotton”? Many people do, mostly because cotton is a natural fiber, so many eco-conscious consumers believe it is a good choice.
But consider this:
Mainstream farming methods of cotton make extensive use of agricultural chemicals to fertilize the soil, fight insects and disease, control plant growth, and strip the leaves for harvest. Pesticides and other chemicals are well-known for seeping into local waterways, and most water treatment facilities lack the equipment to remove them. The fact is that cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses at least 16% of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop. In the U.S., nearly 1/3 of a pound of chemicals is needed to grow enough cotton for just one t-shirt! And that’s just the beginning: conversion of cotton into textiles also has huge environmental impacts. For instance, the dye process and other production methods often result in large amounts of toxic wastewater discharge into water systems.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that your choice of cotton is still the superior “green” choice, because you’ve chosen organic cotton. It’s true that in its farming methods, organic cotton is almost certainly the better choice over conventionally grown cotton. Organic farmers use biological controls instead of chemical controls: mechanical or hand-weeding, crop rotation, introducing beneficial predator insects, and using natural fertilizers like compost or manure. However, the majority of organic cotton is grown and produced outside the US... much of it in India, Turkey, Peru, China, and Africa. That means that when you buy organic cotton here in the U.S., it was likely grown on the other side of the world, shipped somewhere else to be processed, shipped to a retailer, and then to you! That’s not a small carbon footprint.
Polyester Cones - Surya Prakeash.S.A. (click to link)
Now let’s consider polyester. Polyester is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource that creates damaging environmental impacts during the extraction process. Huge amounts of energy are required to produce the fibers, where 70% of the total energy used for a polyester garment occurs at the production phase. Yet, polyester has a much lower energy impact in its use phase than cotton, requiring less hot water to wash, less dry time, and less ironing, where consumer washing, drying, and ironing of a cotton garment send its energy and water usage way up.
And, maybe most notably, polyester is completely recyclable at the end of its life. While cotton is recyclable into new yarn and fabric (and even home insulation), the quality of the fiber is reduced, unlike polyester, whose recycled fibers are of high quality. In fact, many commonly used polyester fabrics have been developed using recycled materials such as clear plastic water bottles, or PET, as the raw material, a source of plastic that would otherwise go to the landfill. Recycled polyester fleece, a knitted pile fabric, is often used by outdoor clothing companies to make jackets. Patagonia is a well-known promoter of polyester recycling and has partnered with Teijin, a Japanese company, who has developed a closed-loop polyester recycling system.
Water used for creating recycled polyester is significantly lower than water used to create cotton. Water use for both conventionally and organically grown cotton is very high (estimates range from 1400-3400 gallons per pound of fiber (where 1lb of fiber = 2 t-shirts)). The water use for recycled polyester fiber is almost zero. Because the recycling of the polyester fiber is typically “closed-loop,” it is unlikely that toxic chemicals will enter the water supply during recycling.
Now what’s your choice as the “greener” product — cotton or polyester?
When considering its entire lifecycle, polyester is not as environmentally damaging as is commonly believed. From my research, recycled polyester is definitely giving organic cotton a run for its money.
Research and Data for this post was found in the following sources:
7. Textiles, Sara J. Kadolph.
Other interesting resources: