Growing clothing from a combination of plant matter and microscopic mushrooms could be a reality.
Erin Smith is an artist in residence at Microsoft Research who “grew” her own wedding dress by using a concoction of tree mulch and mycelium, a type of naturally white fungus, which was bred in a type of agricultural waste that required very little energy. After the dress was worn, rather than stuff it in the back of her closet where it would go unused for decades, she was able to compost her wedding dress.
“I think the ability for us to grow our own clothing could have great positive potential,” Smith said to the Guardian. “Growing clothing from scratch could both eliminate carbon emissions caused by transportation and allow for a garment that can be grown to your precise dimensions and specifications.”
She said the idea behind the homegrown wedding dress was to take a one-time-use object and reconstruct it so it would be made from the appropriate material for its lifespan.
“The wedding dress is a perfect example of a one-time-use, energy intensive and entirely non-sustainable model that is representative of so many of the choices that we make daily,” says Smith.
Growing clothing has been around for a number of years. Suzanne Lee, founder of BioCouture, has been experimenting with the idea of creating clothes through fermentation for over ten years and has grown a type of vegetable leather from green tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast.In 2004, scientists at the University of Western Australia introduced a jacket made from mouse and human cells.
The technology obviously exists, and homegrown clothing would be a smart and sustainable option. However, the process is time-consuming and grueling. Smith’s dress took a week to create.
“It’s essential that consumers become more aware of the continued lifespan of their things once they’ve been thrown away,” Smith says. “Any object made from materials that will outlive its intended use is a part of our global waste problem.”