A native of the South America rainforest, the Morpho is one of the largest butterflies in the world, with wings that span five to eight inches. The vivid color on the upper surface of their wings is the result of microscopic, overlapping scales that amplify certain wavelengths of light while canceling out others. Similarly, Morphotex relies on fiber structure and physical phenomena such as light reflection, interference, refraction, and scattering to produce its opalescence. The fabric comprises roughly 60 polyester and nylon fibers, arranged in alternating layers that can be varied in thickness to produce four basic colors: red, green, blue, and violet.
Anything you can do, Ma Nature can do better. That’s not to say you can’t crib from the best, of course: adapting biological principles to solve design problems is as old as civilization, whether it’s studying birds to enable human flight, modeling skyscrapers after termite mounds, or creating leaf-like solar cells to boost the output of photovoltaics. “Biomimicry,” a term popularized by Janine Benyus in her 1997 book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, mines billion-year-old adaptation strategies to craft a more sustainable future. Here are 10 examples of how the fashion industry draws cues from life to innovate and awe.
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PHOTOSYNTHESIS AS PERFORMANCE ART
Who needs a fur pelt when you can drape your shoulders in living green moss? Tara Baoth Mooney, a graduate of the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion, created her “Portable Pelts” to promote the concept of “symbiotic biomimicry.”
“Portable Pelts” uses living moss to promote the concept of “symbiotic biomimicry” between humans and plants.
More specifically, Mooney’s creations ape non-parasitic or commensal relationships found in the environment. Moss that grows on the trunks or branches receive the light and nutrients they need without affecting their host. Mooney’s intent is far more subversive, however.
“Increasingly, there is a tendency for human beings to be emotionally detached from one another and from their environment,” she says. “Engaging physically with anything is far more complex than merely talking about it. I believe that there is a potential for people to engage with the idea of growth as an experiential and participatory process through keen observation and sympathetic regard.”
LAYERING SCRAPS LIKE SCALES
After spying diamond-shaped wood chips on a workshop floor at London’s Kingston University—the leftovers of some architecture student, no doubt—Stefanie Nieuwenhuys was reminded of a secondhand snakeskin bag she once purchased. Scooping them up, the fashion student set to work, layering the wooden scraps onto fabric like reptilian scales.
To minimize waste, Stefanie Nieuwenhuys layered discarded pieces of wood onto fabric like reptilian scales.
Nieuwenhuys’s “aha” moment resulted in her master’s project: a collection of corsets, floor-length evening dresses, trousers, and neckpieces that marries modern laser-cutting techniques with a couturier’s delicate yet exacting touch.
Eschewing virgin resources, Nieuwenhuys worked with bio-waste firm InCrops Enterprise Hub in Norwich to obtain discarded pieces of plywood, which she honed into efficient forms that left behind little waste. Glued onto unbleached organic cotton, the brown-and-ecru “scales” become a “simulacra of nature, without discarding nature’s inherent harmonies,” she tells Ecouterre.
COMPACT STRUCTURES THAT UNFURL LIKE LEAVES
Diana Eng based her “Miura Ori” scarf on an origami “leaf-fold” pattern invented by Koryo Miura, a Japanese space scientist who was in turn inspired by the unfurling mechanism of the hornbeam and beech leaves.
Diana Eng’s scarf folds into a compact package yet “deploys” to create a voluminous wrap for your neck.
Hornbeam and beech leaves are distinguished by their corrugated folds, which remain collapsed until they emerge from their buds. Eng’s wool-cashmere scarf folds into a compact package yet “deploys” to create a voluminous—and warm!—wrap for your neck.