Gallery: 10 Eco-Fashion Garments Inspired by Nature and Biomimicry

"SHEDDABLE" GARMENTS THAT REDUCE LAUNDERING

Katie Ledger wants you to make like a serpent and molt—the layers of your clothes, that is. Inspired by the way a snake sheds its skin, the London College of Art student envisions garments with layers that slough off without the need for frequent laundering.

"Shed Me" garments slough off their layers like a snake, reducing the need for frequent laundering.

In addition to slashing the heavy energy burden that washing and drying entail—an average laundry cycle uses up to 40 gallons of water and 5,500 watts of electricity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy—Ledger’s “Shed Me” project imagines clothes that change color and even style with the removal of each successive layer.

biomimicry, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, eco-textiles, eco-friendly textiles, sustainable textiles, living fashion, living clothing

Merrell

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.

Photo by Shutterstock

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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IMITATING SHARK SKIN TO REDUCE DRAG

Speedo’s Fastskin FSII swimsuit mimics the texture of sharkskin to improve its wearer’s speed while reducing drag. Sharks may appear sleek on the surface, but their skin comprises tiny scales known as dermal denticles (“little skin teeth”) that correspond to varying flow conditions. Rougher dermal denticles, for instance, cover the nose of the animal, while smoother ones amass further back. Furthermore, longitudinal grooves in the scales serve to channel water more efficiently over their surface, enhancing thrust.

Speedo’s Fastskin FSII swimsuit mimics the texture of sharkskin to improve the speed of its wearer.

The swimwear company’s ersatz sharkskin, which premiered at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, still has a ways to go, however. In February, Harvard scientists concluded that the Fastskin’s bumps were too small, rounded, and far apart to have the same effect as denticles, although its skintight form probably enhanced the swimmer’s performance in other ways.

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APPLYING COLOR WITHOUT DYES

This dress’s iridescent hue is purely a trick of the light. Fashioned from Morphotex, the frock uses structurally colored to mimic the microscopic structure of the Morpho butterfly’s wings, which appear a shimmery cobalt despite its lack of pigment. Manufactured by Teijin in Japan, Morphotex requires no dyes or pigments, nor the prodigious amount of water and energy used in conventional dyeing.

Inspired by the microscopic structure of the Morpho butterfly’s wings, Morphotex requires no dyes or pigments.

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.

biomimicry, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, eco-textiles, eco-friendly textiles, sustainable textiles, living fashion, living clothing

ATTRACTING POLLINATORS WITH FASHION

To address the shrinking populations of bees and other pollinators, artist Karen Ingham treated a series of “Pollinator Frocks” with a nectar-like sugar solution to attract and nourish insects.

Karen Ingham treated her “Pollinator Frocks with nectar-like sugar solution to attract and nourish bees and their brethren.

Featuring electron-microscopy images of pollen, her wearable gardens fall into two separate categories: day-wear to draw bees and butterflies and evening-wear for nocturnal critters such as moths. Ingham sees her dresses having the most impact in urban spaces, where gardens are limited in number, nectar-rich plants are rare, and public engagement is most needed. “The clothing can be hung out as clothes are hung on a washing line, to act as an attractant to pollinators,” she says.

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biomimicry, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, eco-textiles, eco-friendly textiles, sustainable textiles, living fashion, living clothing

GROWING GARMENTS FROM MICROBES

Suzanne Lee grows her own “biocouture” from vats of green tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast. Lee, a senior research fellow at the School of Fashion & Textiles at Central Saint Martins in London coaxes fibers from this microbial soup, coalescing thin, wet sheets of bacterial cellulose that can be molded to a dress form.

Suzanne Lee grows her own “biocouture” from vats of green tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast.

As the sheets dry out, overlapping edges “felt” together to become fused seams. When all moisture has evaporated, the fibers develop a tight-knit, papyrus-like surface that can be bleached or stained with fruit and vegetable dyes such as turmeric, indigo, and beetroot.

biomimicry, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, eco-textiles, eco-friendly textiles, sustainable textiles, living fashion, living clothing

OUTERWEAR THAT TRANSPIRES LIKE TREES

Páramo’s waterproof jackets feature fabric technology inspired by the transpiration activity of trees. The process is akin to evaporation: pore-like openings in plant foliage, collectively known as stomata, open and close to release water vapor into the air. The water loss allows the plant to access carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, as well as to cool itself when the mercury rises.

Páramo’s line o outerwear features fabric technology inspired by the transpiration activity of trees.

Unlike conventional mineral wax, the company’s Nikwax treatment leaves spaces between the fibers elastic, open, and breathable. Besides providing water-repellency, the elastomer also traps air next to the skin, directing moisture away from the body and preventing external moisture from entering.

biomimicry, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, eco-textiles, eco-friendly textiles, sustainable textiles, living fashion, living clothing

“SHEDDABLE” GARMENTS THAT REDUCE LAUNDERING

Katie Ledger wants you to make like a serpent and molt—the layers of your clothes, that is. Inspired by the way a snake sheds its skin, the London College of Art student envisions garments with layers that slough off without the need for frequent laundering.

“Shed Me” garments slough off their layers like a snake, reducing the need for frequent laundering.

In addition to slashing the heavy energy burden that washing and drying entail—an average laundry cycle uses up to 40 gallons of water and 5,500 watts of electricity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy—Ledger’s “Shed Me” project imagines clothes that change color and even style with the removal of each successive layer.

biomimicry, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, eco-textiles, eco-friendly textiles, sustainable textiles, living fashion, living clothing

CRADLE-TO-CRADLE CLOTHING

Zoe Alexander Fisher designed a hand-felted wool coat during her sophomore year at Sarah Lawrence College. Worn in winter, the garment can be disposed of by planting it in the spring. The wool acts as a fertilizer for the embedded seeds, which grow into food-producing plants throughout the summer in time for a fall harvest.

Zoe Alexander Fisher’s seed-embedded coat is worn in winter, planted in spring, grown in summer, and harvested in winter.

“From production to disposal, the product remains a part of the environment,” Fisher says. “By biomimicking nature’s seasons, it [serves to] draw attention to our human relationship and commitment to the natural environment.”

11 Responses to “10 Eco-Fashion Garments Inspired by Nature and Biomimicry”

  1. Diane Pham says:

    the shark skin wetsuit is badass!

  2. markboyer says:

    Yeah, that wetsuit is seriously cool.

  3. jillicious says:

    Love the photo examples from nature – it really highlights the idea so well!

  4. Lori Zimmer says:

    Stefanie Nieuwenhuys’ work is so beautiful

  5. Yuka Yoneda says:

    I would LOVE a grass fur vest. Could be a wonderful DIY…

  6. kathryn holmen says:

    I just recently learned about biomimicry in textiles in class. It really intrigues me how nature can inspire certain fashion garments. The swimsuit that resembles shark skin was the most interesting garment I read about. We learned about this in class also. We learned that some Olympic swimmers were using this technology because it made them swim faster. It is also unfair to poorer countries that cannot afford this type of technology though. I would be interested to see how much faster it really does make a swimmer.

  7. jane sarkar says:

    You should read Janine Benyus’ book to start off with, and check out The Biomimicry Institute. Whilst the textile construction of that swimsuit was to imitate the way that water deflected off the scales of the shark, male swimmers in the London Olympics also removed significant areas of their body hair to eliminate drag too – and they also train hard.

  8. m.j.c. says:

    i am doing a school project on biomimicry and nature, and this site is really helping.

  9. jane sarkar says:

    That is excellent. To feel the passion and the common sense, Janine Benyus’ eloquent talk via TED Talks is so inspirational – it may even start to change your life.

    http://blog.ted.com/2009/08/06/biomimicry_in_a/

  10. neymarima (@neymarima) says:

    Hello
    My name is rima and I’m a GCSE textiles student my product is inspired by nature and Specifically “Sea nature” I’m thinking to make an outrageous fashion garment which will be suitable for the next London fashion show, it will be something like jelly fish dress.. Do you have any ideas that can help me with my product? I will really appreaciate it.

    Thank you

  11. jane sarkar says:

    Gosh Nina

    Yes always be totally outrageous. You only live once.

    A jelly fish dress…. jelly fish graceful elegant propellers – if its the mechanistics you are interested in, Hussein Chalayan does it so well- many videos on youtube… If its the soft, slippery yet rubbery material – you should check out what Bompas and Parr does with real jelly – sublime. Good luck :)

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