Who says you can’t fend off mosquitoes with style? A Cornell University scientist from Kenya and a Gambian designer have developed a purple-and-gold hooded bodysuit impregnated with insecticides at the nano level. Designed to repel mosquitoes infected with malaria, a disease the kills an estimated 655,000 people in Africa each year, the prototype does insecticide-treated nets one better because it can be be worn throughout the day. And unlike skin-based repellants that dissipate easily, the molecular bonds in the fabric are almost impossible to break.
Although Frederick Ochanda, a postdoctoral associate in Cornell’s Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design, and Matilda Ceesay, who studies apparel design at the university, hail from opposite ends of the continent, they’ve both witnessed family members battle malaria. “Seeing malaria’s effect on people in Kenya, it’s very important for me to apply fiber science to help this problem,” Ochanda says. “A long-term goal of science is to be able to come up with solutions to help protect human health and life, so this project is very fulfilling for me.” Ceesay agrees. “It’s so common back home, you can’t escape it,” she adds.
The problem with mosquito nets, according to Ochanda, is that the insecticides usually wear off after six months.
The problem with mosquito nets, according to Ochanda, is that the insecticides usually wear off after six months. By using metal organic framework molecules to bind the repellant directly to the fibers, he was able to not only maintain the fabric’s long-term efficacy but also load up to three times more insecticide than conventional nets can.
Ceesay transformed the fabric into a mesh hood and cape, pairing it with an underlying bodysuit that she hand-dyed in vibrant shades of purple, gold, and blue. The outfit, which debuted at the Cornell Fashion Collective spring fashion show in April, is one of six in a collection that Ceesay says “explores and modernizes traditional African silhouettes and textiles by embracing the strength and sexuality of the modern woman.”
The duo are planning a fabric that releases repellant in response to fluctuations in temperature or light.
The duo are planning a fabric that releases repellant in response to fluctuations in temperature or light, allowing wearers increased protection at night, when mosquitoes like to hunt. While they hope their ideas will serve as prototypes to drive new technologies for stemming the spread of malaria, they’d settle for longer-lasting insecticide-laced bed nets.
“Although there are already mosquito nets being used, the solution isn’t foolproof,” says Ceesay. “People are still getting sick and dying. We can’t get complacent. I hope my design can show what is possible when you bring together fashion and science and will inspire others to keep improving the technology. If a student at Cornell can do this, imagine how far it could go.”