Discover the future of sustainable materials in fashion

Discover the future of sustainable materials in fashion

“Material Futures: experimental fabrication of bacterial cellulose as a potential biomaterial” workshop presented by RMIT Vietnam provoked a new approach to sustainable fashion.

The fashion and textile industries are known as one of the largest polluters in the world. According to McKinsey, they annually produce more than 1.2 billion tons of bulk which in turn contributes to considerable environmental impacts. Petroleum-based synthetic fibres and textiles such as polyester can take up to 200 years to decompose. Therefore, it is important to shift towards bio-based materials that offer the potential to develop a global sustainable textile and fashion industry. 

Participants at the event The talk is a part of Vietnam Festival of Creativity & Design 2022.

Part of Vietnam Festival of Creativity & Design 2022, the event aimed to investigate the local context and prospects of growing and drying biomaterials to be a potential source of raw materials to replace existing fossil-based materials. This experimental project explored alternative forms of natural systems by growing and harvesting bacterial cellulose as textiles and textile structures.

This talk presented a project being conducted by Associate Professor Donna Cleveland (Deputy Dean, School of Communication & Design, RMIT Vietnam), Professor Frances Joseph (Professor of Material Futures in Huri Te Ao/The School of Future Environments at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand), and Associate Professor Rajkishore Nayak (School of Communication & Design, RMIT Vietnam).

During the event, presenters discussed and showcased examples of the ways different locally available ingredients such as fruits, teas and sugars used to grow kombucha as a form of bacterial cellulose can alter the tactility and other characteristics of new biomaterials. Presenters considered these samples in terms of their physical and aesthetic properties, and their potential for design applications that propose alternatives to how we develop sustainable textiles. 

In her presentation, Associate Professor Donna Cleveland pointed out the effects of harmful materials on the environment, such as synthetic plastics or animal skins, and the importance of finding a biomaterial replacement for these existing materials that we are used to.

“Plastic is not bad, but it is suitable for items and constructions with long-term use, which is counted in years, not the 45-minute life cycle of a plastic bag.

“Experimenting with bacterial cellulose as a potential biomaterial develops alternatives to synthetic petroleum-based materials with much lower environmental impacts. It also offers potential for localised production processes to develop unique new materials. Vietnam has an abundance of source materials for the production of sustainable and local bio-based alternatives”, she said.

Associate Professor Donna Cleveland and Professor Frances Joseph at the event. Associate Professor Donna Cleveland and Professor Frances Joseph at the event.

Associate Professor Cleveland also explained why she chose ingredients such as fruits, tea, and sugar.

“Kombucha has been available worldwide for a long time. It is a fermented tea drink that grows a Scoby 'symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast' where the bacteria feeds on the sugars and on the tea and then is able to create a very acidic environment and spin layers of cellulose. Then these layers of cellulose can be harvested and dried then treated with different techniques and different recipes, for example, bees wax and coconut oil.

"During this material experimentation we explored the effects on the materials using local Vietnamese sugars, teas and other ingredients to feed the growing biomaterial. This allowed us to ascertain what effects local food and food waste sources could have on the characterisation of the materials”, she shared.

Professor Frances Joseph said Vietnam has a huge potential in developing biomaterials.

“With its growing fashion manufacturing base, the development of locally produced, sustainable bio-based textiles would give the Vietnamese industry a distinctive point of difference that would reduce negative environmental impacts and be highly attractive to international fashion companies seeking to become more sustainable.

"In addition, with its rich craft tradition, and innovative, environmentally concerned, youthful population, these new materials will be utilised in the development of new local products and applications to replace plastics and petroleum-based materials”, she emphasised.

A participant holding a sample Event participants also had the opportunity to experience several samples among over 100 prototypes from the project.

Event participants also had the opportunity to experience in-person several samples among over 100 prototypes from the project. The experimental samples made with different combinations of sugar (white sugar/brown sugar/malt/cane sugar), tea (black tea/oolong tea/herbal tea) and fruit (watermelon/banana/dragon fruit/coconut) intrigued and delighted the audience.

Several members of the group said that the workshop was an opportunity to access new ideas about biomaterials and a playground to gather individuals, groups and businesses from many different industries. One of the attendees, Mr Ngo Xuan Dai, Technical Consultant, shared his feedback: “The information is so useful that I am thinking about incorporating materials like fabric in electronics industry. New bio-based materials have many prospects in the future”.

Recently, RMIT University has just introduced a Textile Technologies course in the Fashion Program, in which students have made and developed new bio-based materials and bioplastics.

Story: Dung Pham

  • Fashion

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