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A suit of banana fibres: 'Grow' exhibition at Fashion for Good shows a future with biomaterials

By Nora Veerman

2 Nov 2021

Culture

Work by Huong Nguyen and Charlotte Bakkenes in 'Grow'. Image: Alina Krasieva via Fashion for Good

Substances from mushrooms and orange peels, dyes from bacteria and fungi, materials that you can reuse indefinitely and then biodegrade. It may still sound like future music, but the development of biomaterials has been moving at lightning speed in recent years. And that's a good thing, because many of the regular materials in fashion are already far out of date: the use of fossil raw materials or toxic chemicals makes them too heavy on the environment.

Biomaterials are a major growth market, but a lot is still unclear. For example, what exactly is meant by a biomaterial? Are all biomaterials automatically sustainable? What can you do with it, and what can you not (yet) do with it? These questions are addressed in the 'Grow' exhibition, which opens today in the Fashion for Good museum on Rokin in Amsterdam. FashionUnited already got a tour.

Organic, biomass, biomaterial

Fashion for Good is an organization that brings together different players in the fashion industry to accelerate technological innovation in fashion and textiles. Successful innovation does not only require companies, but also designers, copywriters, photographers and other creative minds, is the idea. They can make the unimaginable imaginable by translating it into something that can be grasped: a piece of clothing, for example, an image, or a story.

The same idea underlies 'Grow'. For the exhibition, Fashion for Good paired various textile innovators with six young creative talents: designers Charlotte Bakkenes, Frederieke Broekgaarden, Huong Nguyen and Eva Sonneveld, content creator Christian Mpamo and copywriter Zainab Goelaman. In May, these six were selected by a jury of experts to participate in the project. For the exhibition, Bakkenes, Broekgaarden, Nguyen and Sonneveld made fashion creations from biomaterials supplied by the textile innovators. Mpamo and Goelaman weaved a story around it with text and photos.

The work of these six makers can be seen on the first floor of the museum, but the exhibition begins in the basement of Fashion for Good. Here an informative presentation offers a look at the how and what of biomaterials. In short: biomaterials stands for materials of biological origin. At first, most will think of fabrics made from plants, such as linen, cotton or hemp. In reality, the range is much wider: it also includes materials such as mycelium, bioplastics and bio-protein fibers based on animal proteins. This immediately alerts the visitor: organic does not automatically mean vegetable, plastic-free or biodegradable, although that is often possible. It mainly means that the base consists entirely or partly of biomass, instead of fossil raw materials such as petroleum.

Another side note: not all biomaterials are one hundred percent biomass. Even a 'bio-content' of ten percent is sometimes still referred to as a biomaterial. Not desirable, perhaps, but reality. That is precisely why it is so important to gain insight into exactly what biomaterials are, what they consist of and how they are produced. This is explained in the basement with the help of clear diagrams.

Left: work by Frederieke Broekgaarden, photo Alina Krasieva. Right: work by Eva Sonneveld, photo Christian Mpamo. Image via Fashion for Good

Cool suits and wafer-thin evening dresses

In the middle of the basement is a table with five different textile samples. It includes soft jerseys and firm, smooth stretch fabrics. The materials feel familiar, but most visitors will never have worn them: the soft jerseys are not made of cotton but of kapok and wood pulp fibres, the smooth fabrics not of polyester, but of banana fibers and orange peels.

What is possible with these new materials becomes clear on the first floor of the museum. The creations of Bakkenes, Broekgaarden, Nguyen and Sonneveld are displayed there. The four designs are very different: using wood pulp fiber fabric developed by Spinnova, Broekgaarden created a dreamlike silhouette with fine knitted sleeves and a cloudy skirt. Sonneveld made a graphic workwear suit from the banana textile, from innovator Green Whisper, on which satellite images of a banana plantation are printed.

Nguyen's design is different again, a conceptual design in which the dark gray fabric - Flocus biomaterial, made from kapok fibers - falls to the floor in heavy folds. Bakkenes made a wafer-thin evening dress with a train using the same material. The urge to briefly touch the garments and feel the structure and weight of the fabrics is difficult to resist, but unfortunately that is not allowed here. We will have to wait until the moment when companies such as Spinnova, Green Whisper and Flocus have scaled up in such a way that their materials can be found not only in museums, but also in shops.

Visitors can get a taste of this in the Fashion for Good boutique, which is located on the ground floor of the museum. As usual, the decoration of the shop and the products match the theme of the exhibition. During 'Grow', flower-dyed garments from Hul Le Kes, biodegradable suits from Freitag and facial glitter from BioGlitz, made from eucalyptus pulp, will be on sale. In Fashion for Good, the future suddenly comes pretty close on a weekday afternoon.

The exhibition 'Grow' can be seen until April 2022 in the Fashion for Good Museum in Amsterdam.

The store of the Fashion for Good Museum. Image: Alina Krasieva via Fashion for Good

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.NL, translated and edited to English by Kelly Press.