Renewable Fashion

"The Golden Book Gown" made of recycled book pages. (wikimedia)

“The Golden Book Gown” made of recycled book pages. (wikimedia)

Designer Suzanne Lee shares her experiments in growing a kombucha-based material that can be used like fabric or vegetable leather to make clothing. The process is fascinating, the results are beautiful (though there’s still one minor drawback …) and the potential is simply stunning.

Given that environmental impacts of the fashion industry due to over consumption and junk food like disposable clothing mania (hello, H&M…), let alone the toxic chemicals involved in the dying process and in harvesting leather and non organic cotton, the concept of grow your own moves beyond medical marijuana and backyard veggies to textiles in this fascinating TedTalk by Suzanne Lee: Grow your own clothes. (FYI, this talk was part of a collection of TedTalks curated by Icelandic artist Bjork)…

Other variations on sustainable fashion include the enormously successful “give back” programs of Toms Shoes and Warby Parker eye wear, with both companies donating a pair of shoes or glasses to thoe in need to match every pair sold to a hipster in Williamsburg (or Portland, or Tokyo)….

What do you think about threads made from kombucha?
What are your thoughts on the role of fashion in social causes?
Can you provide examples of sustainable or social cause companies you’ve encountered?
What celebrities have introduced lines of eco-clothing?

There are 16 comments

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  1. Deisy

    I think fashion has a huge role in social causes. Not only because fashion is such a versatile concept but also because it has a big impact on the consumer. I think by fashion companies such as Warby or Toms, like you mentioned, donating per purchase made, puts the responsibility on the consumer to help while buying something for themselves.

    Also, there are a bunch of people, specially celebs, that want to help and spread the word about a certain cause & they use fashion to do it. Such as Anna Wintour & God Loves We Deliver or Blake Lively with Gucci. I think Blake said it best when it comes about giving the costumer the responsibility (this is her speaking about Gucci donating $5 every time almoner bought the perfume and registered it on Chine For Change’s website) : “Sure, you can buy the fragrance and then not go online, but then you’re the jerk. This makes the consumer an active participant by giving them responsibility.”

    One celebrity that has an Eco-friendly company is Jessica Alba. Her company is Honest Co & they pretty much sell everything and anything Eco-friendly product your baby needs.

    She may not have a fashion line but a celeb that’s always promoting Eco-friendly alternatives is Shailene Woodley (Divergent). This is a great interview with Into The Gloss about her Eco-Friendly lifestyle:


    Sustainable fashion is a global trend in the fashion industry. People are acknowledging the danger of pollution of the enviromment and toxics that come from on the process of production on clothes. The fact the thread was made from kombucha was very interesting and made me want to try feel and see the fabric since it is do unique.
    Making innovative fabric seems to be a key to the fashion industry. By looking at my friends family business i also felt the same thing. His father came up with an idea to make fabric from the coconuts from Vietnam and they were able to have many buyers that desired to have this coconut fabric made in real life in the market. How the fashion industry tries much to take part of saving the environment and also make healthy clothes for people worldwide is very interesting and pleasing.

  3. Kristin Ferrandino

    I find the entire process of creating fabric out of kombucha incredibly fascinating. The idea of something that organic and full-circle being able to play that big of a rule on our society is undeniably a paramountly positive development. Of course it seems that there is near-imperative progress to be made (water resistance, for example), if ever perfected, what a wonderful advancement it would be. I’m curious to hear what the prices are like…

    As counterproductive as it seems, I do believe that the world of fashion can have a pretty impactful effect on social causes. After having worked in this industry heavily for the past eight years however, I’ve seen it all, and it’s not pretty. Other than a few campaigns I can count on one hand, I haven’t seen a social-driven campaign take the industry by storm; almost undeniably, it seems that people are more worried about getting their hands on a Prada piece than a jacket made in a third-world country supporting women’s rights and protection. If done properly though — just like everything else — I suppose great success could be reached. Perhaps the winning formula just hasn’t been found yet. After all, fashion is all about the look and not the invisible.

    All of that being said and given my experience in this industry, it is a shame that I cannot name a thousand sustainable or social caused brands off the top of my head. I’d actually have to Google to even find a few. While I’m sure there are people who work alongside me who are much more in-the-know, that’s the problem; these companies should be so in the forefront that we shouldn’t have to seek them out, just as no one has to seek out Gucci or Cushnie…

  4. Ben

    What do you think about threads made from kombucha?
    Firstly, I love the clothing, especially the vest on Suzanne. I like that it can take indigo in only one dip. I have a deep familiarity with the industry, especially organic Peruvian cottons and can attest that it is truly out of hand. What I mean is the dyeing of cottons and the dumping of the excess dye waste into the Earth. I think that MORE DESIGNERS MUST immediately take ethical outcomes into mind when they produce and insist that their producers oversee strict codes of environmental safety.

    Fashion is one of the biggest disposable cash industries for the young and biggest luxury industry for the top 1% population. I like the way that Suzanne said that the Kombucha resembled the flesh tone as this is what fashion is to people, a second skin. My biggest beef with Mayor Bloomberg was that he gave huge tax breaks to chain stores like H & M and Joe FRESH, (the company that had their workers die last year in the factory fire due to an oversight with an unsafe building.) It is a great industry to begin starting small for a social change. Stella McCartney comes to mind as one of the few luxury designers who refuses to work with leather and turned down a huge career advancement due to this.

  5. Kathleen

    Consumers of inexpensive poorly constructed clothing from companies like H&M don’t realize there is actually a high cost to Cheap. There are environmental issues from the sheer waste (H&M also throws away clothes it doesn’t sell in bale-sized loads in dumpsters instead of donating to the needy), pollutants from dyes and sizing chemicals, as well as slave labor in sweat shops in China and India. When we shop at these kinds of discount stores, we are pushing smaller companies out of business. The click moment with organic food has arrived with more and more people willing to spend extra dollars for healthier, non-pesticide-laden produce, but this hasn’t shifted yet in the fashion world. But more of these kinds of innovations will continue to emerge. We just have to be willing to buy less and spend more on fewer, higher quality items.

    • Ben

      Hi Kathleen,
      RE: “(H&M also throws away clothes it doesn’t sell in bale-sized loads in dumpsters instead of donating to the needy), pollutants from dyes and sizing chemicals, as well as slave labor in sweat shops in China and India.”

      I did not know this… this is awful! Throwing away in dumpsters instead of donating is truly awful! They should be ashamed! This on top of sweat shop labor show that all they want is the final penny to line their pockets with. What do people expect if they pay less than 10$ on a tee shirt. The thread to bind the seams alone costs more than that.

  6. Emily Spierer

    I really enjoyed this ted-talk and thought it was really awesome and interesting. First of all, I didn’t know that it was possible to grow clothes from such organic materials, like tea and sugar. Additionally, I really liked how Suzanne asked the audience “what they would like to grow,” at the end of her lecture, demonstrating her optimism and the idea that growing consumer products can expand far beyond the simple idea of growing clothing – to the idea of growing a house or a car. On a similar note, I think that active participants within our society, it is our responsibility as individuals to do as much as we can for our community, and to give back in any way that we can. I am a huge fan of Toms shoes, and in addition to loving the simplicity and practicality of the shoes, I love the fact that Tom’s supports a greater cause, giving shoes to those in need, for every pair purchased. I think fashion plays a huge role in social causes. There are a number of celebrities who have used their status and fame to bring attention to controversial issues in society, especially regarding fashion. One specific example that comes to my mind is when Khloe Kardashian did a “Naked Anti Fur Ad” campaign in support of PETA (people for the ethical treatment of animals) in which she proclaimed that she would “rather go naked than wear fur”. Since the economy of fashion revolves around trends, which people often adopt from celebrities, I think celebrities have the ability to be very influential, and initiate aspects of change – especially in fashion – within our cultural society.

  7. evyenia

    I found the video fascinating! Who knew you could make clothing out of tea and sugar. I must say, my mother has set the tone in my family for being very conscience about where our clothing comes from. I was taught at an early age about child labor in the industry, I co-narrated and provided the voice for a little girl working in a factory in the documentary, Stolen Childhoods. There are so many reasons to educate ourselves about the dangers of not wearing eco and fair trade clothing. I think about massive chain stores like H&M and Forever 21. With the amount of locations they have……it is sickening to think of the amount of corruption and wrongdoing.
    Thankfully, there are options out there, you just have to be aware. As far as celebrities go, as mentioned, Shailene Woodley is really vocal about her lifestyle. She claims to retrieve her own fresh water once a month, forage for wild berries, and has said that she will only wear vintage pieces on the red carpet.
    Colin Firth’s wife, Livia, only wears eco fashion. She owns ECO-Age, and started the green carpet initiative in 2009. She won the Harper’s Bazzar Women of the Year “Green Award” in 2013. I find it really interesting to follow what she wears because it is always fresh and creative, but the pieces have always been repurposed, and are eco friendly.

  8. paloma Urquijo Zobel

    I mean even though it’s not water resistant yet I think its an amazing start. We are consuming much more than we are producing and I think the fact that designers such as Suzanne lee are testing and playing around with alternative materials is quite promising. She makes an excellent point that this could lead to a time where we actually only grow what we need and when we are done with it is can biodegrade and create a whole cycle.

    The first example that came into my head was the recycled juices turned into bags have become a good source of income for women in the Philippines. Its actually a fun idea that has been around since I can remember but I think it has recently taken off seeing as this whole new “green” trend is bigger than ever.

  9. Yoon Hee Song

    I think that making threads from kombucha is very intriguing and fascinating. The fact that fashion industry nowadays is seeking for sustainable ways of producing clothes, this innovative idea is a good example for the fashion industry even though it is just a start.
    I also think that the role of fashion in social causes is huge because their movements really impact the society.
    Few years ago, I attended a lecture by Jeff Denby who is the CEO of PACT. PACT is an underwear company that uses soft organic cotton. They are obsessed with the idea of producing clothes that make the world a better place. They use renewable resources, non-toxic, sustainable materials, and eco-friendly packaging. Based on their principle, they are trying to have good design, good fabric, and good cause.
    For celebrity who has introduced lines of eco-clothing is Stella McCartney. McCartney is a British designer who embraced sustainability in her designs. She produces organic clothing, shoes and carbon neutral bags.

  10. SeungMi Kim

    As fashion has greatly impact on society especially nowadays, taking steps to reduce wastes in fashion takes an essential role to solve the social causes. I really enjoyed this video clip of Ted talk and was amazed especially by the fact that making and dying clothes can be done by such organic materials including fruits and vegetables, rather than those toxic chemicals. I think the way of making threads out of kombucha is such a great step to approach to sustainability in fashion industry, in which environmental issues have hugely been problematic.
    Among many other sustainable companies, I am most aware of Toms shoes, which almost everyone nowadays knows about. Toms shoes have widely been loved by consumers worldwide with the fact that it does not only offer aesthetically pleasing designed shoes, but also plays a great role in supporting people in need. I have heard of Gwen Stefani’s eco-clothing lines, DWP, which stands for “Design With Purpose”. The clothes are made from biodegradable fabric called Tencel, and those eco-friendly clothes were designed with purpose as the brand name says. I believe those renowned celebrities’ actions of promoting environmental benefits in making clothes would completely be powerful in raising awareness of what they are doing it for and impacting on society to solve environmental problems.

  11. Priyanka Paul

    I found the TED talk extremely fascinating and the concept of growing fabric is quite inspiring. Even though it might not be fully functional at the moment, it is a great start towards the innovation of renewable fashion. Projects like these interest me a lot as the concept of sustainability is the new phase of the future and something each and every one of us should be involved in.
    I think companies that product sustainable fashion instead of the genetic disposable clothing are not only giving lots of time, money and energy into the development process, they are also giving back to the earth, which I believe is a risky, yet courageous thing to do. Fast fashion like forever21 is relatively easy but working the way companies like Tomes and Warby Parker does is creating a statement. Companies like those will be the future of both fashion and sustainability. Even fast fashion fashion brands like H&M, Victoria Secret and Zara are now launching eco-friendly collections to their lines. Rachel Kibbe runs the shopping site Helpsy and their slogan is “Ethical Fashion, Sustainable Fashion, Slow Fashion and Eco-Fashion.” Kibbe has a degree in Fashion Design from Parsons and is now running Helpsy that relies on the mantra of edgy yet ethical and eco-friendly fashion. It is interesting to me that today even one or two high-fashion brands are using eco-friendly technology. An example of this is Stella McCartney, who is one of the high-end designers who’s clothes are still one of the best on the runway and she is progressing in sustainable fashion. Not only is she using vegan and cruelty free techniques, she is also using some innovation sustainable fabric technology. A year ago she came out with a line of faux-croc heels with biodegradable plastic soles.

  12. Lia Ferguson

    I think this is inspiring, creative and futuristic. I’m not sure how I feel about wearing clothes like this, but lamps, cars, and other products seem like they’d work in this instance. As I watched the video, I was truly inspired and I enjoyed listening to her speak. I believe that this is what life is about. Life is about ideas and innovation and not only for survival, but for the enjoyment of living. I can think back to stories I’ve heard about cavemen and how they invented things to make life easier, accessible and enjoyable. Life became fun to live, and purpose was established. Renewable fashion seems a bit far fetched, but so was the idea of touch screen cellular phones. The future is ours and if we bank on innovation and imagination, we can accomplish the impossible or even the unimaginable. I enjoyed reading all the post after watching the video as well. I agree totally with Priyanka when she said that she had found the TED talk extremely fascinating and the concept of growing fabric is quite inspiring. It is safe to say that even though this idea may not be fully functional, it is a great start towards the innovation of renewable fashion.


    Sustainability more and more is a necessity and people are demanding for companies to be help responsible and accountable for the type of materials that they use when choosing their textiles. Threads made from kombucha gives people the chance and opportunity to change the way in which we consume fashion, even though there is a very hard barrier to entry, it is a great concept and something that will be very important in fashion’s near future.
    Fashion’s popularity has skyrocketed over the last decade making any of the industry’s events a media frenzy, with eyes on it all over the world. Therefore I believe that public companies have a responsibility towards their consumers to educate them towards the right materials and products that don’t damage the environment.
    Adidas has been one of the most sustainable companies in the consumer sector, this way becoming a leader and making a difference as they are one of the biggest retailers in the world.
    H&M has over the years been introducing more and more items into their product line, which has become very successful. Also as H&M is one of the biggest fast fashion retailers in the world making an impact and becoming a leader, they have also invested heavily in the development of sustainable textiles.

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