Fashion designer Stella McCartney’s latest collection made headlines with a form-fitting jumpsuit composed of iridescent, scale-like sequins made entirely from plant-based compounds. Lauded for her longtime interest in sustainable fashion, the designer collaborated with Radiant Matter, a studio founded by Elissa Brunato dedicated to producing “naturally shimmering biomaterials.” Engineered from renewable cellulose, the biodegradable material provides an environmentally conscious alternative to mass-produced plastics. It’s just one of nearly 400 remarkable projects archived in by the Future Materials Bank.
In 2020, the Jan Van Eyck Academie in The Netherlands saw an opportunity to respond to the global shift toward sustainability. The Future Materials program was established to position “art, design, and other creative practices in relation to the climate crisis, environmental breakdown, and their manifold effects,” tapping into artists’ and designers’ penchant for experimentation. Through researching and proposing renewable alternatives to unsustainable practices, the program aimed to open up discourse and set “a framework that embraces a diversity of practices and allows for a multitude of voices.”
Placing an emphasis on the availability of different materials around the world, the archive showcases substances and resources found in a range of climates and various industrial processes. In Uganda, Katesi Jacqueline Kelange repurposed polyethylene bags, plastic strips, and second-hand clothes to create lightweight woven shelters and costumes for public performances that draw attention to the need to move away from the manufacture of products that rely on fossil fuels.
Ubiquitous yet unexpected organic sources appear in textiles, such as seaweed, human hair, or plant roots. Intricate fabrics made of roots by Zena Holloway (previously), for example, are grown inside beeswax molds; nature does all the work producing the lacy detail. Matter that seasonally sheds onto the forest floor and would normally rot on the ground, like tree bark or pine needles, can be gathered and processed into modern tableware. And items like pendant lamps, vessels, or stools can repurposed from limestone dust or ceramic waste—industrial byproducts—into functional objects.
The Future Materials Lab was launched in collaboration with the Material Futures Masters course at London’s Central Saint Martins and facilitates “an ecologically mindful approach to material choices.” Find out more about the program on the Jan Van Eyck Aademie’s website, peruse the Future Materials Bank for inspiration, and follow on Instagram. You might also like Phillip Lim and Charlotte McCurdy’s sequins made from algae.
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