The fashion industry is the second largest polluter globally. I was honored to attend the Explorers Club talk hosted by Parley on this very subject.
One of the speakers, Suzanne Lee, is among the few people coming up with truly innovative solutions to this escalating issue. Many of my readers have never even heard of clothing created in a lab, yet through a complicated biofabrication process, these materials are already being brought to market!
Suzanne had the following to divulge an more:
Brana Dane: Tell me about your personal background in fashion.
Suzanne Lee: I trained at Central Saint Martins in fashion alongside designers like Hussein Chalayan and Stella McCartney. I first worked as designer and then consultant for various high-end brands in London. I then went on to discover biology and that absolutely changed everything!
Brana Dane: What made you decide to change directions?
Suzanne Lee: It became apparent to me 15 years ago that the future of fashion would be about growing materials using biology instead of mining, farming and refining fossil fuels. I was right. Today we have lab-grown diamonds, silk and leather materials.
Brana Dane: Why is sustainability personally significant to you?
Suzanne Lee: Once you’ve worked in the fashion industry and see how and where things are produced and what happens to them at end of life, you can’t ‘un-see’ that.
The world doesn’t need more fashion designers. It needs more creative people designing solutions.
Brana Dane: What challenges have come up in the lab?
Suzanne Lee: Where to begin?
Rule one: Designers in labs need to develop patience that’s measured in years not weeks. Rule two: Leave your ego at the door.
Rule three: The conversation between design and science is a constant tension that doesn’t go away so find creative solutions to manage it.
Brana Dane: How do you foresee overcoming the cost barrier in the future for practical production?
Suzanne Lee: Biology is eminently scalable – we’ve been producing consumer products this way for millennia.
The difference is that those products, such as using yeast to brew beer, have now been joined by using yeast to ferment biofabricated materials like silk and collagen (leather).
The costs will inevitably be high initially, just like all desirable new technologies when they come to market. As volumes increase prices will come down, but not overnight.
Brana Dane: What’s next?
Suzanne Lee: The timeline for radical new material development is not quick. It takes years of development. Right now biofabricated materials are either in R&D or just coming to market, what’s next is their adoption and iteration upon listening to consumer feedback.
Brana Dane: How would you describe your personal style?
Suzanne Lee: Mostly outside the fashion system. I have a large collection of vintage military workwear (I love utilitarian design) mixed with technical sportswear and ethnic artisanal pieces. I’m a global soul.
Brana Dane: How do you take your coffee?
Suzanne Lee: I’m more of a tea-drinker! English breakfast.