http://www.theguardian.com/sustaina.../grow-compost-wedding-dress-homegrown-fashion From wedding dresses grown from tree mulch to clothes made from yeast, bacteria and even mouse cells – welcome to the world of homegrown fashion ‘The wedding dress is a perfect example of a one-time-use, energy intensive and entirely non-sustainable model,’ says artist Erin Smith. Would you wear clothing grown from a mixture of yeast, bacteria and a sugary green tea solution? How about from a combination of plant matter and microscopic mushrooms? These odd materials may sound like something out of the Jetsons’ wardrobe, but they could have an influence on how fashion is manufactured. “I think the ability for us to grow our own clothing could have great positive potential,” says Erin Smith, artist in residence at Microsoft Research who brewed her own wedding dress. “Growing clothing from scratch could both eliminate carbon emissions caused by transportation and allow for a garment that can be grown to your precise dimensions and specifications.” Smith produced her dress using a combination of tree mulch and mycelium – a type of naturally white fungus. The mycelium was bred in a tub of agricultural waste requiring very little added energy. Once the dress had been worn, it could be composted in the garden. She made the decision to grow her own dress because she didn’t want her wedding to be dictated by tradition and to have to wear something that would just sit in her wardrobe after the event. “The concept behind a grown wedding dress was to take a one-time-use object and rethink its construction in order to have an appropriate material lifespan. The average cost of a wedding dress in the US is roughly $1,200 (£792) and can contain nearly 12 yards (11m) of fabric,” explains Smith, adding that making the fashion chain circular not only brings us closer to the environment but also reflects how needless our consumption habits are: “The wedding dress is a perfect example of a one-time-use, energy intensive and entirely non-sustainable model that is representative of so many of the choices that we make daily.” Growing a garment from mycelium isn’t a novel concept. The most notable figure in the field of biomaterials is Suzanne Lee, founder of BioCouture, a design consultancy that works with brands to apply similar technology to sportswear and luxury fashion products. Lee has been experimenting with the idea of fermenting clothes for over a decade and has grown a type of vegetable leather from green tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Fermented material. Photograph: BioCouture Back in 2004, a team at the University of Western Australia showcased a jacket from living tissue – mouse and human cells to be specific. And, a couple of years ago, Bioalloy, a research project based in the labs at the same university, produced a garment from alcohol using fibrous cellulose created by introducing bacteria into red wine. Scientists and designers are increasingly looking at ways to blur the boundaries between biology and fashion. The technology is clearly there, but what about the demand? There is an acknowledgment that biomaterials are unlikely to replace cotton and leather, and that fast fashion will keep relying on oil-based polymers like polyester. Lee has previously argued that biomaterials such as microbial cellulose would simply be “a smart and sustainable addition to our increasingly precious natural resources”. They do have environmental advantages, particularly in terms of water. For example, the team behind Scoby Tec’s biker jacket brewed from kombucha (a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast) claims that only 60 litres of water are required for one square metre of its leather. In comparison, it takes 20,000 litres to produce a single T-shirt and pair of jeans, according to WWF. ScobyTec’s biker jacket. Photograph: Marcel Wiessler Despite the clear advantages, there are challenges that need addressing before bacteria-grown clothes can reach the racks. First, there’s an issue of scalability. The current processes used are arduous and time-consuming. It took Smith about a week to grow her dress. And, if you followed Lee’s DIY recipe, it would take two to four weeks to grow your material. The question for the fashion industry therefore is how it can deliver such garments on a commercial scale without cutting corners to save money. A possible scenario highlighted by Lee is one where industrial vats of sugar from streams of food waste provide the breeding ground for bacteria. Second, there are doubts about whether people would happily wear something that has been fashioned from waste. A straw poll carried out suggests that some are uncomfortable with the idea. One respondent said it would be like putting dirty clothes back on after a bath. Others said that the thought of it made their skin crawl. Another said that we already wear silk (in his own words: “protein from a worm’s a***”), so we shouldn’t have any qualms about pulling bacteria-grown clothes off the racks. Given the technology’s environmental benefits, including the fact that the materials can be biodegraded after use, would applying it to manufacture supposedly unnecessary high-end items be counterproductive if it could be scaled up and people could overcome their aversion? Smith suggests not, because people are always going to buy and throw away clothes regardless. Growing them is simply an eco-friendly alternative. “It’s essential that consumers become more aware of the continued lifespan of their things once they’ve been thrown away,” she says. “Any object made from materials that will outlive its intended use is a part of our global waste problem.” The sustainable fashion hub is funded by H&M. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled ‘brought to you by’. Find out more here. Join the community of sustainability professionals and experts. Become a GSB member to get more stories like this direct to your inbox.