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BIOmatters: A New Age of Biosynthetic-Technology in the Textile and Apparel Industry

BIOmatters explores how the role of design could change in the textile and apparel industry if synthetic biology is established as a new technology and production method. The field of synthetic biology is an industry developing methods for ‘reprogramming’ cells to produce bespoke materials, medicines and biofuels. The research explores this emerging industry from the perspective of fashion and textile industry application in order to seek sustainable solutions, new materials and circular models, to tackle key industry issues. It explores whether reprogrammed microbes could become our ‘factories of the future’ (Lee, 2005) fostering a new design paradigm based on cultivation, growth and living cells. 


The overarching research aim is to explore whether critical/speculative design approaches can be utilised to research and question the potential of biosynthetic technologies in the textile and apparel industry. It draws upon theory and examples from the disciplines including bio art and design, design theory, future and sustainable fashion and textiles, biotechnology, synthetic biology and bioengineering in relation to new materials. To achieve this creative practice was utilized as the main research method. Focus groups and interviews will be conducted as a second phase of data collection during the exhibition of the work.


The research demonstrates that a new paradigm of production is emerging driven by designers, artists, start-ups and hackspaces. In this new paradigm of production, it is evident that a new paradigm of design needs to emerge. Critical/Speculative Design can play a key role in developing different narratives for discussion and analysis. In order to do this effectively it needs to be research driven and critical and less speculative and hypothetical. It also needs to engage in critical analysis and reflection through applying relevant research methods, analysis and dissemination. 


Results are relevant too design researchers, textile designers, speculative designers and synthetic biologists working on collaborative design projects. Limitations of the study were predominately secondary research sources, limited opportunities for feedback and a lack of connection to synthetic biologists and potential to collaborate. Further research opportunities include engaging focus groups and interviewees with the objects and gaining primary qualitative data from these pieces. Exhibiting the work in various settings for further feedback and data collection. Further development of works from the scenario shaped within this thesis to address interconnecting topics and themes.

Design - Hannah Hansell

Author - Hannah Hansell

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