In case you were wondering, the COVID-19 pandemic is still happening. What will happen with our jobs and the economy in general, is still largely unknown. However, we can already see some changes in specifics fields of the fashion industry. Today specifically I want to …
COVID-19 has paralyzed the whole world in just a few months. People are dying. Economies are collapsing, unemployment is growing, our hedonistic lives are on hold. Experts are predicting the biggest economic crisis since The Great Depression of the 1930s. On the other hand, the …
I stumbled upon Adrienn Újházi on Instagram a few days ago. I’ve never heard about her before nor was I aware that one could make alternative materials for clothes out of SCOBY. That thought blew my mind, completely. Many of you are probably wondering what in the world is SCOBY?
SCOBY is usually used in the production of beverages like kefir or kombucha, and it is actually short for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Although I am a passionate kombucha lover, SCOBY also interests me because you can make a material similar to vegan leather out of it.
Adrienn Újházi, a 24-year-old artist from Novi Sad, Serbia is very familiar with how to do that as she makes art pieces out of SCOBY. She shared the whole process with me as well as her thoughts on the future of this interesting biomaterial.
When did you decide to start using natural biodegradable materials in your work? What kind of materials have you used so far?
My interest in natural materials was always here. It started in my childhood and developed naturally with time through learning and experience. I think that nature holds a secret, and I’m trying to discover it through a game of aesthetics, researching organic and biomaterials. Most of my work is made of natural materials combined with digital tools. That means that I use minimal intervention to get to the product, to an art piece. We are bombed with unnecessary information in this colorful contemporary world, we are missing the raw, clean contact with something natural. My work is dominated by textures and natural colors of the materials I use and reframe in a different context. Mostly I used flour, straw, sand, wheat, and SCOBY.
Do you recall the moment when you realized you can make art with SCOBY? What did that look like?
I found out about it accidentally when I was researching unconventional art materials in painting. I dug deeper into research and practical work and came to an unexpected solution. My idea at first was to grow the material myself so I’ll be able to use it for different things later. The texture I got was similar to some experiments I did with flour and different other ingredients. I got a point where it became more elastic and it reminded me of faux leather. The moment I discovered SCOBY opened up a whole new field for research, I’m really happy about that.
What did your first process of making SCOBY look like? Were you excited? What did the result look like?
The first process was very exciting and I was also very nervous. Through my natural material research, I learned not to expect a lot because nature always does its own thing. I did the whole process of growing the SCOBY myself, it’s really simple. Sterilization is really important as well as adding just the right amount of ingredients to grow a SCOBY. Also, later you have to learn how to stop the material from further development.
I learned not to expect a lot because nature always does its own thing.
How do you make SCOBY today? Do you experiment more than before?
To grow a larger amount of SCOBY you need a big, clean room. I didn’t have that because I kept moving from one workspace to another. Now I grow it at home. When I make a SCOBY of desired thickness, I take it to my atelier to finish. To grow it you just need to be very patient and give it time so the culture could grow properly. That also dictates the pace of your experiment.
And what are you making out of it in the atelier?
In the beginning, I would take a small piece and incorporate it into my art pieces, they were miniatures presented through a series called Introduction to Biophilia. Those pieces were presented as a small experiment of notes about technological research. As I got deeper into it, I found new aesthetical solutions. I combined smaller pieces on larger formats in a lightbox. Those ambient works were gathered in a series called just Biophilia which represents a man’s connection with nature and other forms of life. The artificial light in those boxes highlights the texture of SCOBY even better. Using these tools I wanted to highlight human ability to manipulate nature. To make these large pieces you need a lot of time. While I wait for it to develop, I research on the internet, I discover new artists who do the same thing and share their visual journals online. I’m also putting extra work into discovering new abilities and the general capacity of SCOBY so that someday we might use it for different purposes in our daily lives.
Last year you posted about a hat you made of SCOBY. When and how did you learn that you can make garments and accessories out of SCOBY?
I always try to make a functional biodegradable object out of the material I grow. That’s why it was my choice to try and make a hat. It was also my answer to mass production in the fashion industry. This hat is a ready-made object primarily made of straw, a symbol of memento mori which reminds us to live in the moment and help each other. I made it when I grew a super thick SCOBY, I wrapped it up with layers of hemp and gauze that I used as connective tissue. The hat has six thick layers of SCOBY and it took me around two months to make it. My vision was to turn my favorite fashion piece into a biodegradable hat. I’m still researching that.
How hard is it to make SCOBY into something wearable? I read about how you can dye it with indigo, how to make it darker… there are a lot of options that allow you to still maintain a sustainable and biodegradable product.
Creating my art allows me to recognize new things about creativity, tolerance, and durability. Not having maximum control over my work is what I enjoy and that dictates my pace. Unexpected things can also happen like for example if your SCOBY gets moldy. Those are moments of dialog with the culture I grow that allow me to look for the best solution for a quality product. It can be dyed, best with natural pigments. However, I’m currently focused on its natural state and beauty that comes without other organic substances.
Not having maximum control over my work is what I enjoy.
Do you plan to keep making clothing and accessories with SCOBY?
I want to research it to the point where I can get the finished product faster and more efficiently, and for that, I need better growing conditions. I don’t have that right now but I will get there. As far as clothes are concerned, right now I just want to focus on accessories like hats. I feel like that’s a piece that can tell you about one’s personality and taste. I always pick a hat first and then build it with other pieces. When I started my research I was lucky enough to meet a biodesigner, Maja Halilović, who is a very kind person with good intentions. We are the only ones doing this in our region right now and have plans to spread our knowledge about new biodegradable materials.
How do people around you react when you tell them you make art with SCOBY? What do they say?
Every reaction is unique and positive which means a lot to me. Advice and support from the audience are precious to me and big motivation. That’s why I like to speak publicly about what I do. When I talk to someone about it I feel like it’s really important to show them the photos of SCOBY telling them also how I use it to make art. I saw a sparkle in most people’s eyes when I’d tell them about this. They tend to smile also. Aesthetically, I think this type of work is very refreshing and I also like the fact people learn something new through my work, something they can use in everyday life. It’s one of the reasons why I do this, there’s still so much to discover.
Goodwill and good time management give everyone a chance to make better decisions.
Generally, can the world that we live in today understand new materials? Or more precisely, are we ready to replace the cheap, often life-threatening, fabrics that we buy at high street stores?
Based on my current experience, I think people are quite open to accepting new materials that have their purpose and value for our future. The only problem is that most of us feel limited and trapped because of other resources that should eventually be reduced. Specifically, I’m talking about the mass production of clothing. There are alternative solutions like upcycling old garments, buying second hand, donating, recycling… Besides the food industry, the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters of our planet and that can be balanced with a new approach. Goodwill and good time management give everyone a chance to make better decisions and take smaller steps to bring change in their lives.
What was this month anyway? The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing AND a 5.5 magnitude earthquake hit the north of my country. Therefore, I concluded that there are only two important news to highlight from March 2020. 1. Famous brands canceling their orders causing over …
I knew who Matea Benedetti was for a few years before I finally heard her speak in October 2018. A few of my pieces were exhibited at a large exhibition in Ljubljana, Slovenia held during their Month of Design. The exhibition was amazing but I …
Hi folks, February was a rollercoaster, March is an even bigger one. Let’s go through the news that caught my eye.
Fire In An Indian Factory Nandan Denim Kills 7 Workers
Seven people died in a fire in an Indian Factory Nandan Denim, one of the largest denim suppliers in the world. The company reportedly supplies denim to Target, Mango and Wrangler among others. However, it seems it wasn’t safe for its workers. A senior fire official who was at the scene said that the factory had only one door accessible only by climbing a steep ladder. Read more on VOA News.
Nitrogen Dioxide Levels Go Down Over China Due To COVID-19 Quarantine
NASA has released satellite images of China that show a dramatic decrease in pollution levels. Their scientist reported lower levels of nitrogen dioxide, a gas emitted mostly by motor vehicles and industrial facilities. “The space agency noted that the decline in air pollution levels coincided with restriction imposed on transportation and business activities, and as millions of people went into quarantine.” China’s Wuhan was until recently the epicentre of COVID-19. However, the biggest struggle is now going on in Europe. Read more on BBC.
Gabriela Hearts Gives Garments Digital Identity
One of the hardest things for big brands in the fashion industry is keeping every bit of their supply chain completely transparent. (If they want to show it in the first place.) That’s why Gabriela Hearst teamed up with “software platform Eon that will assign digital identities to the pieces in the collection. When customers activate the QR codes on the labels of Hearst’s SS20 collection, they gain access to information about the garments, including the materials used, country of origin, production process, carbon footprint and the narrative behind the design.” Read more on Vogue Business.
Miret Starts Pre-Campaigning For New Generation Of Sustainable Sneakers
Miret is a Croatian brand of sustainable sneakers that is just getting ready to launch the second generation of their sneakers. There are two things to know about them. Firstly, the new generation sneakers are 97 percent natural. Secondly, they’re made from hemp, kenaf, flax, cork, wood, corn, jute, eucalyptus, natural rubber and natural wool from New Zealand. They launch on March 3rd on Kickstarter. Read more on Super1.
The UN Calls The Fashion Industry To Action
The night before the first day of New York Fashion Week, UN and Arcadia Earth hosted an Art exhibition. They used it as a platform to call the representatives of the fashion industry to take action. As a result, they expect them to help them achieve 17 sustainability goals they set in 2015. They talked about women’s rights, modern day slavery and water pollution, among other things. Read more on Vogue Business.
In my new monthly review, we’ll go through some of the most important sustainability news from the past month. Without further ado, here we go. First Renewably Sourced Nylon Introduced For Wide Use Genomatica, a company from San Diego, announced that it has produced the …
To say farewell to this old decade, I’m introducing a new section on Stitch. Every week I will try to sum up the news from the week behind us. I say I will try, I can’t make any promises. Anyhow, I think it’s important to …
I’ve wanted to write about leather for quite some time. It’s needless to say that this topic is very controversial. And, when it comes to sustainability in fashion – it’s even more so. Without further ado, here are some facts you should take into consideration when working with or buying leather.
THE WELLBEING OF ANIMALS
Obviously, problem number one with leather is the fact an animal has to die for us to wear its skin. According to PETA, every year, the global leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals and tans their skins and hides.
Some might argue that leather is actually good since the skin is a co-product of the meat industry and would otherwise be thrown away. That’s a fair point but the meat industry is a huge problem for the environment itself and making leftover skins into leather instead of throwing them away isn’t quite environmentally friendly as it might sound. According to PETA, “until the late 1800s, animal skin was air- or salt-dried and tanned with vegetable tannins or oil, but today, animal skin is turned into finished leather with a variety of much more dangerous substances, including formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, mineral salts, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of which are cyanide-based.”
These substances are harmful to people who work with them, they make the previously biodegradable skin into a non-biodegradable one and eventually, as Tansy Hosking wrote in her book Stitched Up, they end up in our rivers and pollute our drinking water.
Also, when we talk about skins as co-products of the meat industry, we think of cattle skin. And what about exotic animal skins?
Last year Prada bought 700 young alligators and 26 full-grown alligators to make bags, shoes and other items from their hydes. (The Fashion Law) And that’s just one brand and one type of animal. Snakes, ostriches, kangaroos, yaks, sheep all get slaughtered for their skins or even worse, are skinned alive.
How can we avoid this? Stop buying leather or buy it second hand. But what if you really want a piece that at least looks like its made of leather?
YOU’VE BEEN FOOLED BY VEGAN LEATHER
Going vegan is the number one thing to do today. Everyone’s drinking oat milk, they’ve ditched meat and are promoting so-called vegan leather. But do they even know what vegan leather really is?
When you say something is vegan people will often think it’s also environmentally friendly because, well, vegans love nature and animals and don’t consume anything of animal origin. That might be true but it doesn’t make vegan leather environmentally friendly.
Vegan leather does not harm animals, and that’s a good thing. However, vegan leather is in most cases made of a polyester base with a PVC or polyurethane coating. According to CSIRO honorary research fellow and leather expert Robin Cranston, “they’re usually manufactured from fossil fuels and take a long time to break down once they reach the end of their useful life. (…) So you go from one industry which is traditionally based on skins that come from the meat industry to another industry that’s heavily dependent on petrochemicals.”
Besides being dependent on petrochemicals, the whole process of making PVC or polyurethane leather is also extremely harmful to the environment. British Vogue‘s writer and editor Ellie Pithers wrote about that subject and stated the following: “Both polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride must undergo chemical processes to make them flexible enough to mimic leather: the former involves painting liquified polyurethane onto a fabric backing, which requires a toxic solvent to render it fluid; the latter requires plasticizers such as phthalates, which are also toxic. Both derive from fossil fuels which, when burnt, release materials such as ash, nitrogen, and carbon into the atmosphere, which contribute to acid rain (as well as lots of other horrible things).”
CAN VEGAN LEATHER EVER BE GOOD
Absolutely yes. You can find many amazing alternatives out there that are sustainable, not harmful for the animals, and are biodegradable. There is Mylo, a vegan leather made from mushrooms’ underground structures developed by Bolt Threads. You’ve probably already heard of Piñatex, a vegan leather made from pineapple leaves in Spain by Ananas Anam that even H&M used in their sustainable collections. There is a company in Bolzano, Italy, called Frumat that makes leather from apple skins. And then there is Desserto, a new vegan leather developed this year in Mexico, made from the nopal cactus.
Leather can also be upcycled which is a method that a lot of designers have embraced in their work. Sarah Burton, Vivienne Westwood, Marine Sere and Price On Request (Croatia) are just a few of them. If you know any other leather alternatives, do let me know. And just stop buying leather.
Photo from “Friends/S05E11/The One with All the Resolutions” (1999).
When I started this blog I didn’t think there was a need to write an article that explains what is sustainable fashion. Sustainable energy, sustainable food, sustainable fashion – it’s all everybody talks about these days. Well, as it turns out, people don’t talk about …