BEIRUT—Fashion students at the Lebanese American University have just held a two-day exhibition using dyes and fabrics made from bacteria, mushrooms, algae, fruit and vegetables.
The students are using eco-friendly raw material in their fashion-design studies to raise awareness about the need to shift towards a more sustainable fashion industry.
The university’s fashion-design programme, established in 2013 in collaboration with the world-renowned Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab, recently held an exhibition for second-year undergraduate students to present dyes and fabrics they had made from organic sources.
Yasmine Nahhas, age 20, used different types of algae to extract various shades of green dye.
“The algae have different pigments, and with different levels of pH or acidity you get multiple shades of green that you can use as a dye,” Nahhas said.
Her classmate Yasmine Ayass has been exploring fungal-grown materials as a substitute for conventional fabrics.
“You can make garments out of these fabrics, and when you want to dispose of them, they are environmentally friendly and non-pollutant.”Yasmine Ayass A second-year student in the fashion-design programme at the Lebanese American University
“The anti-microbial and leather-like textile is grown by the oyster mushroom, which we culture and then compress to make fabrics,” Ayyas said. “We use dyes extracted from fruits and vegetables to colour the fungus, such as beetroot for the red colour or black beans for the blue.
“You can make garments out of these fabrics, and when you want to dispose of them, they are environmentally friendly and non-pollutant.”
Bio-Design as Part of the Curriculum
With overconsumption and mass production, the clothing industry has become one of the biggest polluters in the world. The production of a single cotton T-shirt, for instance, requires over 700 gallons of water, putting tremendous strain on the planet’s finite resources.
The Lebanese American University is the first in the country to introduce bio-design into its fashion-design curriculum, said Jalal Moghrabi, an adjunct faculty member who teaches the history of fashion.
“We work with students to develop their own biodegradable materials, bio-fabricated colour systems and bio-textiles,” Moghrabi told Al-Fanar Media.
“We spend time in the laboratory trying to grow mycelium leather from mushrooms and to dye fabrics with bacteria,” he said.
Gallery: Eco-Friendly Fashion Design
The bio-design lab is the outcome of collaboration between microbiologists and designers, he added. “They bring in the science and we bring in creativity.”
Bio-design is becoming an inherent part of the fashion-design curriculum, instead of a standalone course.
“Sustainability is a way of perceiving life in general, and design is definitely an inherent part of life,” Moghrabi said.
“We have been tackling these issues theoretically for more than two years, but it took us a while—and Covid did not help—to be able to carry out these things in a hands-on-manner.”
Workshop on Zero-Waste Design
They invited sustainable-fashion experts to teach and encourage fashion-design students from the region to think in an eco-innovative manner and use zero-waste techniques throughout their careers.
“Sustainability is a way of perceiving life in general, and design is definitely an inherent part of life.”Jalal Moghrabi An adjunct faculty member who coordinated a workshop on zero-waste fashion
Participants were asked to come up with innovative designs without wasting the 15 percent of the fabric usually left on the pattern-cutting floor.
“The challenge was how do you still realise a design with zero waste of fabric,” said Moghrabi, who coordinated the workshop.
He added: “At first, they thought it was going to be impossible, but then they found a way around it and a new aesthetic came about from the entire workshop. … They designed full looks with trousers and jackets. It was surprising because they had no idea what they were going to create in less than three days, and we didn’t even know how things were going to look because it is still a very experimental approach to creating designs.”
Zero-waste pattern cutting will be incorporated into the curriculum in the coming semester, Moghrabi said.
“It is important to acquaint students with these techniques and approaches. It is a very interesting dynamic and forward-looking approach to create anything, not only fashion. This is something that we are trying to encourage within our school.”
Bacteria for a ‘Moody Wardrobe’
Dana Saade, a second-year student, traveled to Lake Qaraoun in eastern Lebanon to collect the cyanobacteria she needed to create what she dubbed “the moody wardrobe,” which changes colour according to one’s mood.
Sustainable design “is a very interesting dynamic and forward-looking approach to create anything, not only fashion. This is something that we are trying to encourage within our school.”Jalal Moghrabi
“Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic microorganisms commonly found in freshwater ecosystems,” she said. “They have the unique ability to change colour according to temperature and light. When we get angry our body temperature rises and the colour of the fabric dyed with cyanobacteria pigments turns to darker green. When we are relaxed and calm the colour becomes lighter. It changes colour according to body temperature, indicating our mood.”
At the core of the new approach to fashion design is raising awareness about sustainability in the fashion industry.
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“We are trying to rewire our students’ mentality to understanding material culture and value,” Moghrabi said. “It is not enough to create a nice T-shirt without conceiving the context—in other words, without considering how it is made, how it is used over time and how it is discarded. These are the dimensions you need to think about today.”
“It is a challenging approach, but we are super excited about venturing into this terrain of bio-ecological design.”