Two-day natural dyeing workshops at Aranya Natural, Munnar

aranya natural

 

The first two days of “The sustainability of natural dyes” conference took place at Eastend hotel in Munnar, followed by two days of natural dyeing workshops (at an extra cost) at Aranya Natural’s HQ. Due to limited numbers, all the spaces for the workshops filled up quickly, but many conference attendees requested to stand by and watch, which subsequently overfilled the workshops on the first day.

It was hard to blame those who wanted to watch the workshops as it was a rare opportunity to learn from three leading natural dyeing experts and a group of Japanese indigo farmers and dyers. Since the process of natural dyeing involves the understanding of chemistry, many of the experts would focus more on the chemistry rather than the aesthetics. To me, this is quite valuable, as I believe it is crucial to understand the science behind it all in order to achieve the desired results.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

The first workshop that I attended was conducted by Michel Garcia, a world-renowned botanist, chemist, dyer, and naturalist. He is the founder of Couleur Garance (1998) in Lauris, France, and established Le Jardin Conservatoire de Plantes Tinctoriales (Botanical Garden of Dye Plants) in 2000. I have long wanted to attend a workshop by Michel, but he doesn’t seem to conduct many regular workshops, and I can only watch his videos online. In person, he is very funny, passionate and creative, you can really feel his passion for plants and natural dyeing.

In natural dyeing, a mordant is often needed to fix the dyes onto the textiles, and the most common mordant used is alum/potassium aluminium sulfate. At the workshop, Michel demonstrated how to use old tea leaves as a natural mordant, which was very interesting. However, the workshop was extremely packed, which made it difficult for us to hear and follow him properly. It was a shame that this issue was only addressed on the next day.

 

aranya natural  michel garcia

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

Screen printing workshop using natural dyes with Michel Garcia

 

The afternoon workshop was conducted by Jagada Rajappa, who is an independent textile entrepreneur/consultant on natural dyes. She demonstrated dyeing silk yarn with kapila (mellotus Phllipinces) and lac (coccous Lacca), which resulted in vibrant red and yellow. The results revealed that naturally dyed colours are not dull and muted as many would expect.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

Jagada Rajappas workshop and ceremony

 

The next day, the workshops were restricted to those who had originally enrolled, which made more sense. The first workshop was conducted by Linda LaBelle, who is a weaver and natural dyer specialising in indigo. She also runs the website The Yarn Tree that sells fair-trade indigo and other natural dyed items. After yesterday’s observational workshops, I was longing to get my hands dirty. Finally, we got to do some doodling with natural indigo on some cotton fabric that has been pre-dyed in myrobalan. It was a fun session and we got to taste some indigo tea grown by Linda.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

Indigo Doodles workshop with Linda LaBelle

 

The last session was the one I had been looking forward to since I signed up months ago. Buaisou was established in Tokushima by a collective of indigo farmers in 2015, and it is partly responsible for the revival of natural indigo worldwide in recent years. Not only it has over 44K followers on Instagram, it also collaborates frequently with other fashion and textiles companies to promote Japanese indigo and the colour ‘Japan Blue’. Buaisou is renowned for its indigo leaf farming – from cultivating the raw indigo, fermenting the indigo leaves (Sukumo), dyeing, and designing, all the way to production. Since the fermentation process takes around 10 days, Kyoko (the manager) had to arrive 2 weeks earlier to set up the vat.

 

buaisou

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop  buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

 

Since I have previously tried katagami (making paper stencils for dyeing textiles) and katazome (the Japanese method of dyeing fabrics using a resist paste applied through a stencil) with Bryan Whitehead in Japan (see my earlier post), I was quite familiar with the process. This time, I didn’t need to design and cut my own stencils as there were many beautiful and complex precut designs to choose from. We were all given a cotton bandana to work on, and after applying the paste through the stencils, we all took turns to dip the fabric into the indigo vat with some guidance.

I would say this was a taster workshop, and would love to learn more from them when I next visit Tokushima (which was supposed to happen this year but it got cancelled because of COVID-19).

 

buaisou workshop  buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

 

After the workshop, it was time to say goodbye to everyone. Over the four days, I made many new friends from around the world who share the same passion as me, and got the opportunity to chat to many experts in the field, hence the conference has exceeded all my expectations. The fact that it managed to take place just before COVID-19 became a pandemic was extremely lucky.

After exchanging contacts with many attendees, a few of us decided to walk back to town and have dinner together. It was a pleasant walk downhill and we had a fun girls’ night out – something that I haven’t done for a long time.

In the past few years, the pursue of natural dyeing has opened doors for me and enabled me to make new friends from around the world. This was completely unexpected, and it made me realise that I am on the right path.

 

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

munnar

munnar

aranya natural

munnar

munnar

 

 

Aranya Natural & Athulya at Srishti Welfare Centre in Munnar

aranya natural

 

Before visiting Munnar, I was not aware of the health issues related to tea plantation workers in India. Often foreign media would focus on the working conditions of garment factory workers, yet the problems related to tea plantation workers (primarily female) are largely ignored. Although they are not stuck inside cramped factories, tea plantation workers have to deal with other serious safety and health issues. Locals told me that workers not only have to work long hours at low wages, they also have to live together in communial dormitories with poor sanitation at the tea estates. Health awareness among the tea plantation workers is poor, and often they give births to children with various health conditions and disabilities, yet they receive hardly any government support.

 

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

 

In 1991, the Srishti Trust was formed, backed by Tata Tea Limited, to support differently-abled children of the estate workers. Founded by Ratna Krishna Kumar, the Trust launched two major projects: Aranya Natural and Athulya, aiming to rehabilitate local youngsters in a safe and fair environment. Later, Nisarga (the strawberry unit) and The Deli (a bakery and confectionery) were added to make preserves, breads and cookies using locally-grown ingredients.

Most visitors to Munnar would head to the main tourist attractions, but few would seek out the Srishti Welfare Centre. Well, they are really missing out. In 1996, the Srishti Welfare Centre moved to an abandoned shed in Tata Tea’s Nettimudi estate outside of the town centre. Their beautiful site is open to the public and visitors can meet many happy workers who are trained at natural dyeing and paper-making. What started out as an experiment has paid off for Ratna and her all-female team’, now even big corporations have employed the Trust to make paper and textiles-related products.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

Aryana Natural is the natural dyeing department at Srishti. All the textiles here are created in a non-toxic environment and all the dyes are azo-free. Many dyes are locally sourced, like eucalyptus, Nilgiri kozha (eupatorium), tea waste, pine cones and other leaves, petals, roots and bark are harvested from the forest nearby. Some specific dyes are sourced elsewhere, like indigo from South India, lac from Jangir Champa, and myrobalan, from traditional medicine shops in Coimbatore. Only natural fabrics such as cotton and silk are used as they work best with natural dyes.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

Every newcomer would receive training by volunteered trainers for about six months on skills particular to their aptitude and interests. Each artisan would specialise in at least one technique i.e. shibori or traditional block printing. World-renowned Japanese textile artist and researcher, Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, regularly visits and acts as mentor to the young learners. She introduced many traditional Japanese shibori techniques to the trainees, which enable them to develop the skills further. Most of the artisans I spoke to told me that they really enjoy their work, and it was amazing to watch them work – they are fast and very skilled.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

 

Athulya is the handmade paper unit that creates handmade paper from recycle waste paper, cut boards and other stationery waste. It is committed to use only natural additives in their paper, most of them are found around Munnar like tea, eucalyptus leaves, lemon grass, pineapple leaves, onion peel, flower petals, elephant droppings and water hyacinth (which is a weed affecting our back waters).

Now around thirty people work in this unit and they produce over 52 eco-friendly, azo-free, biodegradable recycled paper products by hand. It is also encouraging to see Starbucks hiring the unit to produce their shopping bags.

 

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya  Athulya

 

At the back of the sheds, there are a line of greenhouses growing organic vegetables and plants. Seasonal vegetables are picked and used in the Srishti canteen where nearly two hundred employees have lunch every day. There is also a playground for the staff’s children to play, and an award-winning flower garden that features a wide variety of flowers.

 

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

 

One cannot come here without stopping at the shop. The Aranya Natural shop has to be the most beautiful shop in Munnar. It sells one-of-a-kind handdyed scarves, clothing and home accessories made by the artisans next door. The prices are extremely reasonable and you would not be able to find them elsewhere. If you purchase here, you are directly helping the centre and the artisans, thus making a bold statement supporting sustainable textiles and fashion.

 

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

The Srishti Welfare Centre is not only a beautiful site, it is also an inspiring organisation. Before my trip, I knew little about this place, and I am flabbergasted that few people outside of the textiles world have heard of it. If you have only one day in Munnar, make sure that you spare time to visit this centre because it is well worth it.

 

 

 

 

Aranya Natural’s “The sustainability of natural dyes” conference in Munnar

aranya natural conference

 

The purpose of my trip to India in February was to attend a natural dyeing conference. And it took place before COVID-19 changed our lives. Aranya Natural is a natural dyeing organisation under Srishti Trust in Munnar, supported by TATA Global Beverages Limited, which runs programs for the education training and rehabilitation of the differently abled children of Munnar’s tea plantation workers. Last year, it was the organisation’s 25th anniversary, and “The sustainability of natural dyes” conference was organised as part of the celebration. However, the conference was postponed by a year after a major flood in Kerala devasted many parts of the state. It was fortunate that the conference managed to take place before COVID-19 started to spread in India, otherwise it would have been cancelled for the second time.

Honestly, I am not a big fan of conference and would rarely volunteerily attend one. Yet this conference was like no other, and I felt that it would be beneficial if I want to continue my natural dyeing practice. To me, natural dyeing is not merely a hobby, it has become my passion and aspiration in recent years. Currently, we are seeing a revival of natural and indigo dyeing as many people realise the harmful effects of synthetic dyes on our bodies and environment.

 

aranya natural conference  indigo farmer aranya natural conference

Left: The conference schedule; Right: A local indigo farmer and conference attendee

 

The 2-day conference took place at Eastend Hotel in Munnar, bringing dyers, manufacturers, teachers, designers, farmers, and enthusiasts etc together from Indian and around the world. One huge draw for me was the list of speakers, which included experts like Yoshiko Wada, Jenny Balfour Paul, Michel Garcia, Charlotte Kwon (Maiwa), Dominique Cardon, Jagada Rajappa and Buaisou… these are all big names in the natural dyeing and textiles world, so it was a rare opportunity to meet them all in one room.

One factor differentiates Aranya Natural from other organisations – it is an all-women team led by a visionary founder, Ratna Krishnakumar. Since India is a patriarchal society, it is inspiring to see the empowerment of women here. The fact is women in India are likely to face more challenges than women in the West, so being able to run an all-female team here is highly commendable.

The conference also addressed the most important issue that we are facing in the textiles and fashion industry today – sustainability. The rise of fast fashion has done immense damage to our environment in the past decade or so, hence the conference aimed to increase the awareness of natural dyes, and discuss how the industry can shift from using synthetic dyes to more sustainable ones.

 

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

 

Until recently, sustainability has been fashion industry’s last concern. If you trace the path of your favourite item from Primark, then you might be in for a surprise. Your ‘bargain’ £10 shirt probably costs about £3-4 to make, meanwhile the garment factory worker in Bangladesh would receive less than £1 for a day’s work (14-16 hours). Aside from exploitation of these workers, the environmental damage caused by the chemicals used is unaccountable. Although India has had a long history with natural dyes, many garment manufacturers have now switched to synthetic dyes to cope with the high demand from the fast fashion sector. Natural dyes have been pushed aside due to higher costs. lower production rate and more labour intensive.

So, how can we re-introduce natural dyes back into the profit-driven industry? There are no easy answers, but I did meet some young Indian designers at the conference who are using natural dyes to create beautiful designs. I do hope that they will change the landscape of Indian fashion in the future.

 

aranya natural conference

Soham Dave and his sustainable collection

 

When I was still a student years ago, I bought my first shibori book, “Shibori: The Inventive Art Of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing” by artist, author, and curator, Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada. This is an important book to me and I never thought I would get the chance to meet Yoshiko in person, but I did – we even exchanged contacts, and later had dinner together, which all felt a bit surreal. Besides Yoshida, I also spoke to other speakers like Dominique Cardon, Michel Garcia, Axel Becker, Jagada Rajappa, William Ingram from Threads of Life, and Rashmi Bharti, the co-founder of Avani. The conference also enabled me to connect and make friends with attendees from around the world. Many of them are dyers, designers, textiles teachers, and shop owners etc, so I found the whole experience valuable and unforgettable.

 

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

 

The talks on both days covered a wide range of topics relating to sustainability and natural dyeing, but the word ‘indigo’ was a key term at the conference. Indigo is probably the most mysterious and complex natural dye of all. Indigofera is a flowering plant of over 750 species and belongs to the pea family, Fabaceae. It has been in cultivation in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide for many centuries, yet the characteristics of each specie varies and can yield different shades of blue. The world-renowned indigo expert writer, artist and curator, Jenny Balfour-Paul has published several indigo-related books, and she was the last speaker to give a talk on indigo. Not long ago, I read her novel “Deeper than Indigo: Tracing Thomas Machell, Forgotten Explorer, hence it was interesting to hear her examine the colour ‘blue’ from many angles.

 

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

Talks and slides on indigo

 

On both evenings after the conference, there were entertainments including dance and music performances, violin recital, and fashion show. The fashion show featured natural dyed designs created by Riddhi Jain (Studio Medium), Sreejith Jeevan (Studio Rouka) and Sunita Shankar. Unlike other fashion shows, their show was modelled by workers at Srishti, which was more authentic and fun.

Based in New Dehli, Riddhi Jain is a rising star in India’s fashion world who has won the Elle Decor India Design Awards, International Craft Awards and India Story design awards amongst others. She told me that she employs a small team of artisans and designers to create beautiful hand-dyed and hand-stitched shibori pieces that are one of a kind. I love her designs, and honestly, I would rather spend my money on an unique handmade piece that supports a local craft community than a designer piece that supports its marketing campaigns and executives.

 

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference  aranya natural conference

Riddhi Jain (Studio Medium)

 Sunita Shankar

Sreejith Jeevan (Studio Rouka)

3rd row: Riddhi Jain and her collection; 4th row: Sunita Shankar and her collection; bottom row: Sreejith Jeevan and his collection.

 

I never knew that conferences could be so exhausting! Besides two full-day talks from 9am to 5pm, I did not anticipate two hours of evening entertainments, followed by dinners at 9 pm on both nights. Despite the lack of rest, I was still looking forward to attending two more days of workshops led by different experts. And I got to visit the beautiful site of Aranya Natural, which is located outside of the polluted town centre.

To be continued…

 

aranya natural conference

I loved my conference gift bag

 

 

African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection at Brunei Gallery

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Often it is easy to miss many excellent exhibitions in a big city like London, especially after Timeout got rid of its exhibitions listing when it became a free magazine. Meanwhile, the few art listing apps don’t seem to be comprehensive either. This is when Instagram can be useful sometimes… it was a post that caught my attention and brought me to The African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection exhibition at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery. Thanks to this post, I managed to see the remarkable exhibition before it ended. I felt that the show was not given the publicity it deserved, and many people who are interested in the subject probably would have missed it like I almost did.

The Karun Thakar Collection is one of the world’s largest private collections of African textiles, and this exhibition showcased 150 exhibits and textiles from west and north Africa including Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Karun Thakar is a passionate collector of textiles, and it would be hard not to be impressed by the outstandling and vast collection.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collectionimg_4997-min

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

In recent years, I have devoted more of my time to the world of textiles. One of the reasons why textiles fascinate me so much is the important roles they play in every culture throughout history. Every handmade textile tells a story, which reveals the fascinating tradition of where it comes from. Often I am surprised by the similarities between textiles made from different parts of the world. The language of textiles is universal and it can break through all cultural barriers.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Before the exhibition, I knew very little about African textiles, so I was quite blown away by the vibrant colour combinations, primitive patterns, and the variety of weaving and dyeing techniques. Aside from large hangings, there were also rugs, costumes, jewellery, and even a wonderful selection of woven hats.

There were some distinctive stripweave ‘kente’ or ‘nwentoma‘ cloths made by the Ashanti and Ewe tribes from Ghana at the exhibition. The cloths have interwoven checkered patterns made of silk and cotton fabrics, and each colour has a symbolic meaning.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

I particularly loved the Indigo room, which was full of indigo-dyed textiles. Indigo is an ancient dye, and the oldest known indigo-dyed textile was discovered in 2009 at Huaca Prieta, Peru dating to 6,000 years ago. Yet the practice of indigo-dyeing also has a long history in India, Japan, China, S.E.Asia, Iran, Africa and Europe. In Egypt, blue stripes found in the borders of Egyptian linen mummy cloths were dated around 2400 BC.

Inside the room, there were many indigo pieces from West India (partcicularly from Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon), where the tradition of indigo dyeing has been practised for centuries. It was really interesting to see works created by the resist-dyed technique; although they are not as refined and sophisticated as the ones in Japan, the primitive aesthetics make them unique, and immensely different from the bold and colourful ones in the other rooms.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

If you missed the exhibition, you can buy the book ‘African Textiles’ published by Prestel, 2015. My wish, though, is that one day Mr Karun Thakar’s collection would get a permanent space somewhere so that the public can admire and learn more about the beautiful textiles from this continent.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Festival of Natural Fibres & Saori weaving at Craft Central

craft central  craft central

 

Even though I live in London, I don’t often venture away from my neighbourhood or the centre, and I had no idea where the Isle of Dogs is until I looked it up on google. I have not been to the Craft Central‘s new venue since they moved across town more than two years ago. Their new space is a Grade II listed Victorian (1860) forge with many historic features located Isle of Dogs not far from Canary Wharf. The spacious industrial building was converted by Emrys Architects to provide artist studios and exhibition hall for crafts people and other creative professionals.

I missed the Festival of Natural fibre in Sept, but I attended part 2 of the festival in November. Organised by Khadi London, Freeweaver SAORI Studio, ONE and Craft Central, the festival aimed to showcase the best ethical and sustainable products, and discussed current trends and challenges in the revolution in the global textiles industry. Personally, I I believe that when the public learn more about the environmental damage caused by fast fashion, many are likely to change their shopping habits (though it takes times), and this festival highlights the beauty and sustainability of textiles and fashion made from natural fibres.

 

craft central  craft central

craft central  craft central

 

There were textiles workshops throughout the day, but unfortunately they were all fully booked when I tried to book. It shows the popularity of these craft workshops nowadays!

 

craft central  craft central

craft central

craft central

craft central

 

There was a demonstration of Indian Charkha wheel spinning, a craft that is often associated with Mahatma Gandhi and regarded as the symbol of the Provisional Government of Free India. The handwoven cloth spun by the wheel is called Khadi, which is usually made of cotton or other natural fiber cloth originating from India and Bangladesh. Also, the yarn used is dyed naturally, so it is much more sustainable than synthetic dyes.

 

craft central  craft central

house of tamarind  house of tamarind

Bottom: House of tamarind

 

At the event, there were some items that are woven with natural fibres in the Japanese Saori weaving style, which I found quite fascinating. Established by Misao Jo (1913-2018) at the age of 57, Saori is free style hand weaving with no rules or restrictions. There is a sense of freedom and liberation, and it enables the weaver to express his/her creativity through the weaving.

Although I couldn’t sign up for the workshop on the day of the festival, I did sign up for a workshop with textiles artist Erna Janine from Freeweaver Saori studio a few weeks after the event ended. Erna helped us to set up the loom and asked us to pick from a wide range of coloured threads from her studio.

 

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori

 

For next few hours, we were just weaving away and being as creative as possible. Since there were no rules, I decided to go a bit ‘wild’ and make a more 3-D piece with the wool I found. I absolutely loved the experience, and I wished that the workshop was longer. I used to think that weaving is a boring and repetitive task, but this workshop completely changed my mind, and I am hoping to learn more about this craft in the future.

 

craft central

freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

 

LDF19: Biodesign Here Now at Open Cell

open cell

OPEN CELL

OPENCELL

 

After my recent visit to the biotech hub Open Cell at the Shepherds Bush Market, I was keen to learn more about biodesign and its future. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long because at the London Design Festival this year, Open Cell organised an event called Biodesign Here Now at its premise over one weekend.

The event showcased over 30 emerging international designers and startups with innovative ideas that are breaking boundaries between biology, design, and technology. Although I missed the fashion show on the opening night, I did manage to visit the exhibition and listen to some designers talk about their projects.

 

bio design now

Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil – an architecture collective of PhD researchers from Newcastle University specialising in living technologies for the future. Our mission is to challenge conventional methods of construction by proposing an ecocentric alternative. We believe that the buildings of the future should be living, breathing and inclusive of nature.

 

Paula Nerlich

Paula Nerlich – her current research explores vegan biodegradable bioplastics and foams from industrial and household food waste with diverse possible applications within interiors and product design.

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic (in collaboration with Bartlett School of Architecture) – ‘Biogenic Luminosity’  is a research project that questions ‘flat’ appearance and unsustainability of synthetic materials in comparison to those of biogenic and geologic origin.

 

Mohammad Jawad

Mohammad Jawad

Mohammad Jawad – Manufactured by Nature: Growing Generatively Designed Products

 

Post Carbon Lab

Post Carbon LabPost Carbon Lab

Post Carbon Lab – a design research studio launched their service pilots of two pioneering microbiological processes for sustainable and regenerative fashion applications: Bacterial Pigment Dyeing and Photosynthesis Coating on fabrics and garments.

 

Studio Aurelie Fontan  Studio Aurelie Fontan

Aurelie Fontan is a sustainable fashion designer, with a focus on bio-design and circular economy (including zero-waste production methods in texture making and cutting). Her collection includes a bio-designed dress from bacteria, recycled materials and four fully recycled leather outfits, none of them being sewn together but rather linked through innovative re-usable elements that allow complete disassembly and recycling.

Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

BIO DESIGN  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

Piero D’Angelo’s Wetwear Couture uses Physarum Polycephalum/slime mould to create fascinating fashion pieces

 

OPEN CELL

Nicole Stjernswärd KAIKU Living Color

Nicole Stjernswärd KAIKU Living Color

Nicole Stjernswärd – KAIKU Living Color is a sustainable alternative to colours made from petroleum. KAIKU uses plant waste to create natural powder pigments. Many plants & fruits we eat every day, such as avocados, onions, and oranges, have valuable colors within their skins and peels. Normally these are left to rot in landfills, but KAIKU transforms this waste into a high value resource.

 

img_2253  img_2251

img_2252

Nikoletta Karastathi & Zafer Tandogdu’s ‘Awareness of the Microbial World’ explores antimicrobial resistance and the human-microbe relationship as key concepts for creating bio-textile.

 

Carolyn Raff

Carolyn Raff uses Agar Agar, an algae based gelatin substitute for many different experiments as a new kind of bioplastic. The complete biodegradable material can be created in many different shades, looks and structures. It is dyed with natural dye, mainly with algae based colours, such as astaxanthin and phycocyanin.

 

Mira Nameth Biophilica

Mira Nameth Biophilica  Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia - 'Made by moths'

Top & bottom left: Mira Nameth – ‘Biophilica’ is the result of a year long material development, working with plant-based resources. Biophilica materials are truly local, biodegradable, and recyclable.
Bottom right: Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia – ‘Made by moths’ is a project that investigates the potential of clothes moths and their digestive enzymes as collaborators in selecting and breaking down keratin-based textile-waste.

 

Silvio Tinello - 'Grown Objects'
Silvio Tinello – ‘Grown Objects’ is a collection where all the producrs have been bio-fabricated. This means, grown and harvested using biological processes. Grown in two predominant materials: A fungi bio agglomerate and bacterial cellulose, both grown in yerba mate: part of the “argentine cultural DNA’.

Lindsay Hanson, Margot Vaaerpass and Zaki Musa Resistance Runner  Wearable Lab on Body

Left: Lah Studio – ‘The Resistance Runner’ is a bio-formulated shoe that utilizes cloned bacteriocins and micrococcus in a nutrient broth cocktail; essentially harnessing the bacteria’s own defense system as a protective layer. 

Right: MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group creates ‘Wearable Lab on Body’ wearable systems and interfaces for cognitive enhancement.

Valentina Dipietro Mychrome

Valentina Dipietro – ‘Mychrome’ is a project that explores the possibility of mycelium and its surface applications. Mycelium is the vegetative part of mushrooms and it has been used to bind agricultural waste and create new sustainable materials which are naturally fire retardant, insulating and sound-absorbing. Dipietro likes to focus on designing with waste as well as using it as a pigment to dye and finish her materials.

Midushi Kochhar A waste project

Midushi Kochhar – ‘A waste project’ is made from by-products of poultry industry, namely, eggshells and feathers. The aim is to create alternatives for plastic disposables and encourage sustainable living. All the objects are 100% biodegradable and once their purpose is over, they can literally be crushed and thrown away in the compost.

 

Pat Pataranutaporn wearable lab on body

Pat Pataranutaporn from MIT gave a talk on the future of ‘Wearable Lab on Body’

 

Denimaize

Denimaize

Denimaize gave a talk on denim made from corn husk

 

The last talk of the day was by Denimaize, a studio from the University of Pennsylvania, which includes bio-designers, artists and engineers. They use wasted and diseased corn husks and process them to extract their cellulose fibers. The corn fibers are spun with flax and woven in a twill pattern. The fabric is then coloured with microbial dye and relaxed with cellulase enzymes. Denimaize is a response to the dominance of the corn crop in the U.S. and the waste it generates, as well as the pollution in the denim industry. Denimaize is proposing a biological (albeit corny) alternative to the old way of denim processing.

The weekend event was interesting and inspiring, and it is very encouraging to see so many designers, startups and innovators coming up with sustainable solutions to address the issues our planet is facing right now. Sustainability is not a trend, it has to be here to stay for the sake of our future.

 

 

London design festival: Kings Cross design district

coaldropsyard

coaldropsyard  coaldropsyard

Coal Drops Yard

 

This year, the ever-changing Kings Cross was chosen as the design district for the first time at the London design festival. Aside from the annual design trade show, DesignJunction, there were many exhibitions and activities taking place during the festival.

I received a trade preview invitation to visit Designjunction, so I set off earlier to see what was happening in the area. The initial installations I encountered were two giant wooden sculptures that resembled robots. Designed by Steuart Padwick, the “Talk to me” installations were designed to ‘converse’ with passerby, as part of Designjunction in support of the charity Time to Change to encourage Londoners to talk about mental health.

 

img_1841-min  img_1842-min

‘Talk to me’ installations

 

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Camille Walala’s installations

 

Probably the most ‘bizarre’ installation at the design festival was “Disco Carbonara”, by London-based Italian furniture designer Martino Gamper. Inpspired by the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and a Potemkin village, the designer used film sets and scaffolding to create a temporary structure. There was disco music playing inside and a bouncer standing outside stamping visitor’s hands, yet there was nothing inside… it was just a façade.

The fake disco structure was made from a patchwork of cladding created from waste offcuts from an Italian company called Alpi. The conceptual installation aimed to make visitors think about urban design, and the sustainability of temporary structures created for short-term events like the London design festival.

 

Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper

Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper

 

Tottex and Kiosk N1C 

Textile waste banner installations by Tottex and Kiosk N1C

 

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img_1905  img_1907

STORE Store making meringue

 

Granby Workshop launched a new range of ceramic tableware made from 100% waste materials. The range has grown out of extensive research by the Liverpool-based ceramics studio gathering, testing and analysing materials from a wide range of post-consumer and industrial waste streams including glass, metal and ceramic recycling, steel production, quarry spoils and water filtration. Collectively, these sources generate hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste per year which otherwise goes to landfill. The range is now available for purchase on Kickstarter.

 

Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop  Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop

 

tom dixon  tom dixon

tom dixon  tom dixon

TouchySmellyFeelyTastyNoisy at Tom Dixon

 

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg

PRINT – Bill Amberg Studio‘s new ccollection of digitally-printed leather hides are made with collaborators including Marcel Wanders, Calico Wallpaper, Solange Azagury-Partridge, Lisa Miller, Alexandra Champalimaud and artist Matthew Day Jackson.

 

Out of all the exhibits and events that I saw on the day, ‘Designing in the turbulent times‘ initiated by Maison/0 – the sustainable innovation programme created at Central Saint Martins in partnership with the luxury group LVMH – was by far the most interesting and thought-provoking. The exhibition showcased graduate projects from Central Saint Martins offering compelling propositions for more sustainable and equitable futures. “How can we break away from our current systems and adapt a more sustainable way of living?” is the question that we should all be thinking about, and here, these young designers are trying to address this issue in their work.

 

designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times  designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times

Maria Cuji

Bottom: Maria Cuji’s worked with artisans from Ecuador tp produce woven textile made from factory offcuts and leftover yarn.

 

'Weighting feathers' by Jing Jiang

'Weighting feathers' by Jing Jiang

‘Weighting feathers’ by Jing Jiang uses waste feathers from the farming industry to create a jewellery design range

 

Olivia Page

Olivia Page

Olivia Pages exploration on bio-waste materials and has created a “Recipe Book of North Portugal, Abundant Biological Wastes for Construction Materials”

 

designing in turbulent timesi  designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times

Grayshan Audren‘s ‘Seamless: Woven workwear for the automated future’ addresses the waste issue in the fashion industry; Top right: ‘Wool: Re Crafted’ by Nathalie Spencer is a vegan alternative to wool by utilising the discarded waste leaves of pineapples from markets and juice bars around London and processing the fibres into a wearable material. 

 

Tansy Hamley  Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley  Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley’s ‘An Indian traffic jam” display of blockprinted and indigo-dyed textiles at Central St Martins reminded me of my textiles trip in Indian earlier in the year.

 

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse showcased LSA’s new CANOPY collection, a partnership with the Eden Project alongside a range of products and concepts from brands such as Vitra, String Furniture, Artcoustic, with plants decorated by The Botanical Boys.

 

The organiser of designjunction changed this year, and the locations of the show were scattered around different parts of Kings Cross. I skipped the Canopy pop-up shops because there were too many activities happening at once! At the main Cubitt House Pavilion, there were less emerging designers and fewer exhibitors than before, which was quite disappointing. I visited my friends from Di Classe, had some drinks and decided to call it a night.

 

diclasse  di classe

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isokon  isokon

Designjunction at Cubitt House Pavilion

 

The last stop of the night was Designjunction’s Rado Star Prize in the King’s Cross Light Tunnel where they showcased design pieces by the next generation of young British designers. The theme, ‘Re:Imagine’, explored different ways design can improve life: by evolving existing product forms through materials, function, technology, end-use or even, re-use. Surprisingly, this section of the show was more interesting than the main pavilion, so I believe the organiser need to make some changes to improve the show next year.

 

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Top: Judges’ winner 2019 – Huw Evans’s Concertina collection

 

A visit to the Biotech hub, Open Cell

shepherds bush market

Shepherds Bush market

 

In the last few years, we are hearing more of the terms ‘biodesign’ and ‘biotech’, but is it a fad or a breakthrough that will change our world? Recently, I joined a design-oriented walk called ‘Human: Biophilia in community and design’ organised by the Design Museum and curated by Something & Son to find out more about the biophilic communities and projects that is taking place in London today.

It has been years since I visited the Shepherds Bush market, and I was surprised to learn that a biotech hub is now situated in the middle of the market. Opened last year, Open Cell is a biotech hub for startups and designers located at the Old Laundry Yard, with 45 shipping containers that have been converted into labs, workshops and office space. Founded by Helene Steiner and Dr Thomas Meany, they aim to create a low-cost labspace with a user-centric focus, and provide a flexible testbed where innovative lab designs can be rapidly installed and tested.

 

open cell

open cell

open cell

open cell

 

We were greeted by Helene Steiner at the yard, and she gave us a tour around the area and explained about the work they do. I found it encouraging to see these affordable and community-driven labs because as many of the world resources are becoming scarcer, it makes sense to use the living organism around us to create alternative, innovative and sustainable materials for our future.

We met a bio fashion designer Piero D’Angelo who uses slim mould to create textiles and fashion, which is absoultely fascinating. The slime mould would also release a scent that makes people aware of any pollution in the surroundings. I never thought I would want slime mould on my skin, but maybe it is time to change my preconception.

 

Piero D’Angelo

Piero D’Angelo

 

We also met with three architects Paola Garnousset, Pierre de Pingon and Martin Detoeuf, who are the founders of Blast Studio. The collective uses mycelium, the root network of mushrooms, and coffee cup waste to create a series of homeware and furniture called ‘lovely trash’. Since 500 billion coffee cups are discarded globally and mostly end up in land, this project is a great way to upcycle these coffee cups. The cups are processed into a substrate that enables the mycelium to be fed on. This mycelium material can be transformed into vases and furniture through the 3-D laser printer. The results are very interesting and look almost like ceramics!

 

blast studio

blast studio

blast studio

blast studio

blast studio

blast studio   blast studio

Blast Studio

 

The tour of the Open Cell lab was eye-opening, and it has given me more hope about the future. I believe that not only the way we consume has to change, but sustainable innovations are necessary to change our future, and hopefully biodesign/ biotechnology will play a crucial role in the years/decades to come.

 

LCW 19: Blue Innovations: Contemporary Czech Indigo Prints

Blue Innovations: Contemporary Czech Indigo Prints

 

Ever since I became interested in indigo dyeing a few years ago, I noticed that the resurgence of natural indigo is also taking place around the world. The art and science of natural indigo dyeing is an important world heritage that connects us all, and its timely revival reminds us that this ancient art/craft is universal as it has been practised in different parts of the world for centuries and even millennia.

The Blue Innovations exhibition at the Czech Centre London that showcased the established craftsmanship of indigo textile-printing production in the Czech Republic. Prior to the visit, I did not realise that traditional indigo printing techiniques have been integral to Czech culture for centuries and are listed as UNESCO‘s lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that contemporary Czech fashion designers are now using traditioanl indigo printing techniques to produce beautiful and high quality handmade clothing and soft furnishings.

 

Blue Innovations: Contemporary Czech Indigo Prints  Blue Innovations: Contemporary Czech Indigo Prints

Blue Innovations: Contemporary Czech Indigo Prints

 

The small exhibition was curated by Alice Klouzková, a Czech fashion designer and curator who has collaborated with many Czech indigo craftsmen, and is determined to revive this ancient craft in her country and introduce it to audience abroad.

Sadly, there are only two remaining wood block printing workshops in the Czech Republic, in Olesnice and Straznice. Their techniques and formulas were inherited from father to son and were kept as family secrets. Now younger Czech fashion designers are working with these workshops and incoporating indigo dyed patterned prints into their designs to produce more sustainable and unique items. These designers include Monika Drapalova, Martina Dvořáková (MADE BY ORDINARY), Adéla Součková, and artist Petra (Gupta) Valentová etc.

 

Blue Innovations: Contemporary Czech Indigo Prints

Blue Innovations: Contemporary Czech Indigo Prints

Blue Innovations: Contemporary Czech Indigo Prints  Blue Innovations: Contemporary Czech Indigo Prints

Blue Innovations: Contemporary Czech Indigo Prints

 

The revival of natural indigo dyeing around the globe is far from a coincidence. It is part of the sustainable fashion and slow movements that are driven by designers, artisans, craftsmen, curators, and many consumers who are rejecting the fast fashion industry. Now is the time for all of us to reflect and go back to the basics, and I salute all those who are swimming against the tide to make this change happen.

 

London Craft Week 19: Contemporary Japanese craft

BUAISOU indigo hands

Indigo Hands installation at Coal Drops Yard

 

At the London Craft week this year, many Japanese craftsmen and artisans were invited to take part and showcase their exquisite craftsmanship. Although Japanese craft is highly regarded worldwide, the future of many traditional Japanese crafts is still uncertain due to the lack of younger people entering these fields. In the past, traditional craftsmanship is passed down from generation to generation within artisan families. However, due to dwindling demand, urbanisation, change of lifestyle and taste in Japan, few young people would want to dedicate their lives learning and perfecting an ‘old-fashioned’ craft. In order to preserve these crafts, artisans have to constantly evolve, collaborate, and innovate.

In recent years, the revival of natural and indigo dyeing proves that there is no such thing as an ‘old fashioned’ craft. After computer and mobile technology took over our lives for the past two decades, many people are now finding comfort and joy in making tactile craft again. 

 

BUAISOU indigo hands  BUAISOU indigo hands

 

Eastablished in 2015, BUAISOU is a young team of Japanese indigo farmers and artisans responsible for the revival of sukumo – dried and fermented indigo leaves – in Tokushima, the hometown of Ai Zome (natural indigo dye). Tokushima was the top producer of Ai Zome garments in Japan in the 19th century with around 4,000 aishi (sukumo farmers), but due to the introduction of synthetic indigo and other various factors, now only six are left.

At LCW, Coal Drops Yard commissioned BUAISOU to produce a series of handmade and hand dyed flags, and the team conducted several onsite dyeing workshops in KIOSK N1C. Unfortunately, I missed the workshops, but I do hope to visit their studio in Tokushima in the future.

At Heal’s, the Japanese Craft Market showcased ceramics, Mino washi, blades, and wood craft produced by thirteen exhibitors from the Gifu prefecture. I visited Mino and Takayama in the Gifu prefecture last year, so seeing the crafts brough back memories for me.

 

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Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

There are several towns in the Gifu prefecture that are famous for ceramics, including Mino, Toki, and Tajimi. In Tajima, there is Ceramics Park Mino, a ceramic museum and park that showcases Japanese ceramics. The town also holds an annual ceramic festival during the second weekend of April which attracts thousands of visitors to this area. The region has a lot of small and large scale producers making tiles and ceramic wares including household items, crockery, sculptures etc. as well as huge furnaces and other equipments for industrial purposes.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market   Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

The ancient town of Mino is famous for Washi (Japanese paper), which is used for shoji doors, umbrella, fans, lanterns and stationery. The high quality and durable handmade paper uses pristine water from the Nagara river and is considered as natioanl treasure in Japan. You can learn more from my previous entry on Mino here.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

As soon as I arrived at Hida Takayama in the Gifu Prefecture, a glass showcase of wood crafted furniture at the railway station caught my eye. The wood-abundant Hida has maintained a woodworking tradition for over 1,300 years. This region is famous for its skilled woodworkers and beautiful handcrafted furniture, and its minimalist aesthetic is similar to Scandinavian design.

I think the exhibition was a good introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Japan’s regional craft and design. I hope the Toyama prefecture will be next on the list.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu  Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

At the Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe in Mayfair, California-based mother and daughter team Shizu Designs demonstrated traditional Japanese basketry weaving techniques that transform rocks into art. Rattan or cane is used to wrap and tie the rocks with ornamental knots used in Japanese ikebana basketry. Shizu Okino and Karen Okino also contributed to the LOEWE Baskets accessories collection which features their signature style.

It was mesmerising to watch the two artisans working side by side. Basketry is another traditional craft that is being revived today, and I believe these collaborations are likely to make people appreciate traditional craftsmanship and see it in a different light.

 

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design  loewe

shizu design

 

To be continued…