BIOTOPIA Lab behind the scenes:
Interview with Biodesigner Carole Collet

Carole Collet is Professor in Design for Sustainable Futures at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, where she founded the Design & Living Systems Lab, a pioneering research laboratory that explores the interface of biological sciences and design in order to challenge established paradigms and envision new sustainable materials and forms of production for the future. In our micro exhibition “Fungi for Future– Die (un)sichtbare Kraft der Pilze“ at the BIOTOPIA Lab, we are showing two of her textile collections made out of Mycelium – the vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacterial colony.


How did you come up with the idea of making textiles out of Mycelium – fungi?

I have always been interested in researching new ways to produce and imagine sustainable textiles. During my Masters degree in textile design at Central Saint Martins UAL in 1991 I started to research how to reconcile ecological principles with the process of designing and making textiles. This has been my core interest throughout my whole career. In the early 2000s I began to investigate how biomimicry and biology principles could be a means to develop more sustainable fabrication processes. I then curated the exhibition ALIVE: New design frontiers in 2013 in Paris, after spending two years researching the emerging landscape of biodesign. During this time I was introduced to the work of Philipp Ross, an artist who was producing installations, furniture and bricks out of Mycelium. I became very curious about this process and decided to explore the potential of mycelium for sustainable textile embellishments.

 


What is the focus of all of your research?

The two fundamental questions are: How do we create textiles for a post-petrol economy? And how does Nature make a fabric-like material? In other words how can we develop bio-inspired textile fabrication processes? In the past 100 years, the textile industry has shifted from a natural agricultural system to a mainly petroleum-based system. Polyester for instance is made from crude oil, so are synthetic dyes and many finishings and coatings processes. The textile industry is now reknown for being a key polluter and we urgently need to re-imagine a new model for sustainable textile production, especially in the context of a growing world population.

Which of your works are you showing in the BIOTOPIA Lab?

In the BIOTOPIA Lab I am showing two of my Mycelium Textiles collections. The Lace-assembly collection explores how we can use Mycelium to bind fibers together. Whereas the black and white collection re-interprets the aesthetic of traditional techniques like tie-dye, embroidery and pleating with the use of mycelium.


How long does it take to get to one final masterpiece?

The production of the collections you can see in the BIOTOPIA Lab took about two months, but the processes are based on five years of research. Working with Mycelium is still a pioneering work. For most of my samples, I need to produce up to 30 experiments to get a viable final result, keeping in mind that it takes 5-10 days to grow and create one fabric.


Where is your perspective of alternative materials and processes regarding the textile industry?

I believe the future of design and manufacturing lies in biology. We need to radically rethink our production systems to become more ecological and reduce or remove any kind of chemical-based processes. Of course, we also need to change our consumption patterns. We also need to go beyond sustainability and start to develop a more regenerative design approach, where the focus is on repairing and restoring our environment and communities. We are producing more and more goods for an expanding world population, so the idea of “doing less bad“ is simply not good enough anymore. We can see growing evidence that climate change is happening faster than we had anticipated. We have to urgently think about how we design to repair and restore our ecosystems. And that can be enabled by bio-based research.


What is the most fascinating thing about working with Mycelium?

Mycelium is an incredible alchemist, it transforms its own food source into a new material. The fun thing about working with Mycelium is that it is a living organism. It is like a pet, you have to look after it, you have to feed it and create and control the environment of growth. But as it is a living system, it can bounce back, so it is kind of exciting and also frustrating at the same time, as you can not completely control it. For instance, I grew a sample where some kind of fractal patterns appeared on the surface, I did not plan this at all, this is solely due to the growth behavior of the mycelium culture. To this day I have not managed to replicate this behavior.


Interview with Carole Collet, all rights reserved.

 

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