Suzanne Lee is a pioneer in the field of living materials.
This unusual designer has a radical vision of the future of fashion - a future where designs no longer take shape in a sewing workshop but in a laboratory and where clothing will no longer be manufactured but “grown”.
Suzanne Lee is convinced that living organisms can generate a new "species" of clothing.
Suzanne Lee describes herself as a bio-couturist. She "grows" her materials from living microorganisms. The method she developed takes its inspiration from kombucha, an acidic drink prepared by incorporating a mixture of bacteria and yeast into sweet tea. The bacteria feed on the sugar and produce a membrane that grows with each passing day. After two to three weeks a material resembling leather, called microbial cellulose, forms and can then be dried, molded, or cut and sewn.
That is how Suzanne Lee’s organic designs come to life.
The designer has always been fascinated by the fusion of fashion, technology and science. She is also concerned about the ecological implications of clothing manufacture. In the 2000s, she was responsible for research at the Central Saint Martins in London and is an haute couture consultant. She collaborates with Hussein Chalayan, the visionary designer known for his experimental pieces.
In 2003, she embarked on her book Fashioning the Future: Tomorrow’s Wardrobe (published by Thames & Hudson in 2007), in which she explores the future of fashion over the next fifty years. During her research she met the biologist David Hepworth. This meeting greatly influenced her work and encouraged her interest in synthetic biology and the emerging field of living materials. The scientist talked to her about the incredible power of bacteria. "You could grow a dress" he told her. From their discussions Suzanne Lee came to believe that research on living organisms and their applications in the field of fashion could create a new "species" of clothes and reduce the environmental impact of the textile industry.
BioCouture became her experimental laboratory. Just like the material that Suzanne grows in a culture broth, the entity has evolved into a consulting firm and acts as a catalyst for innovation in the field of materials science. The designer now helps other designers and engineers to develop new sustainable fibers, and the brands to include them in their collections. Suzanne Lee hopes to bring together a scientific community that will design optimized living systems for use in the consumer products of tomorrow.
For more information:
- Suzanne Lee’s page on the TED website
- Segment on BioCouture in the documentary “The Next Black”, produced by AEG
- Grow your clothes using Suzanne Lee’s recipe
- Science Museum