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Soon, Your Clothes Could Be Made By Algae

“Algaemy” aims to replace hazardous chemicals in clothing with friendly single-celled organisms.

When we think of toxic contaminants, clothes aren’t usually the first items that come to mind. But the textile industry uses a raft of chemicals–including hormone disrupters and potential carcinogens–to mass produce what’s in our closets. Earlier this year, Greenpeace, which has been running a Detox textile campaign since 2011, published a report revealing the range of hazardous chemicals in children’s clothing from major retailers around the globe.

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But what if we didn’t have to rely on these kinds of practices? Berlin-based design studio Blond & Bieber says that it’s actually pretty easy to make light-stable colors without heavy chemical use. All that’s needed is some algae.

Blond & Bieber’s Essi Johanna Glomb and Rasa Weber say they first became interested in the power of algae while looking at different species at a research institute in Stuttgart, Germany. “What triggered us was all the different colors,” Glomb says. “We have a certain expectation of algae that it’s green, but we found out that it has different colors. The green, blue, orange, and reds really interested us.”

After studying the different microalgae species that populate rivers and creeks throughout Europe, Glomb and Weber settled on an “algaemy” palette that they then printed on a series of cotton clothing items and leather shoes. But unlike light-stable dyes normally used on clothes, the algaemy colors change over time. A green might fade to a blue, for example.

“We are calling it ‘living colors,’” Weber adds. “We want to apply it as a quality to products–it would be interesting to add value through colors that are changing.”

Glomb and Weber have constructed a machine that allows them to grow the algae, then paste the colors onto textiles–something like a giant printing press. They’ve collaborated with fashion designer Ylenia Gortana and German shoe company Trippen thus far, and are still exploring new applications. If the algae is edible, perhaps Algaemy could team up with a food-related industry. Right now, they’re just looking for companies that share their ethics and ideals.

“We think it should be normal to think in a sustainable way without having it communicated as organic or eco-design,” Glomb says. “Of course you should think about sustainability.”

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.

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