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Use of fungus and bacteria on textiles a new avenue for fashion industry

YarnsandFibers News Bureau 2016-03-07 15:00:00 – Jakarta

The Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) students trying to spark the Indonesia’s interest by developing items colored with fungus and bacterial including those that can be easily found in bathroom in the sustainable fashion movement. The idea perhaps sounds silly, but that is exactly what Nidiya Kusmaya had in mind when she started her final thesis at ITB. She discovered the hidden beauty of Aspergillus niger, a micro fungus responsible for the black mold on damp clothes.

People see Aspergillus niger as something disgusting, something to avoid. In fact, the fungus is valuable; it can act as a pigment producer in textiles, said Nidiya, an awardee of the leading scholarship from the Foreign Cooperation Bureau (BU BPKLN) of the Research and Technology and Higher Education Ministry.

Research conducted previously in the United Kingdom on pigment-producing bacteria prompted her to discover the interesting shades produced by fungus and bacteria that thrive in the tropical climate of Indonesia.

Aside from the black Aspergillus niger, she also cultivated two other fungi: the orange Monascus sp. and the white Trichoderma.

Monascus can harm plants, but not humans. It can be found in the traditional Chinese medicine angkak [red yeast rice]. Meanwhile, Trichoderma fertilizes soil, she said.

Nidiya also experimented with Serratia marcescens, a red and pink bacterium that usually grows in the corners of bathrooms.

It can cause infections, but using it as a pigment producer is safe, the garments coated with the bacteria were sterilized at an elevated pressure and temperature in an autoclave.

Nidiya only uses natural fabrics like silk and cotton because they can withstand the heating process.

In one neckwear collection, she sprinkled different fungus and bacteria onto the fabric and let them form natural patterns.

It appears that bacteria and fungus can communicate. When they meet, they create bold colors, she said about her research, which was conducted under the guidance of ITB lecturers Kahfiati Kahdar and Imam Santosa.

In another collection, she orchestrated the bacteria and fungus to form batik and tie-dye patterns.

She drew patterns using antifungal and antibiotic pastes before applying the fungus and the bacteria. As a result, they did not grow on the specified areas on the garment.

Nidiya based on her experience as a professional textile designer believes that fungus and bacteria could provide a new avenue for the fashion industry — the world’s second most polluting industry, according to the Danish Fashion Institute in 2013.

According to her, Coloring textiles requires loads of chemicals and it gives her a headache every time she need to dump the wastewater. In contrast to chemical coloring substances, the wastewater of the fungus and bacteria-colored garments do not pose harm to the environment.

Nidiya wants to discover more bacteria and fungus, and combine them with natural coloring, such as turmeric as she hopes to inspire people to make an industry out of it,”Nidiya further , added that the coloring process was not much different to making tempeh in a home industry.

Nidiya hopes to start a textile brand focusing on sustainable, biodegradable products to cater to her fashion designer clients who still favor natural pigments and the organic patterns that they produce.

Perhaps the planned patterns are suitable for the general market, while the natural patterns belong to haute couture, serving as a fashion statement,.

Sapta Soemowidjoko, another BU BPKLN awardee who recently completed his master’s degree in design at ITB, created a garment from Kombucha, a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast popularly called scoby.

Kombucha can be easily found in Chinese traditional medicine stores and can be used to make Kombucha fermented tea. While the health benefits of Kombucha are still debated, it could certainly be used for fashion items.

Inspired by Kombucha material created by New York-based designer Suzanne Lee, Sapta added a twist to the ground-breaking garment by combining it with a web of bamboo threads.

The current fashion industry heavily depends on animal and plant-based fibers, such as silk and cotton. Kombucha material could be a solution, but Sapta understands that many people still have doubts about wearing bacteria and yeast as clothing. Thus, he combines the material with something familiar — bamboo threads.

In his research conducted under the guidance of ITB lecturers Kahfiati Kahdar and Andar Bagus Sriwarno, Sapta pulped the scoby in a food processor and put it in a rectangular container. He placed a web of bamboo threads in the box as the Kombucha juice grew.

After trial and error, he managed to get the desired result, in which the bamboo web was inside a Kombucha blob. After it reached 2 centimeters in thickness, the newly made garment was washed and dried.

While the trial and error seemed arduous, the fact that Sapta cultivated the garment in his house gives hope that other people could develop the process into a home industry.

To attach the garment pieces to one another, they need to be ironed. It can be hand-stitch and cut them with scissors and multi-cutting devices, he said.

For his final thesis, Sapta developed Plan B, a bowtie and suspender collection to represent the synergy of science and art in the products. Plan B basically stands for bacterial cellulose, bamboo, a bridge to a fashion future.

Sapta hopes his research can inspire another slow fashion initiatives and, in the long term, help to slowly reduce the dependency on plant-based fibers.

Slow fashion, which is still largely unheard of in Indonesia, is a growing trend within the fashion world for sustainable, ethical clothing. It is the opposition of the “fast food” approach to fashion, namely fast and cheap production that results in exhausted resources and excesses of barely used clothing.

Slow fashion still has some challenges to overcome, though. The acidic smell of the Kombucha garments, for example, could be the main hurdle for it to be accepted by fashionistas.

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