We eat it and drink it. We use it as jet fuel and fertiliser. We slap it on our faces. And now we can also wear it!
I am talking of algae — or, simply put, seaweed — one of the most diverse groups of organisms on earth, which are responsible for the oxygen in every second breath we take.
These slimy black, red, and mostly blue-green creatures sustain a multi-billion dollar industry. Nori (the edible seaweed prized in Japanese cuisine) alone is worth $1 billion a year, according to the BioMara project.
The cosmetics industry uses algae in a wide range of moisturizing, firming and skin whitening treatments. Leading spa brands like Phytomer swear by seaweed to keep your skin looking youthful.
As part of the global search for more sustainable fibres, it was only a matter of time before algae were yarned.
Historically, however, the original algae-based fibres were fragile and only served for medical textiles such as bandages and surgical dressing.
The breakthrough came in 2010 from China, where a team of researchers from Qingdao University produced durable fibre made from red algae. This new fibre turned out to be perfect for use by fire-fighters and doctors as algae are fireproof and X-ray resistant.
The idea has some important environmental benefits as well, as it helps fight the algal blooms that suffocate Chinese coasts and waterways. This is what it looks like!
OK, you may say that fire-fighters’ costumes and lab coats are still a far cry from haute couture – but don’t forget that some of our wardrobe staples like jeans also had humble beginnings as ‘workers’ clothes’.
And that’s when things get even more exciting. Last year, a German label twosquaremeter launched a line of clothing made from algae that it claims has healing and skin-nourishing properties.
That’s taking the idea of clothes that are good for you to a whole new level!
The company uses an innovative biological yarn from seacell (seaweed) and milk protein fibres, which are blended with cotton to make an eco-fibre that helps neutralize smell and regulate body temperature. Furthermore, it is said to lock in seaweed’s skin-rejuvenating properties and prevent them from ‘washing out’.
The company also states that it adheres to strict ethical and environmental standards.
Says twosquaremeter’s co-founder Christine: “…when my sister-in-law (she runs a fashion boutique), told me that every other customer was asking for non-scratchy jumpers did the pieces start falling into place: clothes made of milk and seaweed…softer than cashmere…why not create some favorites?”
Here’s what these clothes look like.
So, if you thought that sewing and seaweed did not go together, think again! I can already imagine a sustainable algae-made Mermaid collection — all fishtail skirts and bustier tops… But what do you think?