Living, Breathing, Wearable Plants? Inside the Rise of Biocouture

“They can emotionally attach to a garment,” says Stavros Karelis, founder of Machine-A, who observed how in-store shoppers interacted with the curious experience of touching a living hat and bonding with microbes. Customers walked away with a raised awareness of this category of clothing and new behaviours on how they interact with their wardrobe, Karelis notes. The pieces sold fast. “We have already sold out styles such as the mini-chain bags, charm bags, lacy brimmed hats and balaclavas,” Karelis says. The niche audience of Machine-A are known for seeking the latest brands and designers to connect with, a unique proposition and a bold design point of view.

“It was very evident the concept and storytelling were such that the consumer immediately became curious and wanted to know more. Our project is a testimony that there is a market for brands and designers where their proposition is to create consciously in an ethical way.”

These biocouture pieces have luxury market prices due to their unique production, specialised shipping costs and retail markups. Post Carbon Lab’s Lin says that one factor of working out cost was based on surface area, by tracing the layout between a headscarf and a wrap top and comparing the volume difference in materials required for coating.

Additionally, there is post-purchase care to consider: consumers have to provide consistent moisture to the garments through misting, ventilation and shaded lighting to keep their microbes alive and content. “As it arrives on your doorstep, it’ll require more care than any other garment,” says Lin. Even with contemporary designers championing a new modus operandi from connection to care, just like couture, each piece is unique.

Gaining momentum

Could biocouture hit mainstream retail?

“At this stage, it seems more applicable for a conceptual couture piece than for a commercial garment with a verifiable carbon capture potential,” says Charlotte Borst, innovation associate at Fashion for Good, a global initiative to inspire positive change within the industry. “While the idea sounds appealing, there are still many unknowns and further studies around use and maintenance as well as the actual carbon sequestration potential and overall environmental impact would be required.” Durability and effectiveness are key hurdles.

The barriers to getting Biologic off the ground are offering answers to investors around production cost, overhead, and core team attributes, Yao says. “We have a lab product made by PhD students, designers and researchers; but, for an end product, we need serious investment to scale an entrepreneurship team.” With limited-run samples, these hopeful teams find the right platforms and collaboration partners, as seen with Rubens, Machine-A and Post Carbon Lab.

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