Amy Congdon is a designer and researcher whose speculative “Biological Atelier” project brings fashion into the laboratory. The question driving her work is as follows: “What role will textile design play in the creation of biological products of the future?” (Source) Can we use tissue engineering to literally (and sustainably) grow fashion products, without creating waste, and without killing animals for their parts? As Congdon describes in the above video interview with Dezeen, her prospective collection would include a broach grafted onto the skin, and a collar attachment grown from an “an exotic mix of scales and leather.”
By combining textile design with tissue engineering, the possibilities for fashion products are virtually endless. “You could engineer specific properties into them,” Congdon explains. “They could be water repellent, or you could engineer the colour into them so you’re not having to dye them.” Furthermore — and here we enter the realm of a maybe-not-so-distant sci-fi future — Congdon hypothesizes that we could create hybrid materials, textiles deriving from combinations of organic tissues that have never occurred in nature.
While the conceptual pieces are beautiful, they may produce a sense of unease for some. Fashion, after all, usually involves commodities we put on and over our bodies, not ones that we graft on, and certainly not those made of materials birthed in a laboratory. This creates fascinating questions for the future of our bodies (and our consumer habits) — we could conceivably become hybridized by our fashion. As Congdon writes compellingly on her website:
“With one of the most controversial sets of materials becoming available for manipulation, i.e. our body, and those of other species, it could be argued that future fashion is grown from the ultimate commodity.” (Source)
Whether the concepts behind the “Biological Atelier” project fascinate or unnerve us (or both), Congdon points out the necessity for such speculative work. “We really need to acknowledge that we are living on just one planet, so we have finite resources,” she explains in the video. “So we really need to think about new ways that we might produce materials and products.” Such research, after all, may one day mean less suffering for the people, animals, and environments harmed by commodity production.