Bea Brücker, a recent graduate from the Royal College of Art in London has a passion for combining bio-design with the digital world. Her fascination with science and technology in symbiosis with traditional fashion manufacturing influences her as a Fashion Designer. The production of compostable materials is as much a part of her field of activity as dealing with sustainability strategies for a conscious eco-friendly and fair fashion production.
Tell us about your student pathway from Law, to Design, to Fashion Bio Design?
I did not grow up wanting to become a fashion designer from a young age. I loved to draw and paint, but had always been reluctant to make art my profession and fashion design never crossed my mind. I originally studied law, with a drive to campaign against violence in my home country, Germany. Quite quickly I found law really frustrating and I missed being creative. I started painting again as an outlet, organizing small exhibitions and painting on clothes alongside staging small performances as well as studying. This eventually led to my decision to study fashion design.
Biowear gives me the opportunity to work towards improving the fashion industry and developing ecologically sustainable ways of design that fight against exploitative working conditions. In a way, I have a similar motivation that once led me to study law: The motivation to work for more justice and equality.
Why did you decide to go into Bio design?
During my bachelor’s degree, I started to question the fashion industry and my own practice. I couldn’t justify working in an industry that systematically exploited people and the environment. This led me to look into design practices that resulted in minimal waste and are an alternative to the production of fast fashion. I started working with upcycling and zero waste fashion practices. A few months later, I came across Biodesign in a book. I have always had a fascination with biology so I was immediately excited by the idea of integrating biological systems into my design process. For me, Biodesign is not only a way to make compostable textiles, but it opens up new ways of designing and making. It does not only change the aesthetics of the collection, it changes the whole working process. Instead of using the sewing machine, I frequently work with petri dishes and often I have to build the tools I need. When you work with bio there is usually no consistency. I have instead learned to be led by biological systems in order to work with them. This gives rise to new creative processes, new ways of making clothes and it changes our relationship with nature and the clothes we wear.
What was the main inspiration for your graduate collection?
I was always fascinated by the connection between the digital and the natural worlds which led me to explore the potential emerging out of this combination. I worked with living organisms, computational design and the development of compostable biomaterials, in which I see the potential to transform the fashion industry. In my MA, I explored how the combination of Biodesign and new technologies changes the way I work as a designer and how I can use this combination as a liberating design practice in the future. I asked myself the following questions:
What might a future look like where we live in partnership with nature instead of exploiting it?
How can new technologies along with Biodesign help us turn away from capitalism and pave the way for new ways of making, working, and living together in social communities?
My graduate collection “Morphogenesis” is set in a speculative reality characterized by pandemics and dead zones. In this scenario, individuals band together to use Biowear as a political movement that empowers people through the creation of communities and use of tools. Using mathematically generated patterns (a design tool still in development based on Turing Patterns) and homegrown algae leather, a new design practice was built that could lead to autonomy and combat the effects of climate crisis. The material I made for this collection was created from a mixture of algae and acetic acid bacteria. One of the reasons I chose to work with algae is that it can be found all over the world, it does not need freshwater or any other special conditions for cultivation. Anyone can grow this material with basic equipment.
How easy did you find it to source everything for your final collection?
As a biodesigner, I work with unusual materials such as algae, acetic acid bacteria and moss. Instead of buying materials, I grow my own. A big challenge during lockdown was to get hold of additional materials and tools. Usually I would have had discussions with different people in different workshops about how I could improve my material or which material is suitable for certain machines such as vacuum forming. This is usually followed by a lot of small experiments. However, since I was unable to access workshops or a special shop to have discussions or show others my material, I often depended on communication via e-mail which was a challenging way of communicating.
What are your favourite parts about being a designer?
One of the best things about designing is the big variety of my everyday life: you can always learn new exciting things, whether it is new software, craft skills or a subject. I also find it exciting that you can use design to draw attention to certain topics and thus trigger discussions. FIn my opinion a good designer is like a storyteller who moves people and conveys certain feelings through themes.
What is your least favourite part about being a designer?
It is very difficult to find funding for design projects. Moreover, educational institutions for art and design are receiving less and less funding from the government, which elevates design and art to elitist practices. This results in ever-increasing tuition fees and unpaid internships. I see it as extremely problematic for the future of design if only students from wealthy families can afford to study design or art.
What software did you use to create your portfolio?
For my portfolio, I mainly used Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. For my designs I mainly use Blender, Clo3D and Photoshop.
Were there any other limitations you found not having access to the studio?
Not having access to the machines I needed (CNC, laser cutter, 3D printer, vacuum former) for months and not having the space or money to set up a fully equipped lab/studio has greatly changed my working process and thoughts. I was forced to build and test different tools at home. In hindsight, I don’t necessarily see this as a negative, it stimulated my creativity and made me more inventive, pushing me to work with the few resources I had. It made me realise again how privileged I am to have access to institutions like the Royal College and that many don’t have that opportunity. It has strengthened my commitment to make Biodesign more accessible and to develop a material that does not require an equipped laboratory to produce.
Has sustainability influenced any of your designs and why?
Sustainability is my main motivation behind each collection. The fashion industry has exploited nature and people for decades and so systemic change is overdue. In my opinion, sustainability can’t continue to be just a trent, we need a sustainable system that lasts. The urgency of climate change demands that we find disruptive solutions and build more ethically, socially and environmentally sustainable systems. We can only do this by working together and sharing research and resources. We need to learn to work collaboratively instead of seeing each other as competitors. With these thoughts in mind, I started my graduation collection. I wanted to find a way to empower people to actively take part in designing and producing their own compostable bio clothing, clothing that is locally made and unique to them. I think this is possible through the help of Biodesign and digital tools.
What strengths and skills do you think it takes to become a successful fashion designer?
I believe that interdisciplinary work will become increasingly important in the future. I think exciting new design practices will emerge from the combination of digital, analogue and classical techniques. I believe that you should stand by your values and vision, having the courage to pursue your own ideas, no matter how crazy they are. In my BA studies I was often ridiculed for having such an unusual way of working. I think good design starts outside the comfort zone, which unfortunately also includes doubting yourself.
Your collections intend to create a dialogue. What conversation did you want to park here?
I hope that my work contributes to the discussion around eco-neutral fashion systems aiding people in developing an interest in Biodesign. It should also compound and hopefully result in them buying eco-neutral fashion. Perhaps this will extend their involvement in the production and processes of biomaterials.
My hope is that this active involvement would change their relationship and perception of the clothing they own, a change prompted by thinking about how that relationship might be different if it were made of biomaterials, and would lead to sustained changes in our collective buying behavior. I want society to be motivated in participating in the climate change movement. There are so many different kinds of activism. They are all united by the will to change something and make positive contributions. Anyone can make a difference.
Now that you’ve done your final collection, what are your plans?
I would like to continue the research I started in my master’s degree. I would like to continue to develop my algae leather practise and my digital design tools. I would also like to introduce more designers and consumers to work in the field of Biodesign. Collaboration is key to making change last.
Are you optimistic about the future of bio design?
Yes I am. I receive regular messages from people who are interested in Biodesign and want to know more about my work. This makes me very happy as I hope that the bio community will continue to grow. It takes more people working in this field to effect change in the industry. However, it is also very important that we deal with Biodesign in a reflective way and beware of greenwashing. The problems I observe with companies using Biodesign is that they try to fit ‘Bio’ into the current linear system, one that is still designed for overproduction and frequently adds synthetic binders, preventing the materials from being compostable. If we don’t start to question the system of how we produce and design fashion in the first place, there will be no progress. So, instead of trying to make Biodesign compatible for the current market, we should learn from biological systems. There is still a long way to go and so many things to explore, but Biodesign definitely has the potential to change the fashion industry.
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