Over the last decade, biomaterials have been at the forefront in the search for sustainable material solutions. Reaching into multiple industry and educational sectors, research into biomaterials has led to academic degrees in biodesign, an impressive stable of start-ups and a number of promising materials that compare well to traditional textiles on a variety of factors (tensile strength, feel, drape etc.). With consumers and retailers increasingly seeking sustainable solutions, designers have begun using bacteria, fungi, algae and cellulose to replace harmful synthetic dyes and textiles within the fashion industry. One commercially available example is Mogu’s mycelium-based leather substitute textile, which made its debut as a faux leather coat in Balenciaga’s winter 2022 collection. As biomaterial designers seek ever better materials that are more sustainable and better performing, a key avenue for further exploration is the integration of nanomaterials into biomaterials. Further developing a type of symbiotic relationship between the two materials (bio and nano –materials) would allow for continued and novel material enhancements to take place.
Nanomaterials, such as graphene, CNTs, MXenes and hBN, have the ability to i) enhance existing materials properties, such as tensile strength, stretchability and flexibility as well as ii) being able to provide a range of additional features including conductivity, texture, colour, malleability and ductility, while remaining sustainably produced. In the coming decades, continued developments of nano materials will include use of both biomaterials and conventional materials to utilise the strengths inherent in each product type, allowing consumers to depend less on poly-based apparel and more on living/nano sustainable hybrids.
One of the key challenges to greater integration of nanomaterials into biomaterials or conventional materials is access to laboratories required by innovators in order to further develop their ideas in R&D. As consumer demands for wearable electronics continue to grow in parallel with sustainable apparel, industry and education partners will need to invest in knowledge transfer programmes on the topic areas of frontier materials, big data and wearable technologies. In the same way that biodesign degrees were established in years past, design degrees focused on nanomaterials, digital materials and “frontier materials” which combine bio and nano characteristics will be crucial for successful creation, development and adoption of smarter and more sustainable products.
Furthermore, as cross pollination between digital and textile fields increases, it is quite likely that designers and entrepreneurs alike will develop more products under the internet of things (IoT) sector. Designers are often seen as boundary pushers for innovating the latest state-of-the-art technologies but more often than not consideration of data and its security measures are typically an afterthought. Given an increasingly complex cybersecurity environment, new design courses on the topic areas of frontier materials, big data and wearable technologies will be as essential as the biodesign courses of today. As more material and digital enhancements are added to consumer products, next generation designers will need to excel in other areas other than biodesign.
SIT/Alemira, in collaboration with Professor Kostya Novoselov and Lindsay Hanson, have developed a course addressing the topic areas of frontier materials, big data and wearable technologies, tailored to educate next generation designers and startup groups alike. The course bridges the language gap between science and design sectors which will enable designers to not only have a better understanding of novel material properties but also how to fabricate them into wearable designs that protect and secure any collected data. Furthermore, the course highlights the importance of nanomaterials and demonstrates how these materials can be applied with living materials or conventional textiles in order to surpass current products on the market today.
The course is set to launch in Fall 2022 and can be taken online at the SIT/Alemira learning platform. Additionally, this course can be integrated into existing design courses and may be found at top design universities soon after its initial launch. To learn more about the course please visit the SIT webpage or if you are a tutor/lecturer that would like to integrate this course at your university please contact the authors directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for any queries you may have.