WHY DO WE NEED BIO-INSPIRED TEXTILES? 

Today, we are on the brink of a climate crisis.

 

Designers are drawing on nature for inspiration when looking for solutions to man-made problems. Ecosystems, from a broader perspective have inspired well-known economical models, such circular and regenerative design. 

 

Historically, the Enlightenment (17th to 18th centuries) in Europe triggered a gradual, conceptual disconnect from the Earth’s ecosystem and nature. Since the industrial revolution we have used the earth’s resources in unsustainable ways. Although some ecological impacts are irreversible it is critical that we change approach to reverse the trajectory of what can be sustainable and even regenerative. 

 

More work is needed to shift from a linear approach which takes resources from the planet, makes them into products which are discarded as waste. This is described as the ‘take-make-waste’ model and to combat this, we need to apply design to ensure we create:  

RESOURCE EFFICIENCY

RESOURCE LONGEVITY 

RESOURCE RECOVERY

Bio-Inspired textiles (BIT) is looking to nature to teach us how to make better design decisions with the resources available to us, but why is biology a good approach for creating sustainable textile materials and products?

To answer this question, we studied the different ways biology and humans use design:  

 

MATERIALS FOR DESIGN 

Humans have a wide range of materials that we draw on to create our products. When textile designers require raw materials, we can easily buy very complex materials from a shop or online.

 

But in nature resources are very limited, as such extraordinary properties are created from the simple raw materials. Therefore, we can learn from Nature how to do more with less. 

DESIGN STRUCTURE

As designers we can be very creative when we are making textiles; we draw on a rich range of techniques, skills and knowledge to innovate. However, our approach to material use and design is not always sustainable.

 

Nature can teach us how to apply our existing tools, skills and knowledge to design products that make efficient use of resources and implement circularity.   

 

BIT draws on seven structural design elements found in nature which enable biological materials to demonstrate extraordinary properties via design. Textile designers can apply these design elements to: 

 

  • Design as much as possible with as little as possible for EFFICIENCY 

  • Design cleverly with the materials we use to enable RECOVERY  

  • Design for length and intensity of use for LONGEVITY 

DESIGN OUT ENERGY

Clothing, like all manufactured products, require resources (energy and substance) to be produced. However, in our current ‘take-make-waste’ system we use a lot of energy to produce our products, and these are then quickly discarded and replaced using more energy.  

 

In biology, nature cannot afford to waste energy unnecessarily and therefore relies on clever design. For example, if a spider wants to catch a fly it could try waiting for one to fly past and jump to catch it, but this would involve a lot of energy especially if it isn’t very good at jumping. Instead, the spider spends its energy designing and structuring a web. When the web is complete the spider doesn’t have to move around because the clever design allows the silk to vibrate when an insect arrives. This informs the resting spider of the location of its dinner. 

 

We can also use this method of spending time and effort designing our textiles. This extends not only to the structural design but includes designing autonomous structures - that do things without us having to do anything. That could be a textile design that reacts to moisture, heat, movement etc… For example, designing textiles that adapt to keep us cool when the environment is hot, or to expand as we grow and this mitigates the need for multiple garments.

 

By being informed by biology we can create textiles that self-assemble, self-repair or change their physical properties that save energy (efficiency) because they are multi-functional and/or last longer (longevity).