The New Synthetics

Could synthetic biology lead to sustainable textile manufacturing?

Authored by: Carole Collet

Routledge Handbook of Sustainability and Fashion

Print publication date:  August  2014
Online publication date:  August  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415828598
eBook ISBN: 9780203519943
Adobe ISBN: 9781134082957


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This chapter investigates a radically bold future for fashion inscribed within a new era of biological engineering, where fabrics can be produced by bacteria, and the supply chains of fashion brands are genetically programmed. This is not science fiction. Today, biologists have developed the tools to reprogramme bacteria for the production of silk, biofuel and medicine. Our future factories could be genetically engineered living cells, designed to custom-make materials to suit our needs. Synthetic biology, the science responsible for this cutting-edge technology, is portrayed by some leading public organizations as a potential means to achieve a more sustainable future. As a Reader in Textile Futures, I investigate the role of new technologies for future sustainable textiles, horizon 2050. In this chapter, I will explore the foreseeable impact of synthetic biology on the textiles and fashion industry and will question the controversial claims that this new and uprising biotechnology could foster a more sustainable future. And, rather than endorsing the inevitability of a ‘bio-technopolis’, I will end by proposing a new framework for designing with the living: from biomimicry to ‘biofacture’.

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