Textile Design Student Uses Microbial Dyes for Forward-Thinking Fashion

Student Sivan Ilan is exploring dyeing fabric and yarn through microbially derived pigments.

Jefferson graduate student Sivan Ilan is exploring dyeing fabric and yarn through microbially derived pigments.

Synthetic dyes rank as one of the major pollutants in the fashion industry. With the growing interest in sustainability, researchers continue to search for alternatives.

Dyeing fabric and yarn through microbially derived pigments is one possible option. This technique, being explored by M.S. in textile design student Sivan Ilan ’19, can reduce the demand for synthetic pigments and allow for more creative applications that can harness the power of organisms.

At the recent London Design Festival, she showcased a new line of apparel designed with Philadelphia-based biotech startup Biorealize’s Microbial Designer Kits. As the inaugural Biorealize Design Fellow, Ilan is working with Orkan Telhan, the company’s chief design officer, on the creative possibilities of microbially dyed yarn embroidered on previously owned denim.

“On their second time around, this series of garments is given a new life,” Ilan explained. “Drawing on botanical motifs from the natural world, the renewed garments move toward an environmentally responsible kind of making. Off-set seams and superimposed florals are designed to catch viewers’ attention by displaying imperfections and the handmade touch, contrasting the characteristics of a mass-production saturated market. The garments embrace a circular approach to fashion and a new way to think about the consumption of it.”

With a process called bioremediation, the synthetic dyes on existing yarn are selectively removed by natural microorganisms, she said. Remediated yarn offers an alternative aesthetic by working on an existing product, and they allow designers to combine environmental responsibility with their creativity for forward-thinking fashion.

“As a graduate student at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University), my body of work is focused on sustainability in textiles and fashion,” Ilan said. “I have been exploring ideas like circularity, environmentally conscious practices and consumer culture as they relate to textile design, so it was a great match to my interests to support Biorealize’s development with microbially dyed yarn.”

After graduation, she plans to continue on the path of sustainability in textiles and fashion and implement her knowledge through practical practices within the industry. “I’d like to support more brands and designers in their efforts moving toward a better, more responsible way of designing and producing textiles,” Ilan said.

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