Earth-friendly style: algaecan help fashion go green

Earth-friendly style: algaecan help fashion go green

Fashion designer and environmentalist Runa Ray says there is currently enough fabric in the world to clothe us for decades

An outfit with chlorophyll-printed leaves on cyanobacteria.

In the light of the pandemic, keeping sustainability as the mantra of the day, as a fashion environmentalist and a documentary designer, I am working closely with the United Nations on its sustainable development goals. I have decided to use fashion as activism to educate people about the fabric of the oceans.

The effects of climate change can be seen all around us. Bangladesh is currently flooded and workers have not been paid since the pandemic. 

Climate change is real and an imminent threat brought about by human activity. And, fashion is one of its biggest contributors.

Fast fashion has caused garments to end up in landfills, and most fast fashion is made up of synthetic fibers that cause micro plastic pollution in the oceans.

There is enough fabric and garments currently in the world to clothe all of us for decades.

So do we really need more, or is less more?

I decided to use the algae found off the coast of California and create garments that are educative, biodegradable and could tell a story.

For this project, I have partnered with ‘Oceanic Global’, which is a global non-profit organisation working towards the eradication of micro plastics in the ocean, and ‘Lloyds register’, which is a multinational company working towards making sure no one remains hungry by 2050.

Cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, are microscopic organisms found naturally in all types of water. These single-celled organisms live in fresh, brackish and marine waters. These organisms use sunlight to make their own food.

Cyanobacteria blooms form when cyanobacteria multiply very quickly. Blooms can form in warm, slow-moving waters that are rich in nutrients from sources such as fertilizer runoff or septic tank overflows. Cyanobacteria blooms need nutrients to survive. The blooms can form at any time, but most often form in late summer or early fall.

Fossil evidence suggests that blue-green algae have been around for millions of years. Scientists have recorded blue-green algae blooms dating back to the 12th century and they have documented their toxic effect to livestock for more than 100 years. However, it is possible that the frequency and duration of blooms are increasing in some waters as a result of increased nutrient concentrations. 

Nutrients, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen, can be carried into water bodies as a result of many human activities, including agriculture, discharge of untreated sewage, and use of phosphorus-based fertilizers and detergents.

Cyanobacteria is found in summer and early fall. The algae needs to be collected off the shores. Once collected, it is cleansed of its impurities.

The algae is then sculpted to form dresses. The texture of the algae has the ability to have light pass through it, which lends an ethereal effect to the clothes.

The colours on these clothes are soft, as if washed by the sun and the sea. The designs are similar to Victorian underclothing, shapely but meant to be hidden. They grow more intricate down the dress line. It is as if a human-made object is returning to its primordial origin, reincarnating into its natural aquatic state.

This collection will be displayed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California as a permanent exhibit.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based designer)