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Puma: Bacteria Meets Biodegradable Textiles in Biodesign Project

A new Puma project explores the design possibilities of sustainably produced materials and chemical-free dye in performance apparel, in a step toward a zero-waste future.

Design to Fade marks Puma’s third project since 2016 that pulls inspiration from biological systems and processes, part of its efforts to minimize the harmfully pollutive  effects that traditional apparel production wreaks on the land, air and waterways. “Designs and designers benefit by tapping into the glocal supply chain helping to shape a better world,” Puma wrote on the project’s website.

Puma executed the biodesign project with the expertise of collaboration partners Dutch fashion project Living Colour, which explores eco-friendly alternatives to artificial dyes, and Swedish design studio Streamateria, an expert in working with textiles that biodegrade in nature.

“Our times require us to rethink not only what to create but also how we create,” Romain Girard, Puma’s senior head of innovation, said in a statement. “With Design to Fade, we are working on a future, which focuses on sustainable production methods and recyclable materials.”

Streamateria leverages closed-loop processes to fabricate textiles that can be reused as a raw-material source for future production. Textile materials produced by the Nordic innovator are printed in a mesh structure and enveloped in a bioplastic coating.

Puma pointed out that Streamateria materials can be manufactured locally and at short notice. The textile is designed to break down after a certain period of time and even has the ability to cool wearers, a key attribute for performance apparel products.

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Puma's Design to Fade project explores sustainable design using bacteria to produce pigment, and alternative textile production.
Puma tapped Living Colour and Streamateria to explore the possibilities of biodesign. Puma

Living Colour, on the other hand, is developing a method to dye textiles using bacteria, which are fed a nutrient enabling them to produce a pigment that can be used to color fabrics. This process uses no hazardous chemicals and consumes less water and energy compared to traditional methods, said Living Colour, which is run by independent designers Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar, who studied the efficacy of using sound waves on bacteria to create patterned textiles.

Although the biodesign project is a long ways away from scaling up to commercial production, the research represents a significant step toward improving the company’s long-term sustainability, said Puma, describing the collaboration as mitigating biodesign mistakes, using nature for “hyper-local sourcing” and working toward zero-waste production.

Design strategy studio Innovation by Design, which has an office in Milan, plans to showcase the project research in a Design to Fade exhibition located at the fashion capital’s Stazione Centrale Warehouses, the “very heart of Milan Design Week events,” it wrote on the Design to Fade website.

The planned exhibition is designed to take viewers on an “immersive journey” of how bacterial microorganisms lead to functional, stylish apparel.

In previous biodesign projects, Puma worked with organizations like MIT to develop technology such as “breathing shoes” and “deep learning” insoles. The German company remains committed to exploring eco-friendly and alternative design, partnering earlier this year with London’s Central Saint Martins design school to produce a footwear, apparel and accessories capsule using sustainable technologies.