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    Microalgae Dyes Make for Clothes That Change Colors as They're Worn

    Written by

    Nadja Sayej

    Contributor

    Image: Algaemy

    One Berlin-based design studio called Blond & Bieber (no reference to Justin) believes in the pigment power of microalgae. Co-founded by designers Essi Johanna Glomb and Rasa Weber, the studio is at the forefront of using different kinds of algae for fashion.

    While the thought of wearing pond scum on your back isn't particularly appealing (if you've even thought of it), Algaemy is using European weeds to develop new types of microalgae prints. Their pigments come in shades of blue, green-brown, and red from microalgae.

    While microalgae has been used for nutrition, energy and oil production, and potentially for CO2 sequestration, Glomb and Weber's design lab focuses on the maximizing microalgae’s aesthetic potential. Recently nominated for a German Design Award, they’re launching their first limited-edition shoes with Trippen at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week this July in Berlin.

    The story behind Algaemy.

    Their textiles—well, at least the summer line—have globular abstract shapes in hues of red, blue and seaweed green washed over white fabric. They print fabrics live at events or make silkscreen microalgae prints in their studio. By building a machine that works as an analog textile printer, their prints have an organic feel.

    “We grow the microalgae in the amount that we need for printing, filter it, and produce a printing paste,” said Glomb and Weber in a joint email. “In a way, we tried to think about a future form of crafting an unknown material.”

    Their pigments literally have a life of their own. Their microalgae grows within a couple of days and doesn’t need anything except water, sunlight and CO2. “We wanted to open up a new perspective on algae as a rich resource, not only in a technological way but also aesthetically,” said Glomb and Weber.

    Image: Algaemy

    Instead of strapping on rainboots and hanging out with frogs to collect their materials, Blond & Bieber takes a scientific approach. It all started when they visited the Fraunhofer Institute for Microalgae, a research hub where they found freeze-dried microalgae, a fine powder which looks like pigment. “We were fascinated,” said Glomb and Weber. “We asked the scientists if we could take some samples with us.”

    While you could theoretically harvest some algae from just about any nearby body of water, the pair says you’d never get discrete species—or a clean color, as they call it. “That is only possible under lab conditions,” they said. Even today, they’re still working with the algae from the Fraunhofer Institute.

    There are over 60,000 different forms of algae, but they’re working on their own personalized palette of 15 different species for fabrics. Who knew that Spirulina gives textiles a green tint, or that Haematococcus pluvialis gives a warm sienna glow?

    A video lookbook of Algaemy’s latest line.

    Wearing microalgae clothing is somewhat unpredictable, as the colors can change and fade when exposed to sunlight. Some of the green algae pigment changes to blue, while pink-hued algae turns to red and then orange.

    “The fashion industry is always busy with producing light-stable colors,” said Glomb and Weber. “But products change just like people. If objects are only used for a very short period of time before people get bored by them, why shouldn’t textiles change its color after a time, just as well? It’s a trace, a story in the object.”

    Probably the most fascinating aspect is that, for the moment, they’re selling the concept, not items of clothing. So you won’t see Algaemy in boutiques anytime soon. Still, red is the most popular color, “which is most surprising, as people usually think about microalgae as something green,” they said.

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