GUAP Interviews: Designer Rosie Broadhead Talks Future Materials And Therapeutic Fashion In Latest Project Skin II

Not only understanding the importance of looking after the planet with sustainable fashion, designer Rosie Broadhead understands the importance of looking after one’s own well-being something that is frequently disregarded from both designers and consumers both groups lacking understanding of the impact chemicals and certain materials can have on our skin. Curious to make fashion healing and therapeutic, for her latest project ‘skin II’ Rosie teamed up with Microbiologist Dr Callewaert to explore the benefits of encapsulating probiotic bacteria into the fibres of clothing and how this can be better for your skin and the environment. We spoke to Rosie about this project and much more. Find out what she had to say in the interview below.

How do you consciously produce your designs with sustainability in mind? 

As a designer, I don’t believe we can design anything without considering sustainability and the impact of the materials and processes have on the environment. In my practice sustainability means looking closer at what is already natural and common on our bodies to develop more responsible solutions to performance wear and therapeutic clothing.

Currently, there is a lot of focus on the fashion industry’s unsustainable practices concerning waste and environmental impact, however, much less is known about the use of chemical finishes on our clothing that can impact our bodies. I focus on developing clothing that is healthy for our skin with minimal impact on the environment, which often means working with what is already natural on our bodies, the microbiome. 

Your designs have an extraterrestrial look, How much has learned about future materials fueled your desire to create something beyond our time as well as help the planet? 

When designing I took references from 60’s/ 70’s sci-fi movies such as Barbarella and World on A Wire as I am interested in creating a futuristic but also a dated feeling. Even though I am using new technology to create probiotic clothing, I am ultimately developing a platform for the body to function naturally, which has always existed.

My collaboration with scientists has been essential in developing my materials and designs. I collaborate with a microbiologist to develop ‘Probiotic Clothing’ by incorporating bacteria into textiles. The project focuses on the skin’s microbiome and how we can develop a healthy flora through science, technology and design. 

My focus is on looking at what is natural on our bodies to explore how we can create sustainable yet functional clothing and replacing the need for toxic chemicals on textiles. This project is not currently commercial, but we have conducted trials that prove our concept. I feel cross-disciplinary projects can provide new solutions to performance clothing and sustainability.

photographer, Karl Felix
Model, Ratiba Ayadi 

How has your education helped you to gain skills and resources to work with your creativity? 

I studied BA Fashion Design at the University of Westminster where I focused on Menswear before working in the fashion industry. Yet, my masters in Material Futures at CSM has helped to give me a different perspective of what I could achieve within fashion. 

Material Futures focuses on exploring how we will live in the future through craft, science and technology. This new approach to design differs from my previous education in the fashion industry. This thorough research and development enabled me to look beyond conventional fashion design, and in doing so promotes holistically sustainable practices. I was inspired by the innovation of fabric technology and the possibilities it offers and became fascinated by how what we wear can influence our performance, comfort and endurance.

 How can other people unable to study, gain access to some of this information to create consciously?

As awareness of sustainability has become more recognised, I have discovered some open-source platforms with information on what individuals or designers can do to work in a more responsible way. 

The Sustainable Angle, for example, is a not-for-profit organisation with a focus on sustainability in Fashion and Textiles. They are able to connect designers with mills, suppliers and innovators who produce fabrics and materials with a low environmental impact.

Ma-tt-er is a platform founded by Seetal Solanki, provides ecological strategies for more responsible design, and information on what our planet is made of. 

The website Materiom is a platform providing open-source data on how to make materials that nourish local economies and ecologies. Their website features recipes to create materials made from abundant natural ingredients that can be locally sourced. 

During the creation process do you consider the design or the material first, how does the creative process work? 

My discovery into bacteria and skin started through my interest in how the body functions. I started to look at cosmetics and deodorant and how these products co-interact with skin. This led me to consider how I could incorporate certain ingredients into clothing to add function in a way that works with the body’s natural processes rather than disrupting it. 

During the design process, I always consider the body first, this will then influence the material decision. Depending on what ingredients I am using in the fabric this will affect the design. The encapsulated bacteria on my probiotic garments are invisible to the eye. I designed a print which resembles the shape and growth pattern of this bacteria under a microscope to communicate the idea. 

Also, in order for these therapeutic fabrics to work at their best, they need to be in contact with the skin. This is why my designs are often undergarments or closely fitted to the body. 

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What are you looking forward to creating this year? 

I am excited about developing my latest project ‘Skin Series’ an undergarment collection exploring the interaction between fabric and our bodies. This is part of an ongoing collaboration with microbiologist Dr Chris Callewart. We are developing a technique to incorporate probiotic bacteria into textiles, healthy bacteria on the skin; magnesium sulphate; and making use of existing seaweed and milk protein textiles.  

All these ingredients have known therapeutic benefits to the skin and body. Probiotic bacteria helps to encourage cell renewal, reduces body odour, and improves the immune system of your skin when activated with moisture. Magnesium Sulphate can help relive muscles tension, balance hormones, and reduce stress. Lastly, Seaweed and Milk protein hold antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  This recent pandemic has given me more reason to consider how we can develop the current and future possibilities of wellness clothing.

photographer, Karl Felix
Model, Ratiba Ayadi 

Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?

I believe researching and collaborating beyond your respected discipline can lead to some unexpected and exciting innovations. 

How are you spending your time during quarantine? 

I have been working with my housemate Anna Victoria Best and Bianca Scout on an audio-visual soundscape to promote a holistic health and wellness experience during lockdown. Anna has art directed and shot the film ‘Dream Sleep Sound’, and dancer Scout featured in the film and wearing my designs also produced the music. We have been live streaming this video from Anna’s bedroom in the evenings through various platforms during isolation. 

I have also been involved in my friend Elliss’s initiative ‘Scrub up for the NHS’ an opensource platform with instructions on how to make PPE and where to send it. I live in a warehouse conversion, so I am able to stay home and use my studio to make the Scrubs. 

Do you have any thoughts on what the fashion industry will look like post lockdown?

From an innovation standpoint, the fashion industry has been working hard to develop new solutions for anti-viral textiles and protective clothing. I have heard of some exciting concepts such as engineers in Canada researching the potential of the anti-viral properties in a particular seaweed. 

The lockdown may also be an opportunity for designers to become more resourceful and to search for materials and processes more locally. This could help develop a more circular design process where we only use what is available to us, and we are responsible for where it ends up.

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