In the quest to find more sustainable textile production methods, entrepreneurs have come up with a variety of inventive solutions, some of which are rather startling.
Human waste was a common issue among exhibitors at MaterialDistrict, which was held in Utrecht for three days from April 5 to 7 after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. A selection of innovators presented their concepts, many of which were still in the development stage, among the elaborate producers and existing companies, with a particular focus on human-produced trash – something that already exists and does not require new materials.
When not elaborated on, many people turn their noses up at the idea of incorporating human waste into the product manufacturing process, as it can sound unusual, strangely unnatural, or simply unsettling. However, when expanded upon, human waste can actually be a viable alternative to new textile production because it is often easy to obtain and can provide a number of benefits that do not necessitate much else to work.
The use of human hair in the creation of garments, an idea created by Zsofia Kollar, the founder of the Human Material Loop, was a particularly remarkable innovation. In a talk during the event, Kollar discussed the urgent need for environmentally friendly materials, questioning why the world often avoids trash solutions that already existed. Human hair was Kollar’s remedy. Hair has been integrated into a closed-loop recycling system by Kollar’s Human Material Loop, allowing it to essentially become a yarn that can be used to produce garments. The concept will put to good use the 72 million kilogrammes of hair that is thrown away in Europe each year.
In her presentation, Kollar stated, “The solution lies at the top of our heads, trash is just raw material in an inconvenient location.” The inventor claimed that she wondered why we weren’t already employing a material like hair, which is already a big part of our life and contains the same keratin fibre as wool. She went on to say that the product is 100 percent biodegradable, has a low carbon footprint, and can be obtained without harming animals or humans.
The event’s moderator, David Heldt, co-founder of Glue Amsterdam, expressed his reservations about the concept, but Kollar remained unfazed, saying, “We are so far removed from the materials we are already using today.” When you look at your wool sweater, for example, do you consider how that sheep lived, how it was tortured, and how much blood was spilt to create that fluffy garment? Isn’t it funny how quickly we forget?”
While the concept is still in the early start-up phase, Kollar did say that she is currently in talks with various high-end brands on potentially bringing the material to a commercial level. “We want to convince the high-end brands to show a different perspective first so it will be easier to convince the average consumer later,” said Kollar. “People need to see that we are not above but equal to the ecosystem.”
Michelle Baggerman, a Dutch innovator who works as part of Studio Bureau Baggerman with material designer Jessica den Hartog, took a similar approach to human waste. Project Chrysalis, the studio’s notion for turning plastic trash into yarn, was presented by the couple, and while it is presently only considered a product for internal use, Baggerman’s idea nonetheless adds an important element to alternative textile production.
Baggerman, who has been working with plastic for the past five years, believes it is critical to discuss the usage of human waste in textile production since we rarely think of it as a material, despite the fact that it is something we use on a daily basis. “Thinking about what we can do with existing materials, what kinds of colours are available, and how we can use them,” she said.
Despite the fact that many concepts involving the utilisation of human waste are still in their early stages, the potential for repurposing these materials that are already there and, more often than not, surround us on a daily basis is becoming increasingly apparent. While many of these artists have had difficulties with not just their experiments, but also with the reactions of others, they are determined to change our minds, hoping that the industry will finally recognise garbage as a substance that can be used.