Colour Cultures: Jesse Adler x Rejina Pyo

Colour Cultures: Jesse Adler x Rejina Pyo

As part of London Craft Week, we’ve collaborated with Jesse Adler and Here Design on Beautility - an exhibition exploring bio-innovations for a more sustainable future. Jesse talks more about the project here.

Colour remains one of the most under-innovated areas in fashion sustainability. According to bio molecular scientist Jesse Adler, colour cultivated from fungi like mushrooms, lichen and mould can be a safer and healthier alternative to synthetic colourants, and more scalable and economically viable than natural dyes. In collaboration with Adler and Here, we have demonstrated, with a visual and immersive experience, how these colours could make it onto the runways of the future.

Colour is a vital feature of life and as such, humans have been on a quest to harness the boldest and brightest colours for thousands of years, originally creating pigments from natural materials (such as clay and ash) until the discovery of synthetic colourants in the mid-19th century redefined our relationship with colour.

The advent of synthetic colourants triggered a new wave of colourful possibilities, with hues and performance characteristics well-beyond that of colourants from plants, animals, and minerals. However, synthetic colourants are made from fossil fuels (a non-renewable resource) and some have been found to have harmful effects on both humans (as carcinogens) and the planet (as pollutants). Growing awareness of these issues has increased the global demand for alternative renewable sources of colour in food, cosmetic and textile sectors.

Fungi are an underexplored source of sustainable colourants that are non-toxic, biodegradable, light-fast, and some even have cosmeceutical benefits, such as anti-oxidant and UV protection. Mycology (the study of fungi) is a relatively new field and it is estimated that we’ve only discovered about 1% of the fungi on Earth, yet within that 1% there’s a wealth of research into the potential applications and industrial importance of pigments extracted from fungi.

To illustrate the viability of fungal pigments, I created a makeup collection using the pigments I extracted from mushrooms, lichens, yeast and mould. By collaborating with fungi I am challenging our relationship with colour as it intersects beauty, health, and the environment, while valorising fungi and their chemical extracts.

Benefits of working with these pigments are:

Commercially available colourants for textiles are by and large synthetic dyes which are made from non-renewable resources, such as crude oil (fossil fuels), and have a historically horrible toxic impact on both humans and the environment (ergo our entire ecosystem). Some synthetic dyes, like those certified Oekotex class 1, are safe against human skin but still depend on fossil fuels and have great pollution potential.

Natural dyes from plants are renewable and generally non-toxic, but have limited ranges of colour and performance properties, and depend on the seasonality and abundance of the plants' growth that season. Natural dyes from minerals are non-renewable since we cannot grow minerals, we can only mine them (for now...) and there are limitations with the colour, performance, and toxicity of these dyes.

Colourants extracted from fungi are non-toxic, renewable (can be grown in a lab, cheaply and quickly, using waste as a feedstock) and have a greater range of colours and performance than natural dyes do. All of these factors added together illustrate the potential that fungal pigments have in commercial applications. My next steps are to continue extracting more pigments and to conduct further performance testing on the pigments I already have. I am currently exploring the range of applications that these pigments could be used for and I am going to Mexico this summer to forage for pigmenting fungi and hope to find some truly remarkable colours!

Jesse Adler
Here Design