Roya Aghighi, a Canadian-Iranian fashion designer, wants you to treat your clothing as if it were alive. 

While that statement seems startling, could treating clothes as living things that need our love and care for survival be as far-fetched as it sounds?

Roya Aghighi’s brainchild is Biogarmentry, a biodegradable ‘living’ fabric that she envisioned and developed with a group of researchers and scientists at the University of British Columbia. This biotextile is made from algae and purifies the air around it through photosynthesis.

With rising awareness among the masses, it is well known that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world right now. The first photosynthesizing textile could xome as a grand revolution in helping clean up the carbon footprints of the industry. Aghighi’s statements come as a direct appeal to change the mindless consumerism, a mentality that fast-fashion has carefully cultivated amongst customers worldwide. Her fabric is currently in the proof-of-concept stage, so it may be a while before it hits the stores and can make it’s way into your closets. She says, “It is going to be a slow shift, but I hope it will be a long-lasting one.”

The fibres currently ruling textile production, such as cotton and rayon, produce carbon dioxide as they grow. The estimated carbon footprint of a single cotton T-shirt works out to be about 15 kilograms of carbon dioxide, most of which is emitted in the production and dyeing processes. 

So as a solution to carbon emissions, Aghighi looked to algae and the possibilities it provides by trapping carbon. Just like cotton or hemp, algae too, sequesters carbon dioxide, but does so ten times more efficiently and grows much quicker than terrestrial plants. It can be converted into a powder and then spun into fibres. In this way, Roya Aghighi has transformed algae into a carbon-negative raincoat.

While lagal technology provides many new avenues for the growing sustainability movement in fashion, are must be taken to cultivate algae in a responsible manner for future mass production. Biotech start-ups from the US to China are vying to develop these fabrics, from prototypes to mass-production techniques that can contend with cotton or artificial materials at a cost. McCurdy perceives this as a promising path forward and wants to prove that algae-based clothing can be not only environmentally sound but aesthetically bold and futuristic.

The raincoat produced by McCurdy’s “After Ancient Sunlight” project was featured in “Nature,” the Cooper Hewitt museum’s 2019 Design Triennial, last year. 

She was interested in the fact that energy from the sun is responsible both for the algae-generated photosynthetic energy as well as the fossil fuel energy, such as oil or coal, that traces its roots to prehistoric plants and algae.

In the laboratory, Aghighi’s fabric develops various patterns — organic forms, spots, and bands — as the algae grows, the designer said. When the resulting garments are available commercially, she envisions people tending to their own organic cloak, spraying their organism as they travel to work and promoting their algae to clean the air and grow different and unique, personal motifs.

“I’m not saying that your clothes should be your pets,” she said. “I mean, to be honest, secretly, I do say that.”