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Nature-inspired Wearables through Biomimicry Design

Are you the one seeking a solution from the existing?

For some problems, solutions come thick and fast, but inspiration is lacking. In these times where inspiration is coming up short, designers/developers will often find it by looking at existing products of their familiarity, or other similar products that could help getting the inspiration flowing.

When you are faced with challenges that are pushing the frontiers of human achievement, then it isn’t always possible to look for inspiration from existing products because, well, they just don’t exist. Just because humans haven’t created it though, doesn’t always mean that it doesn’t exist already. For some challenges, however, solutions do exist and it just happens to be that the animal kingdom fielded those solutions.

Studying and implementing solutions based on nature is referred to as “Biomimicry”. According to Biomimicry.orgBiomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies, new ways of living, that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul.

The study of biomimicry is a revolution for the fashion and wearable industries by bringing fresh inspiration and innovation to the field. By drawing from nature, designers/developers are breaking ground with paradigm-shifting innovations that bring the very best of the animal kingdom to us humble humans. For instance, Vollebak is a multi-award winning outdoor clothing company who often draws from nature to create functional, performance, outdoor apparel for athletes and extreme outdoorsmen. One of their most innovative garments is the Black Squid jacket. A colour shifting, waterproof jacket based on 500 million years of evolution https://www.vollebak.com/product/black-squid-jacket/. By studying the black squid’s ability to change their colour and appearance at high speed and with almost infinite variety to hide, attack, or communicate Vollebak have been able to create a jacket designed specifically to make the wearer as visible as possible. The goal is to increase the safety of the wearer whether running in built-up areas or Skiing down the backcountry slopes. To achieve this colour shifting design Vollebak replicated elements of the black squid’s biological survival mechanism using lasers, resin and over 2 billion disruptively-structured microscopic glass spheres. What resulted is a jacket that looks like metal or oil in dull light conditions, but when exposed to bright light it instantly reflects every colour in the visible spectrum.

Sometimes though, nature can be too good at driving human performance. You may recall that during the 2008 Olympics held in Beijing a spotlight was shone on Michael Phelps. This time it wasn’t just because of his dominant performance but raising questions as to the role that technology was playing in that dominant performance. Speedo in an effort to increase its performance swimwear turned to sharks to understand how they are able to move through water so quickly. Speedos research division called Aqualab started to look at Sharkskin and according to Mother Nature Network when shark skin is observed under an electron microscope, it is made up of countless overlapping scales called dermal denticles (or “little skin teeth”). The denticles have grooves running down their length in alignment with water flow. These grooves disrupt the formation of eddies, or turbulent swirls of slower water, making the water pass by faster. By applying this same mechanical property to its swimsuits in its first year of production resulted in 74 World records being broken (The Guardian) and coined the phrase “Technological Doping” to describe its unfair advantage given to athletes who wear it. Such a powerful advantage in fact that it has subsequently been banned from the Olympic games to ensure a level playing field for all athletes. Biomechanics engineers, physiologists, sports scientists, physiotherapists, more than 100 elite swimmers – and even a wind tunnel at Nasa – were involved in the three-year development of the suit.

One core tenant of Biomimicry is to create sustainable products by observing nature. Now biomimicry doesn’t always mean man-made replication of mechanical properties found in nature. Biomimicry can simply be the utilisation of materials that are also found to have similar properties to existing man-made materials. A great example is shown here by Paul Stamets an American mycologist is sporting a hat made from Mushrooms  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NquIdtggU8o. More specifically the Mycelium or the roots of mushrooms can be processed into flexible leather-like clothing, purses, pants, and even durable furniture and building blocks for a cleaner, more sustainable planet. An important benefit of Mycelium is that its use and manufacture is Carbon-negative meaning that the more of it that is used, the larger the reduction of the effects of climate change. A rare property where it’s ramping up of production has an inversely reducing impact on global warming and climate change. It can also be naturally dyed any colour so if you still want your home to be vibrant and colourful you don’t have to make any sacrifices in palette when using mycelium. A company called Mogu based in Italy are leading the charge in developing and scaling mycelium-based materials that can be tweaked to be as hard as enamel and shell-like or as soft and porous as sponge simply by varying the amount of light, humidity, temperature and types of food given to the mushrooms opening up it’s potential applications in the giant world of architectural materials for things such as flooring and walls.

So whether you are developing new products, or looking for inspiration you could turn to https://asknature.org/ a huge archive of searchable data detailing how nature has solved the challenges we as designers are faced with.

Biomimicry may be a new field of study for you all, but we here at Detekt hope that the lessons it can teach us will have a meaningful impact on how products are designed and developed and that it is used as a tool to create more sustainable solutions to human problems. If you need help designing your next big idea or would like to know how biomimicry design could be utilised in your project then contact Detekt now.