Jonsara Ruth & Alison Mears
Co-Founder of Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons School of Design
Healthy Materials Lab is a design research lab at Parsons School of Design dedicated to creating a world in which people’s health is placed at the center of all design decisions. Committed to raising awareness about toxics used in current building products, we Invent, test, and implement healthier material alternatives, making them more marketable, accessible, and popular for the next generation of designers and architects to create healthier places for all people to live. Healthy Materials Lab is an interdisciplinary, international, and professionally diverse collective of graduate students, alumni, and faculty with backgrounds in media, architecture, design, community development, education, and business.
The founders: Jonsara Ruth Jonsara is a designer and artist and founded Salty Labs, a collaborative design studio, to improve environmental health while creating viscerally designed spaces, events, and furniture. Design Director at Healthy Materials Lab, Founding Director of the MFA Interior Design Program, and Associate Professor at Parsons School of Design. Here she led AFTERTASTE, a symposium that brings new definition to the field of interiors. Alison Mears Mears focuses her research on design strategies that disrupt the building supply chain to incorporate human health as criteria for evaluating building products. An architect, AIA, LEED AP, Associate Professor of Architecture, and Director and Co-Founder of Healthy Materials Lab. She is co-Principal Investigator of the Healthy Affordable Materials Project (HAMP).
In the fifth installment of our Executive Education in Sustainable Fashion series, moderator Bjorn Bengtsson interviews professors Alison Mears and Jonsara Ruth to discuss the work of their research center, the Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons School of Design. Mears and Ruth discuss the health impact and deep overlap in materials used by both the interior/building and fashion industries and introduce a wealth of exciting materials- and possibilities- being explored and utilized in new, productive and sustainable ways.
Using healthy materials in fashion is increasingly important for companies and consumers alike. From a sustainability standpoint, using healthy materials in any industry should by definition, not harm the earth or deplete its natural resources. In terms of human health, sustainability in fashion is important because as Jonsara Ruth states in her interview “clothing we wear is right against our skin [and] that [I think] has a big role to play in human health.”
There are a number of promising projects which academia, the private sector, and others are exploring to advance the future of fashion and sustainability to improve human health/well-being. Among these research ventures are companies exploring biofabricated solutions for complex industrial (and health) problems created when manufacturing and producing fashion products. Biofabrication for fashion is a series of scientific explorations which harness natural ‘technologies’ or ‘products’ without further depleting or harming the planet’s natural resources. Companies such as EvrNu, MycoWorks, Bolt Threads, Orange Fiber among others, are at the vanguard of biofabrication technologies for fashion, offering fresh and sustainable solutions to eliminating waste, reducing toxicity, promoting animal rights and beyond.
Designer Stella McCartney is at the vanguard of working with these sustainable technology companies for fashion. In 2017, her fashion house started a long-term partnership with Bolt Threads to create a series of garments and additionally in 2019, Adidas by Stella McCartney announced an ulta limited run of the very first garment made by EvrNu’s groundbreaking fiber created entirely from recycled fabric. As Mears and Ruth confirmed in their talk, as technology continues to develop more possibilities for healthier materials manufacturing becomes efficient and available to incorporate into materials serving many human needs- clothing and building/interiors among the world’s most important.
“We really feel that our work is... about placing people’s health at the center of all design decisions so that we can create healthier places for everybody to live. ... We do feel this [work] is in direct relationship to fashion... If we say the clothing we wear is right against our skin then that [I think] has a big role to play in human health.”
Liebco, a Belgian company and traditional makers of fine linens are exploring the growing hemp as a new material fiber: https://www.libeco.com/en/
Parsons faculty and New York Textile Lab founder Laura Sansone’s project on mapping local wool producers in New York State: https://www.newyorktextilelab.com/new-page-3
Resource on “architectural seaweed” to build homes in Denmark: https://vandkunsten.com/en/projects/seaweedhouse
Bolt Threads harnesses “proteins found in nature to create fibers and fabrics with both practical and revolutionary uses, starting with spider silk” Learn more about their long term partnership with Stella McCartney here: https://qz.com/1095394/stella-mccartney-is-pioneering-synthetic-spider-silk-in-high-fashion/.
Adidas by Stella McCartney is the first company to produce a garment using EvrNu’s Nucycl fiber: https://www.evrnu.com/nucycl
Through biotechnology, PILI creates natural dyes by merging the “performance of the chemical industry with the renewability of biology” to create a less toxic, cleaner future in dyes: https://www.pili.bio/.
Check out Orange Fiber’s collaboration with fashion brand, Salvatore Ferragamo, and more about their fabrics, impact and future at: http://orangefiber.it/en/.
NYC-based company Carpet Cycle, “finds uses for post-consumer carpet to divert a valuable non-degradable, non-renewable resource from landfills” namely by creating building insulation material: http://www.carpetcycle.com/
Fashion designer and founder of consultancy Bioculture Suzanne Lee created a leather jacket out of microbial cellulose, a similar consistency to leather: https://www.popsci.com/meet-woman-who-wants-growing-clothing-lab/