Research Project (I):
Fungi materials for clothing

novel materials / perception / sensory response / consumer engagement / marketing


Research Project (I) is positioned within a contemporary field of design practice where novel bio-based materials and fabrication mechanisms are being proposed and developed by designers in response to sustainability and wellbeing concerns.  The project emerged from a personal design interest in the potential use of fungi to fabricate textile-like materials. 

The challenge

During the initial stages of this research project, it became evident, subsequent to discussions with scientists that fungal materials could prove viable for fabrication. 

If such a scenario were to be realised in manufacturing, a pertinent question that would arise would be about how a high-street brand like Marks & Spencer would engage with the complex challenges of selling such a concept to the consumer.

Mould, to be converted into a durable material, would face the challenge of overturning its inherent negative associations with decay, disease and deterioration (Dugan, 2011; Dunn, 2011).  Shifting this perception would be necessary in order for such a material to succeed in a market place that increasingly demands transparency of material sourcing, production, and heightened aesthetic awareness from consumers (Fletcher, 2008; Fletcher and Grose, 2012).

Research in Practice: 
‘Mould Perceptions’ workshop

A ‘Mould Perceptions’ workshop was designed to assess participant engagement with the raw material, i.e. mould, by:

  1. Eliciting cognitive and sensory response to mould- based stimuli;
  2. Creative engagement of participants to design a T-shirt for personal use by using fungi-based visual material;
  3. Use of the participant-designed T-shirts as probes within social settings to elicit public reaction and response in relation to fungi-based garment designs.

Location:  Kingston University London
Participants:  10 participants (6 female / 4 male), recruited from the University

Research findings

The T-shirt succeeded as a probe in providing a neutral and fun ground for participants and the researcher to engage at least on a conceptual level with how one might choose to wear mould, thus opening up the space to consider obscure materials that have design viability and market desirability.

The positive engagement with the T-shirt, both within the participatory workshop as it was being designed, and in the public domain where it was worn voluntarily by the research participants, suggests that design tools and creative processes, e.g.   the T-probe within participatory design activities, could offer high-street brands in the likes of Marks & Spencer a means of calibrating consumer perception and taste, prior to launching new products and services. 


Project supervision: Prof Jane Harris (DoS), Dr Lori Snyder, Dr Paul Micklethwaite
Partnering institutions: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Cardiff University
Funding: Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) Kingston University London

Dugan, F. M. (2011) Conspectus of world ethnomycology: fungi in ceremonies, crafts, diets, medicines and myths. St. Paul, Minn.: APS Press.
Dunn, R. (2011) The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today. New York: HarperCollins.
Fletcher, K. (2008) Sustainable fashion and textiles: design journeys. London: Earthscan.
Fletcher, K. and Grose, L. (2012) Fashion & sustainability: design for change. London: Laurence King.

Textile-like biofilm of P. roqueforti (Park & Ivanova, 2013). Image courtesy of Dr Simon Park
Textile-like biofilm of P. roqueforti (Park & Ivanova, 2013). Image courtesy of Dr Simon Park
‘Mould Perceptions’participatory workshop. Image courtesy of Ezzidin Alwan
T-shirt designs by workshop participants
A workshop participant wearing his 'mouldy' T-shirt
A workshop participant wearing his ‘mouldy’ T-shirt