Modern Synthesis is a biodesign company which connects the dots between biology, material science and design, to develop novel bio-based materials and products for the fashion and lifestyle industries.
The London-based platform was founded in 2016 by CSM’s then Material Futures MA student and ex-Adidas designer, Jen Keane, and Imperial College London’s pHD scientist, Ben Reeve. Six years on and Modern Synthesis is a cross-functional team of scientists, engineers, designers and marketeers, situated in a newly developed lab in Balham, south London.
The UK-based startup creates shoes, clothing, and other textiles with a process straight out of a sci-fi movie. By attaching millions of hungry bacteria to an outline made of sugar, the company creates its own fabric seemingly out of thin air.
“What we’re trying to do is build this new class of materials that is more sustainable but also allows us to design and create in new ways, which is really exciting for the fashion industry,” — Modern Synthesis co-founder and CEO Jen Keane
The process, called “microbial weaving,” has been compared to 3D printing, although actually, it’s a lot easier to understand. "First, designers create a rough outline of an item using sugars collected from agricultural waste. Then, they attach the bacteria, which eat the sugars along that outline. As they do this, the bacteria leave behind cellulose, an extremely sturdy compound found in other plant-based materials like wood, paper, and linen. The process takes between 10 and 14 days, depending on the item. And the upsides are pretty wild."
Using a bacteria extracted from Kombucha tea, Modern Synthesis is growing material to shape based on exactly what is required. Their goal is to curb fashion industry emissions and displace petro-chemical, plastic and animal based textiles with a range of renewable technical materials. By designing pieces in exact shapes, the company reduces any leftover fabrics. Each item is made with exactly as much material as it needs.