Residency Program At The Mills Fabrica: An Update From Jen Keane
In 2018, Fabrica partnered with Central Saint Martins to award two most promising graduate students with The Mills Fabrica Sustainable Prize and The Mills Fabrica Techstyle Prize for their innovative materials projects. In addition to the cash prize, Fabrica also offered the winners a 3-month residency program at The Mills. Over the past year, Jen Keane, the recipient of The Mills Fabrica Techstyle Prize, has further developed her project “This is Grown” with Fabrica’s support including access to Fabrica Space, community, and state-of-the-art machines at Fabrica Lab.
We talk to Jen who shares her experience in Hong Kong with us.
HOW DID THE RESIDENCY PROGRAM AT THE MILLS FABRICA HELP WITH YOUR PROJECT?
My first month at Fabrica was spent developing my tools and exploring the textile manufacturing and innovation landscape in Hong Kong for future partnership potential. It allowed me access to machinery (like laser cutting and 3D printer) that I would otherwise be unable to afford, as well as opened my mind to future material opportunities like knit and new yarn combinations.
At first, I was overwhelmed by the city and opportunities but at the same time equally impressed with how open and willing to help everyone was – both from Fabrica and other companies I met within
Hong Kong and Mainland China.
“At first, I was overwhelmed by the city and opportunities but at the same time equally impressed with how open and willing to help everyone was – both from Fabrica and other companies I met within Hong Kong and Mainland China.”
YOU MENTIONED THAT IT IS NOT EASY TO CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT FOR GROWING BACTERIA. DID YOU FIND A SOLUTION TO THIS PROBLEM?
This is still one of my biggest challenges. I learn a lot with every trial though and hope to tackle this problem through my collaboration with Bolt Threads, who Fabrica kindly introduced me to.
YOU ALSO MENTIONED THAT BIOTECH IS A VERY NEW SECTOR – AFTER A YEAR, DO YOU SEE ANY CHANGES IN THE MARKET?
I noticed a lot more players entering the market but still not very much public engagement outside the industry. Hopefully, this changes over the next year or two. Multiple companies have launched new products this year and are pushing for a more commercial approach.
CAN YOU GIVE US A QUICK UPDATE ON YOUR PROJECT?
It has been an exciting year of experimentation and opportunity but also one of many challenges. I have kicked off the next stages of my research both independently and with collaborators. I have been exploring how to create new structures and material properties using the tools I built while at The Mills, as well as building relationships with designers and brands to investigate possible applications of the material. Simultaneously, I’ve had to focus much of my time laying the business frameworks for my work. Some highlights of the year include:
- Met with Lenzing, Chemtax and The Woolmark Company in Hong Kong to explore future yarn
and structure ideas
- Started growing bacteria again at Greenlab in London
- Formalized a partnership with Bolt Threads in San Francisco. I have been spending some time with them from October to collaborate on some exciting new projects
- Recently founded Modern Synthesis (Limited) in the UK
WHAT IS THE MISSION OF MODERN SYNTHESIS?
Modern Synthesis is a cross-disciplinary material design lab connecting the dots between biology, material science and design industries to weave better material ecosystems. Offering creative, technical and innovation services in the fields of fashion materials, biodesign and sustainability, we also design and develop our own material technologies (like microbial weaving), systems, and products aimed at reducing environmental impact, improving awareness about sustainable practices and contributing to the circular economy.
ABOUT “THIS IS GMO”
In “This is GMO”, Keane introduces the next phase in her work by joining forces with synthetic biologist, Marcus Walker, a PHD candidate at Imperial College London, who has used genetic engineering techniques to develop a self-dyeing bacterium that produces both cellulose and melanin, a natural pigment found in squid ink, hair and skin. Employing this bacterium in Keane’s microbial weaving process, together they have grown the first sneaker upper woven and dyed by a single genetically modified organism. It is also 100% compostable and contains no synthetic materials or dyes.
Image Courtesy: Jen Keane