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Insights of an Eco Artist

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In conversation: Aradhita Parasrampuria

Insights of an Eco Artist Team

Aradhita Parasrampuria is a sustainable materials researcher and textile designer originally from India and based in New York. Aradhita combines synthetic biology with fashion to create climate-conscious, ethical, and affordable textiles in an effort to replace toxic petroleum-based materials.

8 February 2023

Aradhita Parasrampuria is a sustainable materials researcher and textile designer originally from India and based in New York. Aradhita combines synthetic biology with fashion to create climate-conscious, ethical, and affordable textiles in an effort to replace toxic petroleum-based materials. She works primarily with organisms such as Algae, Escherichia coli, and Mycelium.

She is the recipient of the Swarovski and United Nations “Creatives For Our Future” grant and Aronson Fellowship from Tishman Environment and Design Center. Her work has been featured in COP27, Vogue, L'officiel Brazil, CFDA, No-Kill Magazine, New York Design Week, Mana Contemporary, and Talking Textiles.

Embellish Project

Aradhita Parasrampuria has created a collection of pieces utilizing biodegradable algae-based embellishments that transform with their environment, in order to challenge the separation between artificial materials and the biological world.

The heart of this body of work are beads created using an algae biopolymer solution that is water-resistant, antimicrobial, and self-replenishing. Parasrampuria weaves the beads into intricate textiles using a beadwork technique she developed. The embellishments can react with sunlight to change color or glow in the dark, creating an interactive experience for the user.

Parasrampuria works with a protein isolated from jellyfish to make her beads bioluminescent. She designed this function to encourage people to create a bond with the material and help consumers see the beads as living, breathing organisms that must be preserved and cared for instead of used and disposed of. The beads are dyed using non-toxic microbial pigments.

The embellishment industry relies on petroleum plastic and synthetic resins to create beaded products, leading to waste and microplastics. Parasrampuria’s aim is to create circular design systems that utilize renewable resources. Algae beads offer a viable solution as it is one of the fastest-growing organisms in the world. It produces over half of the atmospheric oxygen on Earth while consuming large amounts of carbon dioxide. It can also be used to treat wastewater and remove toxic chemicals like ammonia. With materials like these, a future where the textile and fashion industry operates in a closed-loop product life cycle could potentially become a reality.

Firstly, introduce yourself to our readers. Please tell us more about your background and how you began making art. 

Growing up in Ahmedabad, a city known for its textile traditions, I developed a strong appreciation for craftsmanship. My work reflects my experiences living and working in a community impacted by fast fashion. My goal is to make the fashion industry sustainable while preserving traditional techniques and materials. I am drawn to combining rustic and modern elements, incorporating traditional Indian patterns and motifs into innovative, algae-based beadwork. My aim is to push the boundaries of sustainable fashion and pay homage to the cultural heritage of my upbringing. 

You are a sustainable materials researcher and textile designer. Can you guide us through your creative process? 

In my practice, I consider not just the experience at the point of purchase but the lifecycle impact of material and design choices on consumers, producers, and the environment as a whole. In my own life, I have witnessed the myriad of negative effects fast fashion can have: While working in an Indian textile factory, I saw laborers suffer from diseases like dermatitis which causes their skin to peel off in sheets. The dyes are often dumped into rivers where they destroy marine life and contaminate the soil in which people grow their food. Not only is it a matter of climate change and water pollution, but also of ethical production and consumption. All these issues are related, and by working towards creating a circular textile system, I can avoid solving one problem by creating another. My designs aim to address these issues by finding innovative solutions that minimize negative impact and maximize positive impact on all aspects of the textile lifecycle using sustainable materials, eco-friendly and socially just production methodologies, and considering the end-of-life disposal options for the textile. 

And how did you discover and get interested in sustainable textile techniques? 

My interest in sustainable textile techniques began with my desire to find more environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional dyeing methods. I started researching and experimenting with different techniques, including the use of biochemistry and synthetic biology. I eventually discovered the potential of microorganisms, specifically genetically engineering Escherichia coli to produce colors for dyeing textiles. This led me to attend classes at Genspace, a community biology lab in Brooklyn where I was able to further develop my skills and knowledge in this area. The experience of working around a community of scientists and Biodesign enthusiasts at Genspace was instrumental in my success in creating biodegradable material systems. It not only showed me the potential of microorganisms but also the power of collaboration in pushing for sustainable and ethical material systems. 

In the series of works called Algae BioEmbellishment, you use renewable resources using a zero-waste production method. What can you tell us about this project?

In my series of works called Algae BioEmbellishment, I aim to address the environmental and social issues within the embellishment industry by creating a sustainable and economical alternative to traditional embellishments. I use renewable resources and a zero-waste production method to create closed-loop and carbon-neutral embellishments using algae and regenerated cellulose. These embellishments are also bioluminescent, adding new possibilities for design and user experience while remaining cost-effective. 

I have received support for this project through the "Creatives For Our Future" grant by the Swarovski Foundation in partnership with the United Nations and have formed Cellsense LLC to further my mission. I have also developed novel production methods that allow for complex embroidered patterns to be formed directly around the thread, reducing repetitive labor, which is a common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome among Indian embroiderers. My goal is to make sustainable embellishments accessible and affordable for all, rather than remaining a luxury item. 

In your practice, you also work with a protein isolated from jellyfish to make beads bioluminescent. Can you tell us the motivation behind this choice of materials and its visual “effect”? 

In my practice, I work with a protein isolated from jellyfish to create bioluminescent beads that add an interactive and dynamic element to my embellishments. These beads are transformative, they can react to sunlight and change color or glow in the dark, creating a unique experience for the user. 

The motivation behind this choice of material is to encourage a deeper connection between the user and the material. By highlighting the living aspect of the beads, it encourages the user to see them as a living organism that must be preserved and cared for, rather than used and disposed of. The beads are also dyed using non-toxic microbial pigments, further emphasizing the importance of sustainability in my work. The visual effect is a dynamic and interactive one that creates an experience for the user and encourages them to be mindful of the materials they use in their everyday life. 

As a sustainable artist, you stress the importance of switching to climate-conscious, ethical, and affordable textiles. In what ways does the art world still need to improve in the area of sustainability? 

I think the environment will play a major role in the future of the fashion industry whether we want it or not. Biotechnology already plays an important role in the textile industry. Enzymes are used routinely to wash and bleach textiles, to give jeans a denim look or to prevent wool from shrinking. A new wave of technology could take this a step further. In a not-so-distant future, our clothes will be made and dyed by living microbes, our embellishments will be made with algae and packaging with mycelium. Technology to make this happen is growing exponentially. We need policies and funding in place to be able to implement sustainable bio-based technologies within the fashion space.

When addressing such themes, what role do you think artists have? 

Artists play a critical role in addressing environmental and social issues by using their creativity and skills to raise awareness, inspire change, and promote sustainable practices. Many young designers are aware of the importance of the environment and social issues and are already making efforts to use sustainable material options. However, there is also a lot of misinformation and greenwashing to justify current manufacturing methods. Through education, artists can help people focus their goals and make scientific material options visually appealing so that the end product is something designers and consumers are genuinely excited to adopt. They can create powerful visual narratives, educate the public, and promote the adoption of sustainable materials and practices within the creative industries. By showcasing the beauty and potential of sustainable materials and co-creating new sustainable solutions, artists can help to dispel the notion that sustainable options are inferior and inspire individuals to take action towards a more sustainable and equitable future. 

Among your many accomplishments, you have been a recipient of the Swarovski and United Nations “Creatives For Our Future” grant. How was the overall experience of being awarded these grants? 

Being recognized by the Swarovski Foundation, an organization known for its commitment to sustainability, was deeply validating. The application process was rigorous, but it was clear that the foundation was looking for young creatives who displayed a strong interest and leadership in sustainable development. 

Receiving the grant has provided me with not just financial support, but also mentorship and networking opportunities. The program connects grantees with industry leaders and sets up masterclasses to help young creatives develop diverse skill sets. It has also helped me foster a community of international designers who are also working towards a more sustainable future. 

Overall, the program has been an incredible experience for me so far and I would strongly recommend it to other young designers who are looking to scale up their projects and are in need of support in the form of community, mentorship and funding. 

What has been the reaction of the public when experiencing your work? Do you feel that your message is coming through? 

The reaction of the public to my work has been positive and I am pleased to see that people are engaging with my message of sustainability. My use of sustainable materials and innovative techniques has been well-received, and I have received feedback that my work has inspired 

viewers to think more critically about their own consumption habits and the impact of fast fashion on the environment.

Finally, any books, podcasts or artists you would like to recommend to our readers? 

As for books and podcasts, I would recommend the following: 

"Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things" by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, a book that explores the concept of sustainable design and how it can be applied to various industries 

"The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good" by Elizabeth L. Cline, a book that provides practical advice on how to create a sustainable wardrobe 

"How to Change the World" podcast by The Guardian, which features interviews with activists and leaders working to create a more sustainable and equitable world.

All Images courtesy of Aradhita Parasrampuria.

See more of Parasrampuria's work here.

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