Shimmering sequins and beads are largely made from petroleum plastic or synthetic resins, and their disposal contributes to the micro-plastic problem plaguing the environment. Elissa Brunato, a designer graduating from Central St Martins in London, collaborated with material scientists Tiffany Abitbol and Hjalmar Granberg at RISE to demonstrate that it is possible to make sequins from cellulose extracted from trees.
Elissa’s project “Bio Iridescent Sequin” shows that luxury and beauty are not in contrast to sustainability. At the Material Futures Exhibition during Milan Design Week, Elissa showcased swatches of embroidered cellulose nanocrystal sequins.
“In general, people were in awe that the sequins were shimmering naturally as they were first convinced that the material was petrol-based, purely from its visual appearance,” says Elissa Brunato.
The orientation of the nanocrystals at the nanoscale to creating structures that in turn give rise to interference make the shimmering effect that can be seen in nature (butterflies, beetles, nacre, Pollia Condensata berries, etc.), which is difficult to reproduce in manmade materials. Colors are reflected when the length scale of the structures is in the visible spectrum, and the iridescence arises due to variations in the film structure. The interesting feature of cellulose nanocrystals is the ability to form liquid crystals that can be dried into colored and iridescent films. This potential drives researchers to understand more about how structure can be controlled and used for different properties.
“It’s interesting to understand how to control the self-assembly behavior that gives rise to these colors. Can we, for instance, speed up the process to create fast-drying, iridescent cellulose nanocrystal coatings? Can we improve mechanical properties and water resistance of the films, whilst maintaining their structural colors?,” says Tiffany Abitbol an expert on cellulose nanocrystals.
Hjalmar on his side has experience of many successful collaborations with designers to demonstrate ideas and concepts. However, the sequins are just one step along the way to explore new forms of cellulose and nanocellulose. “This research project is driven by curiosity and a desire to find bio-based and biodegradable alternatives to today’s fossil-based materials,” says material scientist Hjalmar Granberg.
“It was wonderful, being able to show how the merging of different industries can bring forth new approaches to topics such as sustainability,” said Brunato.
Photo: via RISE