Kering Award Finalist: Irene-Marie Seelig

irene mushroom

Over the next few months, we will be introducing you to each of the ten finalists for the Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion 2016, ahead of the winner announcements in November. Since January 2016, these students have been developing and refining their sustainability projects, and presented them to an esteemed panel of judges from Kering, the London College of Fashion and each of our partner brands, Stella McCartney and Brioni.

Irene-Marie Seelig, MA Fashion Entrepreneurship and Innovation student, believes in taking a holistic approach to sustainability, relating the health of the environment to that of its inhabitants. It was this idea that informed her project for the Kering Award: mushroom leather. This innovative material, made from the skin of Amadou Mushrooms, is a renewable, biodegradable and vegetarian leather alternative, and Irene tested both the aesthetic and the durability of the material to confirm its viability for the luxury fashion industry.

Irene had begun researching the wellbeing properties of mushrooms when her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014, and it was from there that her research into mushrooms really began. ‘Since 2014, I have been researching mushrooms as a biodegradable, renewable material to be applied to the luxury footwear and accessories market. The inspiration began when I was relentlessly researching and looking for a natural immune-boosting alternative medicine for my mother to incorporate into her lung cancer treatment. The knowledge I gained from that experience leads my research in renewable and biodegradable resources that contain wellbeing qualities.

Going through that journey with my mother made me realise that sustainability was no longer just about what the composition of the material was to ensure sustainability within the fashion industry, it is about the whole ecosystem of a supply chain, from the wellbeing of the workers within that supply chain to the wellbeing of its consumers, what components we allow into the production and processing phase and how we can begin to design products around the cradle to cradle concept through renewable, biodegradable materials with wellbeing qualities.’

Irene took the collaborative nature of the LCFxKering partnership to the next level, working with a range of different partners on her project, including material scientists, footwear designers and sustainability researchers in order to produce a final presentation that encompassed the various stages of material development. She displayed the mushroom in its raw form, demonstrated the various testing it had undergone, and two prototype shoes made using the material.

Through this project, Irene hoped to address what identified as a gap in the market: a vegetarian leather alternative that could compete with its animal based counterpart. ‘The challenge that I identified for my project was twofold. First, there are limited options of sustainable, non-leather materials that are suitable for making luxury accessories and footwear, and the challenge of making these materials imitate the properties of leather. Second, the majority of non-leather materials are made from synthetic, polyester materials that have negative effects on the environment. Since 2013, Stella McCartney is committed to reducing the consumption and amount of petroleum in their products by using the Eco Alter Nappa material and polyester that comes from recycled plastic water bottles.’

Irene was inspired by the excitement her material generated, and hopes that the momentum it built up can be carried forward and prove to become a really important material for the luxury fashion industry. My Kering Award project confirms my belief that innovation does occur at the intersection of the arts and sciences, where we can collaborate to leave a positive, lasting imprint on society and the environment.’

The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion is part of a five-year partnership launched in 2014 between Kering and Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF, UAL, to support sustainable practices and innovation in the fashion industry. The partnership is three-fold and also includes an annual lecture – The Kering Talk – and a co-developed Masters’ level curriculum on sustainable design.

Keep your eye on the blog to hear about each of the other finalists, and for the all important winner announcements in November. And you can find out more about the LCF x Kering partnership here.