Urs Dierker 
Research & Making
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Sustainable Textile and Material Design for Stage and Film
Materials: Cotton and cellulose based fabric, natural dyes, natural rubber latex, wood-based nanomaterials 
Textile and costume design: Urs Dierker Photo: Eren Öztekin / Aalto Materials Platform

Naturally Dramatic - Ideas for Sustainable Costume Design

‘I’ve worked for many years as a textile artist and costume maker in theatre, television and film, which often means using toxic and unsustainable substances. These, of course, aren’t very good for the people working with them ― or for the environment. When I came to Aalto University,  I got interested in finding alternatives.

Naturally Dramatic is a result of a collaboration with the Biobased Colloids and Materials (BiCMat) research group lead by Prof. Orlando J. Rojas and sponsored by Aalto Materials Platform. BiCMat is a leading research group at Aalto University that focuses on lignocellulose, proteins and other biopolymers, and finding renewable alternatives to fossil materials. 

Sustainable costume design will contribute to the entertainment industry’s adoption of circular economy models. Costume design is the complex art of creating custom-fitted garments using unique as well as ready-made clothing. Costumes are storytelling tools to narrate characters on screen and stage. They also mirror and influence contemporary tastes and beliefs. 

Costume design is part of the clothing making industry, which relies on established materials and linear production methods with little regard for their impact on the environment or employees. Costume design is linked to the global fashion industry, which produces 8-10% of global CO2 emissions (4-5 billion tonnes annually) (Niinimäki et al., 2020). It is common to use toxic and fossil-based materials, even though bio-based alternatives outperform them in the long run.

‘If you think about how costumes are made, a film or TV production is a great environment to test new sustainable materials out ― to show that they are workable. You select the materials, make the costume, and soon you have answers about what works. During the performance on-set and care for the garments afterwards you know what holds up over time. Costumes can essentially give us immediate answers about how people use clothes.

© 2021 by Urs Dierker