Biodesign has been central to Aurélie Fontan’s practice as a fashion designer. Although sustainability wasn’t yet part of most fashion degrees when she studied at Edinburgh College of Art, she became increasingly interested in the environmental impact of different materials and started looking for new naturally-derived, low-impact options for her final collection.
The result was a couture dress made from kombucha – the beginning of a career focused on bio-materials for fashion.
“I couldn’t find natural materials to work with and I didn’t want to just buy more fabric for the sake of it,” she explains. “Eventually I started to develop my own.”
With a residency at Edinburgh’s ASCUS art and science lab Aurélie launched into research and development (R&D). Experimenting with new bio-based and bio-inspired materials became central to her work, as did trying sustainable methods such as designing for disassembly and end of life.
By the time she was completing her MA in Fashion at the Royal College of Art (RCA), Aurélie was tackling the challenges of upscaling biodesign for commercial use.
Collaborating with researchers at RCA and at the University of Huddersfield, she won Future Fashion Factory funding to develop an industrial-scale production line for a plant-based alternative to leather made from mycelium (the roots of mushrooms). Mykko was so successful that it even won the Creative Industries award in the Mayor of London Fund Mayor’s Entrepreneur Competition.
Now Aurélie and her partner, product designer Ashley Granter, have combined their businesses and their expertise in design, materials and innovation to become Osmose Studio – a design studio focusing on bio-materials and R&D that will enable them to commercialise everything they have learned so far.
The company has already spearheaded some unique projects: when farm-to-fork restaurant The Ledbury planned a refurbishment of its London premises, Aurélie and Ashley were commissioned to handle the interior design, with upholstery made from materials like mycelium and Yorkshire-grown hemp.
But ultimately, the duo have plans to grow even further with their own transparent, circular, fully nature-based fashion brand.
As part of the R&D process Aurélie is researching coloration, exploring the potential of foraged plants from the local area for dyeing different types of fabrics, as well as how these approaches could be upscaled for industry. The project is being supported by a Young Innovators’ Award from Innovate UK KTN and The Prince’s Trust – one of only two successful proposals from the East Midlands.
That location will be crucial to the success of Osmose Studio. From their premises on the borders of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, Osmose is keen to work with as many local suppliers and partners as possible, both to reduce carbon emissions from their supply chain and to support local communities.
Aurélie is also forging relationships with businesses across the UK through the Future Fashion Factory network. Her jewellery designs are currently on sale at Tråd Collective in Leeds, after she read founder Josefin Wanner’s story in the Future Fashion Factory newsletter. Through speaking at and attending member events she has struck up relationships with designers and manufacturers in different parts of the country.
“There is life after London, and I want to champion brands not having to stay there to be successful,” she says.
“We’re nature-based. We need to be able to connect with wildlife and local ecosystems, and hopefully bring some of that back into the cities through our work.”
A show at this autumn’s London Fashion Week is planned to demonstrate the success of Osmose Studio’s approach. Aurélie intends to launch a collection there which uses only natural dyes and is entirely plastic-free, highlighting the work supported by the Young Innovators’ Award. As a teaser, this April she will launch a collection of upcycled jewellery made from pre-loved pearl necklaces.
And at the same time, the duo are constantly reassessing the environmental impact of the progress they make. Less than 3% of the world’s water supply is freshwater, Aurélie explains, making it crucial to minimise the volume used in manufacturing and to explore options such as using wastewater where it is absolutely necessary.
“Our generation of new businesses want to tackle the problems ahead of facing them in the future,” she says. “We have the flexibility and opportunity as a young studio. We want to do it right.”