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Growing a biomaterial future with Jen Keane of Modern Synthesis

Modern Synthesis microbial shoe
Modern Synthesis
Apr 11, 2023 By WGSN Insider
Updates from WGSN

Jen Keane, CEO and founder of Modern Synthesis, discusses the future of biomaterials and what brands can do to become more involved in this sector. 

Modern Synthesis is a biomaterial innovation company comprised of scientists, designers and researchers who together develop "radical and regenerative cellulose-based material solutions for the fashion industry". Jen discusses how by using similar bacteria to those you can find in your gut or kombucha, it is possible to make innovative new materials which can have a positive impact on our environment and come with a lower carbon footprint.

Jen joins Helen Palmer, WGSN head of materials, and Lucila Saldana, WGSN Footwear & Accessories Editor, on the latest episode of Create Tomorrow to discuss what’s next for biomaterials and what brands can do to work collaboratively with startups in this field.

founders of Modern Synthesis
Modern Synthesis

New materials mean new designs

“All these new materials are quite different than predecessors. The initial reaction was that they use a familiar term like leather as a way to make it more understandable. People understand what leather and cotton are because we've had them around for hundreds of years. So you need that to an extent, but what we've seen is there's a fallacy of doing that as well, in that you're ultimately comparing something where the properties are different with an incumbent material. It’s a replacement for leather, but it doesn’t feel exactly like leather and it doesn’t behave exactly like leather. These are really new and can help us design products differently and we need to approach them that way." 

Modern Synthesis lab
Modern Synthesis

The benefits of a nanocellulose fibres

“Cellulose is awesome and I think everybody’s woken up to that. Scientists say if plastics weren’t invented, we would have have a whole host of cellulosic technologies by now because that’s what we were doing 100 years ago. Cellulose is the natural building block of the natural world and it’s everywhere for a reason because it naturally feeds into the Earth’s own systems for circularity, so it degrades very readily in the environment efficiently by multiple organisms.

“Because they’re so small, they’re very fine and very strong. They have this ability to bind to each other and lock together, which makes them sort of a natural adhesive because they stick together. So you can create these really strong structures using these tiny fibres without having to add in other binders and that's why nanocellulose is really interesting.”

microbes growing nanocellulose
Modern Synthesis

How brands can invest in biomaterials

"Big brands, small brands, high fashion, luxury vs sportswear, they have very different needs. It’s important to understand and have that conversation upfront about what they need and what support do they have available within their organisation to really partner because this is a true partnership. If you’re going to work with a startup like us or an early-stage biomaterial company, this isn’t a traditional supplier relationship because we just we can’t afford to do that. We have limited funding, we're moving fast. The biggest struggle is capacity. We don’t have the ability to work with everybody. It’s about honesty and also commitment and being able to take a little bit of a risk as well."
- Jen Keane, CEO and founder of Modern Synthesis

Modern Synthesis
Modern Synthesis

To hear the full discussion, tune into episode 73 of our Create Tomorrow podcast, Growing a biomaterial future with Jen Keane, on AnchorApple and Spotify.

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