LONG-READ / FASHIONTECH

Streamateria’s 3D printed garments react to body functions — and disappear magically after use

Available as — not so long-lasting — physical pieces as well as NFTs, founder Erik Lindvall merge digital and physical fashion in a mind-blowingly sustainable way.
January 14, 2022

”I loved shooting fashion stories for magazines but I shifted from this into actually realizing the ideas IRL when fashion lost most of its relevance back in 2010.”

In the 90s, Erik Lindvall began a 20-year long career as fashion photographer. By the time ”fashion lost most of its relevance”, ten years ago, he founded Guringo, a design and innovation studio working within fashion and apparel, both in physical and virtual space.

— We design products in virtual space that end up physically or as virtual-only products, such as skins in games. The common idea within the fashion industry — that fashion should be boring in order to be sustainable — is something that we just don’t share. The average user will keep consuming unsustainable products and create more and more waste even though it is closely connected to environmental guilt. We as consumers just love new stuff — there is something special about getting that new product straight out of the box, he tells, continuing,

— Just look at last year; Britains alone splashed out more than 700 million pounds on 11 million items bought for a holiday trip which will never be worn again — and, in Sweden, 1 out of 20 garments is being used only once. This gave us the idea of a radical, ”ultra sustainable”, and temporary material — Streamateria — and the vision of clothes that actually grows old on your body. It’s a crazy idea, which started out as an innovation project back in 2014, and has now grown into its own market-ready startup brand.

Lindvall describes Streamateria as an enabler — a material that he aims shall bring back the fun, the beauty, and the contemporary in fashion, but without the environmental guilt.

— We do not have to fear beauty in order to be sustainable, he tells. We just need to change the expectations of the products. Streamateria is based on design-to-die principles — meaning no waste, but only raw material for new resources. The inspiration came from a dried leaf in the forest. It was beautiful but dead. We realized that there is nothing wrong with consumption in itself, but just how and what you consume can turn into a problem. We benchmarked on how an ecosystem like the forest consumes itself and set out to create an ecosystem that was based on the same principles.

— A lot of our work is based on collabs. In 2020, we did the Design to Fade collab with PUMA innovation — a capsule collection of running singlets that explored the potential of mass customized, temporary garments, and bio-functions. Together with Living Colour, we were assigned to do the PUMA pavilion for the Design Week in Milan. Unfortunately, Covid hit the city right about then so that didn’t happen. Instead, it became a digital concept that was launched worldwide.

Streamateria’s new drop is the first prêt-à-porter capsule collection, made of a single-use, designed-to-die material with a limited life expectancy that is printed on demand.

— After use, it’s disposed directly into the food compost to become raw material for new resources once again. Just like in the forest. It is a limited collection of printed evening tops, perfect for long club nights. They offer bio-functions such as thermo-regulating qualities, which means that there are components within the material that attracts moisture. So if you sweat, it sucks up the sweat and keeps you cool, Lindvall tells.

How’d you describe the design process?

— It begins with 3D prototyping that — after being virtually fitted on an avatar — is printed directly to the consumer in an automated production unit. It is basically a converted 3D printer but much faster, so we print a top in less than a minute. Since the material is made out of foamed cellulose and residual streams from the food industry, it is perfect for energy recovery as biogas digestion when you’re done with it. Even the colours are compostable thanks to the single-use requirements.

The pieces are available to purchase, both as NFTs and as single, physical pieces. 

— Right now, we are producing the garments in our studio, but throughout the year, we will construct our first automated, mobile print unit in a 40 feet container in order to scale up the production. The life expectancy varies, as for all ”circular artifacts”. Hanging in the closet, the garment will last for about 6 months, but once you put them on they start reacting to your body functions. As mentioned, components within the material attract sweat and cool the person wearing it. But when the material is saturated, it cannot absorb any more moisture and therefore deteriorates. Imagine you wear a running singlet at a marathon. You will need to get to the finishing line before a certain time or you will end up naked. It is like the Cinderella story — or life itself; at midnight the dress disappears, Lindvall explains. He continues:

— Regarding the virtual pieces, Streamateria has focused on digital spaces and the use of fashion in the Metaverse since the start, in 2014. All our pieces start out virtually and the design and manufacturing chain is based on use in digital platforms, so it is natural for us to offer the pieces virtually. What has really changed the game is the rapid progress of NFT tech and how that enables us to bridge the virtual piece with our physical material. With blockchain tech, we can now release virtual pieces that also give access to printing them in our Streamateria material, like physical replicas of the virtual original.

— It works like this: the NFT collection will be created as ultra-realistic, virtual pieces, ready to be worn by Epic Games Metahumans or other rigged avatars. In its metadata, or digital DNA, each NFT will also contain various printing rights to physical Streamateria pieces. These will range from single reproductions of this specific piece to the exclusive rights to the Streamateria print files. So, in rare pieces, if you achieve the NFT, you will also achieve exclusive print rights and can offer the garment as your own. For us, this enhances the relevance and value of the NFT in the real world, but it can also create a P2P structure that can grow within our Streamateria ecosystem.

And did I get it right that the textile you use also provides skincare properties?

— Yes, we have found that the components in the material possess thermoregulating qualities, provide skincare, and that the material can carry skin-absorbing substances such as taurine, caffeine, and estrogen. Thanks to the automated 3D printing process, the material can be mass-customized to meet the need of each unique user and also offer personalized fragrances. This is super interesting since the product no longer is just a garment — although it is both digital and analogue — as it is also a vessel for fragrance and dermatological products, says Lindvall.

You mentioned the way we consume, do you believe that your way is how we will consume garments in the future?

— As with many other functions in contemporary society, we will most likely see a lot of different solutions turn up along the way. Although Streamateria hopefully will pave the way for new disruptive solutions, it should be considered a complement to other solutions and not a totalitarian perspective. We don’t mean that every garment should be consumed at this pace. It already exists — or will exist — other solutions for fashion and clothing that need longer life expectancy. But I do believe — and hope — that Streamateria, or something similar, will be out there as a circular solution for all those who still want beauty in their life but without a guilty conscience. It is also interesting how fast digital fashion has grown into a huge market — we have just seen the start of it. A major challenge now is to get the textile industry to grasp that textiles and fashion are turning into digital products, and it is happening fast. The next thing will definitely be semi-virtual garments for both virtual and, sustainable, physical wear. 

Lindvall and Streamateria are up for a busy year, among many other things planning a series of interesting collabs around mass-customized club tops and running singlets with bio functions.

— In February we are also launching Streamateria – Design to Die, a semi-virtual fashion initiative at Haymarket hotel in central Stockholm, together with TEKO. Our ambition is to enhance the understanding of digital fashion — not only amongst the regular consumers but also within the fashion industry itself. We will show exclusive NFT pieces materialized in Streamateria hanging in the lobby and in storefront windows, show digital- and AR pieces in the bar and on screens, and build a virtual version of their hotel bar that will be populated with Metahuman avatars in Streamateria pieces. On the virtual side, we will launch a collection of NFTs in a business model that has a lot of similarities with crowdfunding. We start out with a collection of virtual pieces with print rights included and then successfully unlock milestones such as related printing of the garments IRL.

The main thing for 2022 and further on, if you ask Erik Lindvall, is to stress the fact that in order to be circular, we have to accept time as a factor in all our products and business models.

— Yes, the time factor is essential in all circular systems. It is life and death, circular systems are always in motion. The traditional definition of quality — something that lasts long — is doomed. It is a linear way of thinking that just creates more useless waste. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we will find new values that we never had thought of otherwise. It’s like the butler Carson in the Netflix series Downton Abbey so thoughtfully put it: ”The nature of Life is not permanence, it’s flux”, he concludes.

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