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Surzhana Radnaeva Creates Garments from Biomaterials as Fossils of the Future

Surzhana Radnaeva is a fashion designer originally from Siberia and raised in a Buryat family, the indigenous people of this vast Russian province. Now, an artist based in Marseille, Surzhana centers her work at the intersection between traditional craftsmanship and novel, sustainable biomaterials. Her ultimate mission is to create as well as to educate as "doing your share" to make the world a better place is a strong value she holds. Surzhana designs with the intention of using biomaterials to create a more sustainable fashion industry via diverse and relocalized supply chains. Her past project, Materia Bruta, was a collaboration between textile and biomaterial experts from which Surzhana ultimately developed her current brand, Traditional Futures. In a way, her work has a 'Motherly' touch and a familiarity in its form and texture. And yet, these garments are made of never-seen-before materials inspired by and in collaboration with nature. This dichotomy of appreciation for and coexistence with tradition and wonderment of nature is a hallmark of her work, much in the same way they existed during Surzhana's childhood in the steppes of Siberia. Surzhana's designs may best be described as fossils of the future, paving the way for a better world while paying homage to the past.

Female Hercules: Tell me about how the idea for Materia Bruta was formed.

Surzhana Radnaeva: I have always been mesmerised by different materials, textures and feelings. And a few years ago I came across the biomaterials world and fell in love with it. Since then I started to work with various biomaterials and the project Materia Bruta was born thanks to Worth Partnership Project - I had a beautiful year-long collaboration with Anastasia Pistofidou (Fabtexties) and Jessica Dias (Bio.Babes) that were developing materials for my collection, it was a great opportunity to be able to develop and concentrate only on biomaterials for Materia Bruta that is a part of my newly being born brand TRADITIONAL FUTURES. It was an exciting journey of exploration, design, experiments in the lab and finally the creating-making the garments from unique alien-like new materials (Alginate-based material with Charcoal and Wool, Bacterial-dyed linen, Milk-based plastic, Kombucha leather).

Solidified Kombucha (tea mushroom) top in collaboration with Thr34d5

Your work often merges new materials and styles with "old" materials and styles. Can you elaborate on how you draw this distinction and the importance of their coexistence?

I was born and raised in a traditional Buryat (indigenous people in Siberia) family that taught me the importance of the ancestors and respect to the roots that in the modern world you see less and less. But when I started to travel and work, I realised two things: First that traditional materials and style somewhere can be just truly innovative and very modern elsewhere. I discovered Tea silk while working in China, it is a very ancient material, but its making is unknown elsewhere and could inspire a new generation of craftsmen to re-enchant their art. In other words, what makes the difference is the knowledge of the making and the knowledge of the eye.

Second, what I consider a new modern material (that I would consider a good candidate to be part of my portfolio of materials), is a material that both respects a cradle-to-cradle philosophy, and matches the lifestyle of the wearer. As such co-existence is crucial, because modern material needs to draw on what drove our mothers in picking up and designing their materials. Combining both in every creation is the core of Traditional Futures, a way to always stay on my two feet, one anchored on what I respect from our past, one already stepping forward towards a desired future

Natural dye secretion from bacteria culture in petri dish. Worth Partnership with Fabtextiles IAAC

What is your relationship with nature?

In my early childhood I lived in Siberian steppes far away from urban life which I only heard of, I was surrounded by nature, I was raised by nature looking at the waves of grass, changing colors of the sky and the blow of the wind which would make me sing all day long and dream. I would say that nature taught me to imagine and notice beauty around us.

What is your process for discovering and experimenting with new biomaterials?

All new biomaterials are still made by tweaking many parameters. Such complex processes rapidly require tremendous amounts of work, which if you are alone can lead to unmanageable length of time, especially for pre-commercial and exploratory projects. That is why most of the time I prefer to work with material creators that I could focus more on designing and making the garment and create a beautiful piece together. So I usually look for producers of materials with whom we have similar views and willingness to work together. Afterwards there are usually two ways. Either I make a design beforehand and use it as a basis to explore the limits of the materials (colors, textures, strength, etc), or I get inspired by an existing sample which will drive my design. At the end It is a very collaborative process.

Bacterial-dyed dress assembly. Worth Partnership with Fabtextiles Fab Lab BCN

What advice would you give to younger students interested in biomaterials? Where should they start in their education?

Biomaterials could be interesting for diverse specialties (Fashion Design, Architecture, Textile Design, Fashion design etc), I started as a Fashion designer and only afterwards while working as a designer I discovered the world of biomaterials. It is a new direction that appeared not long ago and what I would recommend is to start from a visit at some material libraries like the Materfad in Barcelona. They also give some lectures on diverse materials (not only biomaterials). Other emerging programmes like Fabricademy (with nodes everywhere) have courses on production of biomaterials. After all there are many open- source platforms that teach how to make biomaterials (bioplastic, kombucha leather and so on). This is of course until biomaterial gets mainstream in the curriculum of students. It is very similar to climate change. If you want people to act, you need to give them the tools and knowledge early on.

Charcoal-dyed Alginate-wool composite. Worth Partnership with Fabtextiles Fab Lab BCN

How do you see biomaterials changing the landscape of fashion in the future?

The main goal of biomaterials (besides that it has exceptional aesthetics) is sustainability and help (or at least no-harm) for our environment as the Fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. So it is a big responsibility for all fashion designers and consumers to make more eco-friendly choices that could slow down the harm. It is all about doing your share. But when you zoom out, wool and cottons are biomaterials. They just come from too centralized and too globalized of a supply chain. Biomaterials are meant to diversify supply chains, relocalize them, and make sure nothing ends up into a landfill. So how would they change the fashion landscape? identity, locality and sustainability as pillars in steppes of opportunities (ocean is not so explicit for me ;-)).

Bacterial Shibori dress before untying. Worth Partnership with Fabtextiles Fab Lab BCN

Tell me about the Buryat costume that is so often integrated in your work. How has your culture and background influenced your creativity?

Buryat traditional costume used to be a «reading book» on a person that wears it, you could see where are they from, which tribe they belong to, their marital status etc. and nowadays people wear it only for special occasions as it is not as convenient and way richer than modern daily clothes -remember you had only one or two! So my wish is that more people would wear it again on daily basis, for that I see the need of modernisation or even «futurisaiton» of the Buryat costume that it could be worn again and not only by Buryat people, but also by all. I see a modernization of it going beyond Buryat culture. Tuned to modern life and embedded with the tokens of your history/culture, it becomes a canvas to elegantly express our belonging to moving micro communities.

Draping and design process. Worth Partnership with Fabtextiles Fab Lab BCN

What is most challenging about working with biomaterials?

The most challenging in working with biomaterials are technical specifications that make them wearable (strength, flexibility, safety etc.). They challenge what we desire -or are taught to desire- in clothing. Do you think your leather jacket or shoes smell less than fishskin or a mycellium fabric? The former we got used to consider as pleasant and a symbol of wealth, the latter still misses their desirable stories and ambassadors. Maybe when the smell of what you wear will also hint on your cultural terroir we will be into something, but that is another story. As all biomaterials that I am working with are not industrialized, it is often like being a pioneer and learning how it works on the way by working with it. It is very stimulating, but also super frustrating as it takes so many different skills to only got a clue of where you are going. Bear in mind the power of groups, this journey is impossible alone and so much more plentiful if you are well surrounded.

Buryat modernised jacket made from Micro-organism leather from Fungus Sapiens

What is on the horizon for you now?

On the horizon for me now is continuing to explore and work with new biomaterials. I want to bridge the gap between traditional amadou crafting and mycotextiles, and we are working on it with the guys Mycotopia in Marseille. Also looking into French/Japanese traditional paper making to distillate biology in traditional paper clothing. But I always look for new crazy collaborations and to work on other traditional costumes, so hit me! To accelerate the transition to sustainable biomaterials, designers need to promote their use and exchange. Quite logically, getting engaged with students and sharing my experiences is probably the next step for me.


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