When British underwater-photographer Zena Holloway came across the tangled roots of a willow tree in a local river a few years back, a fashionable idea took hold. What if she could turn roots into organic, compostable clothing?
Fast-forward to the 2022 London Design Festival, where Holloway displayed her intricately sculpted garments made from grass roots grown to look like delicate lacy textiles. Despite their earthy origins, the clothes have a distinctly high-fashion, futuristic feel that would have put them right at home alongside Bella Hadid's innovative spray-on dress from Paris Fashion Week last week.
Holloway configures grass roots into desired shapes using molds she carefully carves from beeswax. It takes the shoots about 12 days to grow to 8 inches (roughly 20 centimeters) tall, with the roots below forming a naturally woven structure that can remain their original hue or be dyed for textile sculptures that resemble vivid chunks of coral.
"I want to imagine a future that still has coral reefs," Holloway says, referring to the disappearance of the structures due to natural disasters, overfishing and climate change.
Holloway considers herself part of the biodesign movement that explores the intersection of design and nature in an attempt to create new biologically inspired goods.
Her pieces "strive to embody the dream of organic design, to increase awareness of materials and to inspire a more thoughtfully crafted, sustainable world," says the designer, whose work I first spotted on Designboom.
With sustainability at the heart of Holloway's Rootfull initiative, water from runoff gets reused and animals get to enjoy the leftover, locally sourced grass shoots.
But while, Holloway's grassy garments aren't ready for closets quite yet.
"It needs a little more R&D to make the dresses totally wearable, but I'm getting there," Holloway tells me, adding that several brides-to-be have inquired about haute couture wedding gowns made from her natural material.
Alongside Holloway, international designers showing at the London Design Festival's Material Matters fair last month touted creations including a furniture collection made from recycled newspaper pulp; lighting pieces made from sewn orange peel; and sandals made from plant-based matter, including agricultural waste.