KOCHI: Slovakian Zuzana Gombosova doesn’t just believe that sustainability is the future of fashion. For her, it is an inevitable step and transformation that every company will have to adopt. Along with Malayali Susmith C Suseelan (who is no longer with the brand), Zuzana created a biocomposite material made from coconut water, which can be an easy alternative to leather.
Their Kerala-based company, Malai Biomaterials Design Pvt Ltd, creates biodegradable plant-based accessories and clothes, under the novel extension ‘Malai Studio’.
"The fundamental reason for creating Malai was to develop a material that is truly circular. When we procure something from nature, we need to return it in a form that blends seamlessly with the environment. Malai was an amplification of my research initiated during my Master's at the University of Arts, London, wherein I worked with bacterial cellulose," he said.
"I realised that it was possible to grow the material from water obtained in Asian coconuts — a process already being done in the Philippines. The bacterial cellulose has outstanding environmental credentials and does not produce any waste during the manufacturing process. I came to India in 2015 and met Susmith who had completed his mechanical engineering and product designing from Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. Together, we initiated Malai," says Zuzana.
The duo moved to the close proximity of a coconut processing unit in Channapatna, Karnataka for their research and development. Evolution of the material took around seven months.
In 2018, they shifted to Kerala wherein the material and production were scaled stepby step. "Initially, we started presenting our material at places called material libraries which provide a huge variety of material samples for people from architecture and design backgrounds," she says.
The bacterial cellulose is fermented, which takes about two weeks. The same is refined with natural fibres to form sheets of material. The entire process lasts nearly five weeks.
Malabaricus, made in Kerala
Malai's 'Malabaricus', their collection launched at the Lakme Fashion Week recently, won the Circular Design Challenge Award 2020. “The collection comprises 17 looks inspired by the lush vegetation found on the coast of Malabar, imbibing traditional clothes and textiles made in Kerala. We’ve also incorporated ‘cyanotype, also known as ‘sun prints’, a one-of-a-kind printing technique. Leaves, twigs and plants were integrated to create prints on garments,” says Zuzana.