By Anastasia Vartanian
Designers Aradhita Parasrampuria and Cindy Kutikova on promoting conscious fashion in a post-Shein culture of mass-production.
Society has come to see all things plastic and shiny as the antithesis of sustainable fashion. Cheaply made by exploited workers, then tossed away when the trend has passed to sit in a landfill until the end of time, unrotting.
Beaded bags like that of New York’s Susan Alexandra and joyful jewelry pieces that recall primary school friendship bracelets have been on-trend for a while, thanks to dopamine dressing and nostalgia. But some emerging designers have a different approach to beaded fashion, taking it further by adorning the body with gems sustainably: through upcycling, handcraft, and textile exploration.
Working with biomaterials for the past three years, New York-based Indian designer Aradhita Parasrampuria wants to do her part to combat our over-reliance on petroleum-based products. Noting that the materials traditionally used in sequin and bead production–petroleum plastic and synthetics resins–contribute to the microplastic crisis, she developed a biodegradable alternative using kelp, a type of algae. (Algae has “tremendous potential as a raw material,” says Parasrampuria.) Aiming for a “circular textile system,” she creates the beads using an algae biopolymer solution, then dyes them with probiotic bacteria, cellulose, and jellyfish protein. The latter turns the garment bioluminescent, looking more like a 3D-rendered video game ensemble than anything in the human realm. Parasrampuria uses this function to “help consumers see the beads as living, breathing organisms” to be cared for rather than disposed of. She grows all the material herself, including an algae culture that she keeps replenishing. “Bacteria doubles in 20 minutes, which makes growing and multiplying the protein extracted from jellyfish a very efficient process,” she adds. Working to “converge synthetic biology with craft,” she believes that “innovating at the molecular level can have a major impact at the global level.”
The most well-known designer working with beads is likely Kevin Germanier, a Swiss-born Central Saint Martins graduate who launched his brand in 2018. Creating “upcycled glamour” from deadstock beads, he makes bright, saturated, chainmail-like pieces modeled on what look like alien party girls who have crash-landed on Earth for a good time. Upcycling has been part of his process since he was a student. Over the last few seasons, he has cemented bejeweled pieces as his signature, garnering loyal fans, including Björk and Miss Fame. The genesis of his beadwork came from Hong Kong, where Germanier undertook a work placement, the first prize as part of the EcoChic Design Award. While there, he saw a man digging holes to dispose of beads since people were unable to burn them and unwilling to recycle them. Horrified, he “came back to London with 93 kg of beads,” the designer told Dazed.
Rather than looking to the future of materials, Cindy Kutikova taps into the Czech Republic’s centuries-old history as a “glass powerhouse” with international recognition for its high-quality glass beads. Kutikova explains that the country’s glass production dates back to the 13th century, and “thanks to skilled Czech garnet grinders and glassmakers, it is still produced in some areas today.” She sources the beads locally, valuing the “uniqueness of craftsmanship,” and threads them together using a weaving frame to create glistening pieces entirely made from glass and thread. The colorful patterns hark back to her previous experience with knitwear, where “graphics must be prepared in eight-bit mode, with each pixel representing one loop in a physical knit, or one bead in a physically woven bead fabric.” Kutikova believes that the “honesty and sincerity” of craftsmanship is essential to preserve against the backdrop of mass production, nodding to the Arts and Crafts movement of 1800s Britain, which challenged the effects of industrialization.
These young designers represent varying approaches to sustainable fashion: upcycling, biomaterials, and the re-embracing of traditional craft. Through their sustainable beaded garments, they prove that when it comes to fashion, all that glitters isn’t necessarily bad for the planet.
Images courtesy of Aradhita Parasrampuria and Cindy Kutikova