About Suzanne

Bio

Suzanne is the Founder of Biocouture the world’s first ‘living materials’ consultancy. Biocouture's unique focus is to bring emergent biomaterials, biodesign and biofabrication to consumer products, working exclusively with material innovators and brands to take materials from the lab to the market.
Biocouture is the convener of BIOFABRICATE, the first ever summit dedicated to biofabrication for future consumer products. Biofabrication comprises highly disruptive new technologies enabling design to intersect with the building blocks of life.

Suzanne is the author of ‘Fashioning The Future: tomorrow’s wardrobe’, the first book to capture the future of fashion through science and technology. It remains a key text for designers, scientists and engineers wanting to glimpse the future of wearable technology.

Languages

English, French

TED Conferences

TEDGlobal 2014, TED Fellows Retreat 2013, TED2013, TEDGlobal 2012, TED2012, TED2011

Areas of Expertise

Design and Science collaboration, Visioneering new technology for fashion, Wearable technology, Biomaterials, Living materials

An idea worth spreading

How can we grow a better world? Move over 3D printing – there’s a bio-revolution on the horizon. Computers can now read and write with DNA. We are beginning to design and fabricate with living cells: bacteria, yeast, algae, fungi, mammalian cells – these are the factories of the future. The new start-ups are growing packaging, leather, bricks and bones. Hacker spaces are being joined by DIYBio labs, school children are extracting DNA and we can all have our personal genome and microbiomes sequenced. It’s time to discover how the C21st convergence of biology and design will change what we wear, how we build, what we drive, even how we will harvest our own bodies for our future healthcare.

I'm passionate about

biofabrication, designing from the bottom up, sustainable materials, future craft, style, artisanry, Mexico

Talk to me about

how to enable effective design / science collaborations, sustainable new materials and manufacturing, telling stories,

My TED story

continues...I'm thrilled to have been made a Senior Fellow and look forward to the new interactions this year will bring

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

180445
Suzanne Lee
Posted 12 months ago
Xavier Vilalta: Architecture at home in its community
As someone coming from a city still hellbent on erecting endless testosterone-fuelled glass 'Shards' I find Xavier's approach not only refreshing but vital. His thoughtfulness around using efficient airflow, aspect orientation and local culture is compelling.
180445
Suzanne Lee
Posted almost 2 years ago
Cameron Russell: Looks aren't everything. Believe me, I'm a model.
I'm grateful to Cameron for having the courage to get up on a TED stage and challenge, so effectively, the very many preconceptions around her world. As a creative director I've been involved in casting models and always fought stylists and photographers who wanted thinner or younger girls but there are still insufficient voices in the fashion industry trying to change things. David is correct to assert we need more advocates like her who thoughtfully reveal the truth behind the shiny veneer. A powerful and desperately needed voice - I hope this talk reaches the millions of impressionable kids around the world who aspire to be like her.
180445
Suzanne Lee
Posted over 2 years ago
Damian Palin: Mining minerals from seawater
I'm so thrilled this talk has gone up, congratulations Damian! I too wish he had longer to speak as this subject is incredibly exciting with such enormous potential. The efficiency of bacterial systems never ceases to amaze me, the application of microorganisms to solve our greatest resource problems is surely the best example of truly 'smart' future technology. Bacteria are the new factories.
180445
Suzanne Lee
Posted about 3 years ago
Suzanne Lee: Grow your own clothes
I'd like to clarify a few things in appreciation of your comments Sabrina. Firstly I must stress this is in fact far more complex than my short and simple TED talk could explain. You are right to assert that this is part of a bigger picture. That bigger picture relates to a coming revolution in the way we think about raw materials: how we manufacture, consume and dispose of goods. While I may be talking about clothing here, this is just one industry amongst many that will inevitably look to biology, biomimicry and biotechnology to build us the sustainable products and systems of the future. In resolving the water-resistance we should also be able to massively extend the lifespan and durability of the material. Scale-up is a real challenge. I imagine we may be using something like a brewing facility to mass produce the material and I’m really interested in doing a carbon comparison with similar products like leather. I never said the clothes are not washable, you may not be able to throw it in a washing machine/tumble dryer but they can be handwashed and food can be wiped from the surface very easily. I exaggerated the ‘falling apart in the rain’ thing to emphasise a point but you’d have to go swimming in it for some time for it really to come apart! Finally once the garment reaches you the bacteria would certainly not be ‘living’ unless you bought something you wanted to re-grow and customise…another interesting angle. Women are only too happy to get married in dresses made by worm secretions, it’s all about how you market it ;) I'm extremely encouraged by the community of researchers around the world who are also exploring the use of microorganisms to produce materials and products for us. It's a really exciting time!
180445
Suzanne Lee
Posted about 3 years ago
Suzanne Lee: Grow your own clothes
Thank you for your comments Ke Wen. I don't know if we will ever be able to produce a fibre or cloth like wool, cashmere or silk using a bacterium. And while it is possible to create certain shapes by 3D forming I still believe we will be cutting and sewing materials for decades to come. So no need to panic about wiping out millions of textiles jobs overnight. Contrary to your fear that this process might 'reduce the costs of clothes so that we may no longer have to pay through the nose' this has already happened in our high streets to the point where it is a real issue. Global garment manufacture has had costs driven down over the last decade to the point where a t-shirt can retail in a UK store like ASDA (owned by Walmart) for as little as £4. The garment worker (somewhere like Bangladesh) receives just 1.5 pence to make it, less than a living wage. This is both shameful and unsustainable. Clothes don't come more 'easy-to-make' or disposable than this. Lucy Siegle's chilling book “To Die For: is fashion wearing out the world?” really elucidates the current global fashion/textile crisis. Clothes are now SO cheap that people are literally wearing them once before throwing them away. Better to design them to benignly biodegrade than leach toxins into landfill. And the ‘cherish’ part is to do with education, good design etc. You and others raise an excellent point about the natural resources that this process uses. I’ve started with tea and sugar but many other substrates could be substituted here, ideally based on local waste streams. The important feature of what I'm exploring is the use of a microbe. This is a radical departure from the way we produce traditional textile materials. And yes, it is a revolution!
180445
Suzanne Lee
Posted over 3 years ago
Nina Tandon: Caring for engineered tissue
Dr.Tandon is one of the most inspirational, passionate and creative scientists I've had the honour to meet. Her talk which, like all fellows talks, is limited to 4 minutes, manages to impart an astonishing idea - that cells can be 'trained' to grow into better heart tissue with the help of electrical stimulation. I'm amazed how tissue engineers can now create living tissues that are strong enough to 'beat' with the help of a pace maker. I'm also thankful that there are scientists addressing the needs of ageing populations and the shortage of transplant organs. As a designer I also find there is much to learn from pioneering scientists like Nina who are developing techniques that may have implications far beyond their current intended biomedical applications.
180445
Suzanne Lee
Posted over 3 years ago
Camille Seaman: Haunting photos of polar ice
Easy now Saeed!! Some of us think you can work within the world of fashion AND have ideas worth spreading ;) And actually I spoke to Camille before she went on stage when she was questioning what to wear and I said I thought she should keep her cosy anorak on precisely because it helped me feel the chill of her subject. It put her physically in context against the wondrous backdrop of her images.
180445
Suzanne Lee
Posted over 3 years ago
Suzanne Lee: Grow your own clothes
Good question. I'm not producing these garments commercially - they are still research prototypes - but as a rough guide this method takes approximately 50 litres of water to make a garment like a t-shirt. By comparison, and depending on whose figures you believe, the water required to produce a cotton t-shirt is anything between 400 to 4,000 litres. Environmentally the biggest footprint with textles is actually at the consumer end - all the water and energy used to launder it with washer/dryers over its life-cycle. This is still an unhelpful comparison though, as I state in my talk, the material I'm producing is never likely to produce 'fluffy' fibres like cotton. While I use fresh water in at the start of my process I can recycle up to 50% of the subsequent fermented liquid for the next batch. In fact the fresh water itself could be replaced if we could find a suitable waste water stream containing a sugar nutrient. All in all it has the potential to radically reduce the energy required to produce certain products.
180445
Suzanne Lee
Posted over 3 years ago
Suzanne Lee: Grow your own clothes
Well spotted Jan. Funnily enough Fiorenzo came up to me after my talk and we are indeed hoping to work together. Wound dressings using microbial cellulose were patented years ago originally in Brazil and are now FDA approved and can be found in the US under the brand name DermaFill: http://www.dermafill.com/ I believe that silver can also be impregnated into the material to add anti-microbial qualities.