The UNSEEN Blends Science Into Materials to Create a T-shirt that Can Read Pollution

When we heard that Lauren Bowker was showing interested parties how to make a t-shirt that can read pollution in the water, we wanted to know more. 

Muchaneta Kapfunde
Founding Editor in Chief at | editor@fashnerd.com

Founding editor-in-chief & WearableTechStylist of FashNerd.com has worked in the fashion industry for over 14 years. She is currently one of the leading influencers speaking and writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology. She also contributes to other digital news sites like Wareable.

According to Ms Bowker, it is possible to create a t-shirt that has the ability read the levels of pollution in the water, all you need is cabbage. Lauren Bowker is one of the founders on The  U N S E E N , a material exploration house that blends science into materials. Focused on seeing the unseen, they launched on World Environment Day (5th June 2017) an intelligent colour change T-shirt that senses water pollution.

The UNSEEN
Credit: The UNSEEN

Ocean acidification and acid rain are two of the most damaging outcomes of climate change. Why is pollution a problem? According to the UN World Water Development report 2017, 80% of world wastewater is released into the environment without treatment. According to the International Research Journal of Engineering and Technology (IRJET) Up to 20% of industrial world water pollution is from textile dyeing and treatment alone, second only to the oil industry.

The UNSEEN
Credit: The UNSEEN

Searching for a way of understanding these almost overwhelming statistics The U N S E E N consulted nature by borrowing an ancient pH indication potion extracted from the red cabbage. Through a simple natural dyeing process easily replicated at home, The U N S E E N applied the resulting cabbage dye to a Lost Explorer cotton and hemp t-shirt to visualise the concentrations of pollution in the water around them through a simple yet impactful colour change.

The UNSEEN
Credit: The UNSEEN

On the cabbage project Lauren shared that the idea came about when she was attending a conference. “Someone mentioned the color purple, and I thought, we should do a cabbage dye and try it on a t-shirt“, said Lauren during an interview with TheLostExplorer.com. “For me, this is the hyper colour of today for a more conscious generation, a familiar tool derived from nature to recognise the impact on nature our industry continues to have. With all the turmoil today now is the time for Storytellers and creative’s like us to (in the lost explorers words) – give nature a voice.” 

The UNSEEN
Credit: The UNSEEN

PH is an innate property of water, one that defines the limits within which life can and can’t thrive. The t-shirt starts its life purple to indicate the purest form of neutral water. When the t-shirt comes into contact with non-neutral water, the pH level of that water is then revealed through the colour of the garment, forming colour shifts through the pH scale from Alkaline Green to Acidic Red.

The UNSEEN
Credit: The UNSEEN

Lauren explains further, Red cabbage juice contains anthocyanin and can be used as a pH indicator. It’s red, pink, or magenta in acids, purple in neutral solutions, and ranges from blue to green to yellow in alkaline solutions. Anthropogenic causes of pH fluctuations in our water are usually related to pollution in the air, soil or directly into the water. Acid rain is one of the best-known examples of human influence on the pH of water and it comes from the reaction of water with nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and other acidic compounds, lowering its already slightly acidic pH. These emissions usually come from mining and smelting operations or fossil fuel combustion. Wastewater discharge that contains detergents and soap-based products can also cause a water source to become too basic. So the t-shirts, by changing colour, are a really good way of figuring out the state of the local water”

This enables the wearer to visualise the level of pollution in the water they are being exposed to. We invite you to follow the recipe, connect with nature and explore the world of water in your t-shirt. What will you see?

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