Artichoke textiles: Rebecca van Caem created Boertex at Fabricademy

In the Fabricademy programme, participants learn to develop their own products and conceptual designs with the use of digital fabrication, biotechnology and craft techniques. They work with innovative tools from Waag’s FabLab and TextileLab. In this series we talk to the graduates of Fabricademy 2020 about their work and inspiration. This time, we chatted with Fabricademy alumna Rebecca van Caem, who creates textiles from food waste.

Hi Rebecca, what inspired you to do Fabricademy?
My background is in fashion design and textiles. At the end of the fashion design course at Amsterdam Fashion Academy, I developed my own kombucha leather. After that, I was looking for a course that would help me learn to work with innovative biofabrication more. 

I actually found Fabricademy online. I had heard of Waag already and I knew the building at the Nieuwmarkt, but I didn’t know the TextileLab was actually in the tower! Other students also recommended me to take the course, and that’s when I subscribed myself. 

The call for applications for Fabricademy 2021/2022 is open!

Did you have some experience with the theory and tools that were introduced during Fabricademy?
Well, it was quite challenging at times, being someone who has no experience with implementing technology into fashion. I had to update my theoretical knowledge of certain topics, but the course in general was very enriching. 

One of the challenges for me was to work with the CNC milling machine in the FabLab. This machine for digital fabrication has so many parts, such as a big, hammer-like screwdriver. It’s massive. It allows you to cut anything out of wood or foam, but you have to use the software correctly in order for it to work. A small mistake could mean making a hole in the material as well as the machine and this could destroy your design. 

The laser cutting machine, however, was my favourite. It sets materials on fire and is undeniably cool. I used it to cut my garments for the final project. 

Is there something you would like to add to the course?
I would have loved to use the machinery in the FabLab more often, but then, of course, covid happened. For the rest, the course was set up perfectly. Although it’s quite an experimental course, it was easy to follow from home as well. In general I don’t think things need to be added to the way the course is structured now. I certainly learned a lot and enjoyed my time.

Boertex - Rebecca van Caem at Fabricademy 2020
Boertex by Rebecca van Caem (2021)

What learnings will you definitely implement in your future work?
During  the part of Fabricademy that focuses on biofabrication, I learned how important it is to document every part of the process while creating something. In doing so, it was easy to pass on the information from the work that I created. I will definitely take that into my future work.

The last three months of Fabricademy you’ve worked on your own project. What did you make? 
I created Boertex, a project where I design a biomaterial garment from the abundance of a seasonal vegetable waste stream in The Netherlands. It entails the process from food waste to fashion design. We were in the artichoke season during the course, so that’s why I started making a textile from pieces of artichoke in combination with a cellulose-based recipe. You can bend the material, laser cut it and it’s biodegradable.

Also, during the research part of Fabricademy, I was able to biofabricate materials from bean sprouts and grape waste, to then apply my own style in the designs. For example, you do this by drying the fibers. It is an ancient way of creating yarn by spinning the fibers.

At Fabricademy, we also learned the basics of growing mycelium. I then tried to make my own cellulose material with fibers, based on the recipe of a chemistry and arts 'cook'-book. I tweaked this into my own recipe. A part of finishing the Boertex project was creating a cookbook with all the recipes that I used for creating biomaterials during Fabricademy. 

Boertex - Rebecca van Caem at Fabricademy 2020
Boertex by Rebecca van Caem (2021)

How did you come up with the idea for Boertex?
I have a deep passion for food. My grandparents have a farm in Slovakia, which, growing up, I'd go visit every summer. And my mom’s boyfriend is a chef. It just made sense at one point: in my work, I’m combining fashion design with cooking. I’m like a fashion designer in the kitchen, who cooks with food waste - of which the Netherlands has an abundance. 

Is it possible to wash the biodegradable clothes you created?
The clothes are not wearable just yet, but they are water repellent! If you leave the biomaterial in the water too long, it will degrade. For the time being, Boertex is a proof of concept. 

What would you need to make Boertex wearable?
I’m now researching whether it can be processed in the same way that textile made from hemp is created. That’s why I’m in Spain over the summer, to research which milling techniques can be applied to this artichoke-based material. But I would need to collaborate with chemists and other professionals to see how I can transform it into something wearable. 

What are your next steps?
My goal is to continue working on the Boertex project. In the end I would like to develop and fabricate the material, so it can be used in the same way as cotton or linen. I’m in Spain right now to research whether the hemp milling process is suitable for this material too. It will probably be a three to five year project. The Boertex textile will be able to be used for anything: not only for clothing, but also for sofas, for example. 

The thing is: the more a material looks normal and commercial, the quicker people will wear or use it. The advantage of using a bio-textile like this is that people who purchase it, will have a one-off material of which the look and feel can vary each year, depending on the type and quality of the food waste - resulting in unique pieces that will be hard to replicate. 

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Tonya Sudiono

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