April 2022

A new material made from textile waste and starch is far more sustainable than conventional clay

The idea for this project came about as a result of some research I did for my graduation project back in 2014. At the time I developed a new material I called ‘Structural Skin’ made out of leather offcuts and leftovers. For the project I looked into data relating to the leather industry and found several articles demonstrating the negative environmental impact of textile waste. Since then I’ve been interested in finding new ways of dealing with this silent and under-the-radar but nonetheless harmful type of pollution. Most of the projects I know of in this area are focussed on post or pre-consumer textile waste, but none of them tackle the impact of the process of ‘decay’ that actually occurs within the textile's lifespan.

Textile-Clay is, as its name suggests, a clay-like material made out of textile waste and starch that takes advantage of the everyday disintegration process that happens to all fabrics. To develop it we collaborated with Telelavo, a Spanish startup that washes and irons textiles, mainly for restaurants and hotels. They provided us with our raw material, the ‘fluff’ that is released and gets stuck to the filters of their industrial drying machines during the spinning process. To bind the fluff we used starch, a product also used in the laundry business to achieve a more robust finish when the items are ironed.

After mixing these leftover fibres with the starch we borrowed different manual processes and techniques from pottery and clay-making to give a shape and form to the objects. Textile-Clay has two major advantages over conventional clay; first, it is a non-extractive material, meaning we don’t need to take anything out of the earth to produce it. And second, it has a very low energy impact because this new material does not need to be fired, glazed and re-fired. Due to the water-based nature of the binder the finished objects simply need the time to dry thoroughly before becoming fully functional objects. We have made candle-holders, bowls, vases, trays and a stool in this way.

Production process: We collect the fluff from the lint collectors in the industrial dryers and soak it in a bleach and water solution to get rid of any potential bacteria. We then rinse the fluff with cold water. If we want the fluff to be a specific colour we dye it using pigments while it is still wet. The fluff is then left to dry on a rack overnight and the dried material is mixed in a food processor until all the particles are very fine and have turned into a sort of dust. We then mix this powder with the starch in a metal bowl and place the mixture on a flat surface and knead it like you would with bread. We sometimes need to add a little water to get a better dough-like consistency. At this point the mixture can be turned into different forms using various conventional pottery and ceramic processes. Once the object is shaped, it is left on a flat surface until it is completely dry. The drying process lasts between 48h and 72h, depending on the shape and size of the object.

Jorge Penadés was born in Málaga in 1985. He hails from a family of cabinet makers and studied Interior Design in Barcelona before graduating with a MA in Product Design from IED Madrid. He established his own practice in the Spanish capital after his graduation in 2015. His office works across a variety of areas ranging from new materials to furniture, interiors, one-off commissions and temporary architectures for different clients such as Berluti (LVMH), Camper, BD Barcelona or The Future Perfect. Past awards include the AD Nuevo Talento Campari in 2017, the ICON Volkswagen Design Award in 2018 and the Frame Award on the category of Single-brand Store of the Year in 2021. His work is part of the permanent collection at the Vitra Design Museum.

Kneading the fluff with the starch in order to achieve a homogeneous mixture.
Kneading the fluff with the starch in order to achieve a homogeneous mixture.
Stool. (green/pink)
Bowl. (red)
Churros joined together with climbing rope. (blue)
Multi-coloured panel.
This article appeared in DAM81. Order your personal copy.