Biotechnology is often heralded as the next big step in materials and textiles. But in a world where genetic material can be seen as a commodity, what happens to old ideas of ownership over our genetic material?
In a bid to raise this issue, Tina Gorjanc, a 26-year-old Slovenian-born designer, unveiled a project called “Pure Human” at her end-of-year show at Central Saint Martins in London. The project features a collection of leather jackets and handbags made from the conventional method of pig skin. These mock-ups, however, feature freckles, moles, and tattoos to feel and appear like human skin.
As part of the project, Gorjanc applied for a patent for Alexander McQueen’s genetic information, which could be used as a source of laboratory-grown leather made from human tissue. Despite numerous reports, Gorjanc told IFLScience she has no intention to actually use McQueen’s DNA. Instead, the project is speculative, but no less provocative.
The concept was that DNA could be taken from strands of hair that Alexander McQueen sowed into items he created in 1992. The DNA could be transplanted into stem cells, and then multiplied in a culture. You’ll then essentially be able to harvest tissue made of skin cells. In the celebrity-obsessed world of fashion, it's easy to see how this could be desirable.
Tina Gorjanc's project highlights how Alexander McQueens genetic material could be exploited. Image credit: Tom Mannion
In theory, this would be legal. The 2004 Human Tissue Act in the UK focuses on the medical uses of human tissue, primarily in instances of transplants. But in the ever-approaching world of biotechnology, this could easily lead to the exploitation of genetic material.
As she explains in a statement: “The legislation that deals with the ownership of biological materials within the medical field states that a bodily tissue is not considered stolen when it is obtained from a doctor through tissue or blood samples. And as the patient is not expected to keep the material, it belongs to the institution that was executing its extraction.
“This basically means that a person loses the ownership of his biological materials as soon as they leave his body.
“I know many people have been made uncomfortable by the work I’ve been doing, calling it Frankenfashion, but I think I am prompting the right sort of questions for this industry in the 21st century,” Gorjanc told the New York Times. “The demand for personalized and unique, rarefied product is only getting greater and greater. So is obsession with celebrity, not to mention advances in biotechnology, could change the way we manufacture garments and their fabrics forever.”