Biodesign : Zena Holloway creates root-based textiles
Zena Holloway is convinced that nature is only waiting for us to exploit it. This young woman was born in Bahrain, but is British. Her Arabic name comes from her father, who was an airline pilot. She is a material innovator, photographer and designer, turning biodegradable roots into artefacts from her studio in London.
What is your academic and professional background ?
I left school at 18 and travelled to Egypt, then to the Cayman Islands, working as a SCUBA instructor for 3 years. I discovered an interest in underwater photography and taught myself to use a camera. I developed a photographic style that led to a successful career as a freelance underwater photographer and director, working for high-end clients on global campaigns for over twenty years. I continue to exhibit as a fine art photographer on select projects and sell limited edition prints through galleries in the UK and abroad.
Could you tell us about your passion for the oceans and nature ?
The natural world has played a very important role in the career paths I’ve taken. Photography is visual storytelling and Nature is always the best collaborator. I now grow textile from root to unite biology with design and reconnect humanity with Nature. I create artefacts to cultivate material awareness and show that nature’s amazing capabilities are simply waiting for us to tap into.
What led you to create your own projet : Rootfull ?
In 2018 I was wading through my local river. I was appalled by the huge quantities of plastic waste when I saw the clean, fibrous roots of a willow tree growing underwater. I said to myself, “What if we could grow our own clothes from seeds?
Nature has been weaving textile under our feet for over 500 million years, creating underground networks or root. The idea took root and grew. Five years on and I’ve evolved into a self-taught, material innovator and bio-designer, crafting and selling products that are grown from root.
Could you explain the process of growing root textiles and how can you get a 3D shape for example ?
I create versatile natural root textile that can be grown into different thicknesses and patterns using beeswax templates. Over two weeks the wheatgrass seeds sprout, and the root grows down onto the templates to create textile that is woven entirely by Nature. Root textile has a unique aesthetic that is both beautiful and intriguing. It’s biodegradable, pollution-free, water-efficient and estimated carbon negative. At the core of the innovation is a simple, disruptive idea that root can be grown into functional materials and products to replace leather, synthetic textile and other petrochemical products.
What kind of clothes can you make with these roots ?
I’m still exploring the functionality of root, but if I say that there are over 11,000 different grass species and each has a different root structure, it helps to explain the vast material base. This year I’m excited to be launching a new collection of fashion accessories and jewellery that I’ll be exhibiting in London and available from my website.
What are your plans to move your project into a commercial venture with fashion or textile companies ?
Roots are the invisible building blocks for our natural world – the foundations for life. Harnessing this living material has physical and metaphorical implications that reach beyond the artefact itself. I strive to embody the dream of organic design, to offer a vision of a world that is grown, not made.
My innovation is bio-design in its simplest form, it brings storytelling and tangible experiences to inspire and empower people to become drivers for change.
My ambition is to collaborate with brands to create products that inspire a deeper awareness of the materials we consume and deliver a narrative that can change behaviours.
Photo : Zena Holloway