The project Kera-Plast aims to re-loop humans and nature by questioning the current systems and ethics through materiality.
Human hair – currently considered as waste – functions as the base for the material. A fabrication method was developed to turn human hair into a stiff material, similar to plastic due to the final materials' shine and translucency. The aesthetics of the resulting material are controlled and designed by traditional textile techniques such as knitting, weaving and non-woven processes.
Materiality plays a crucial role in the daily life of our Western society. The prognosis of a further rising population up to 11 billion people around 2100 (United Nations, 2019) increases the pressure on our current living and consumption systems. These must not only guarantee the supply of food and other material goods but also have to preserve our earth as a resource for future generations.
In Global North society, our lives are guided by many preformed norms and established ethical standards, that stop our self-perception as being part of the world of nature. It is time to rethink our systems with a new mindset and systems. We are part of nature. The project Kera-Plast calls for the inclusion of mankind in the cycle by introducing human hair, currently treated as waste, as a material base.
Humans grow approximately 1000 km length of hair over a life span, and this gradually goes to waste over time, approximately 700 mio kg of hair are thrown away worldwide every year (Visser, 2016). Considering that it is a renewable, natural material that does not consume additional resources during its growth as a by-product of life, the question arises why do we not appreciate the many great material properties of hair? Hair is a biodegradable, keratin-based material and a side product of human life.
A production method for hair was developed, combining traditional textile techniques with a compression moulding process. Through this process, the Keratin-based fibres glue together resulting in a stiff and shiny material. Different aesthetics can be achieved through the application of different textile techniques like dyeing, knitting, weaving or non-woven processes. Kera-Plast shows a variety of patterns and 3D surfaces.
The basis of the Kera-Plast samples is waste cutting of human hair.
The developed fabrication method merges traditional textile techniques with thermo-compression moulding. Herewith a plasticisation of the flexible and dull keratin-based fibre takes place resulting in stiff, translucent material.
The short waste hair fibre (on average 3 - 15 cm long) is fabricated by traditional textile techniques like knitting (inlay, domestic knitting machine), weaving (hand-loom), non-woven processes and dyeing in order to control and design with the base material. Due to the knitting and weaving process, some samples are blended with wool or cotton. Wool is also based on keratin and, therefore, also melts during the thermo-compression process resulting in shiny and stiff, cotton that stays flexible and dull.
After a pre-treatment, the wet textile piece is pressed with low heat but very high pressure. The keratin-based fibres glue together without a binder and result in a stiff and translucent material.
Different colours of the keratin fibre affect the outcome. The previously applied textile techniques and blend material have a big influence on the aesthetics of the resulting pattern, surface and qualities. Knit has a more organic look, while weaving helps to create more structural patterns (removing the warp thread before pressing enables structured pure hair samples). Through the moulding even 3D surfaces are possible. The thin layers are highly translucent when exposed to light. The variety of techniques enables the designer to create different aesthetics even if being dependent on the waste material.
The developed processing is applicable to all kinds of keratin-based fibres and materials like e.g. Hair, wool, horsehair etc. The methodology enables to develop a natural, biodegradable and stiff material through textile processes by making human hair waste available for designing.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
Human hair, wool, cotton
University of Borås, Textile Design X Polymer Lab