In the lead up to the MA Summer Show, which opens on Friday 8 September, we speak to MA Textile Design student Luisa Balaban. Her research looks at sustainable uses of microalgae and how it can be used within the textiles industry and beyond.

Luisa Balaban - Microalgae sustainable textile design

Luisa Balaban – Microalgae sustainable textile design

Please tell us about what you are working on for your final show.

My final show will focus on pigment, materials and the possible applications of microalgae. I want to educate the public about these microorganisms. For example did you know that around 50% of the oxygen on Earth is produced and maintained by microalgae?

I really want consumers to consider the environmental impact of the garment they’re wearing. To think about everything from the raw fiber it is made from to the processes it has undergone to reach the final stage, whether it be bleaching, dying or printing. All these have consequences.

Luisa Balaban - Microalgae sustainable textile design

Luisa Balaban – Microalgae sustainable textile design

I’m also collaborating with fellow Chelsea MA Textile Design student Julia Ast, working with her knowledge of various raw fibres such as hemp, whilst she is using the microalgae pigments I’m developing, for her weaving. So each of us will have elements of each other’s work in our MA summer show.

Julia Ast & Luisa Balaban

Julia Ast & Luisa Balaban

What has been your greatest challenge so far in working towards the MA show?

I think one of the greatest challenges was to keep the balance between a part-time job, full time MA and my personal life. As it is a one year course it’s quite intense and you are basically preparing for the final show all year round. You have to be very clear about your project, where you see your work and not let yourself get distracted.

Technically, one of the biggest challenges was to find the pigments I am currently working with, due to the fact they are microalgae. I was very lucky to be able to work with the Department of Bioscience at Swansea University. They allowed me to experiment with dried biomass sourced from their facilities.

Julia Ast with Luisa's dyed silks

Julia Ast with Luisa’s dyed silks

What do you see yourself doing after you graduate? What are your career ambitions?

My collaboration with Swansea University will continue after graduation and I will keep experimenting with microalgae textile dye processes. I really enjoy working with different microalgae strains and I can see various career paths developing, including a research one. In a few years I hope to set up my own clothing brand and patent my method.

What have you enjoyed most about studying at Chelsea?

I enjoyed using the library resources, the diversity within the course, the open-mindedness of the tutors and the college’s great location. Being constantly encouraged to research and find new solutions, as well as being as autonomous as possible has given me the chance to plan and do things I probably wouldn’t have in another environment.

Luisa Balaban - Microalgae sustainable textile design

Luisa Balaban – Microalgae sustainable textile design

What have you enjoyed most about the area around Chelsea?

The Thames, because you can relax by the river or take a nice walk at sunset. Also having Tate Britain next door to the college is a fantastic resource and Millbank Gardens is a lovely place to sit and have lunch.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about studying MA Textile Design at Chelsea?

It is an intense year of study, so you have to be completely prepared to dedicate all your time and energy to it.

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Read more about MA Textile Design

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