05/08/19 Sustainable Sequins Made From Trees

For all their glittering appeal, sequins are pretty awful for the environment. Most are made from petroleum plastics and synthetic resin – materials that are not only damaging to natural ecosystems but also to the workers tasked with sewing them on to garments by hand. Given the amount of sequins it takes to make a single garment, it presents a big big problem.

Designer Elissa Brunato is hoping to change this by creating sustainable sequins that shimmer without the use of chemicals. Winner of the Creative Review Innovation Award – a new prize founded in partnership with the MullenLowe NOVA Awards to celebrate creative projects which solve a problem, she developed the Bio Iridescent Sequin, a shimmering bead made from natural cellulose that is more sustainable than regular plastic sequins.

Instead of using petroleum-based plastic, Central Saint Martins graduate Brunato has developed a way of making glittering disc-shaped beads from bioplastic based on cellulose extracted from trees. The cellulose’s crystalline form refracts light and makes the sequins naturally shimmery, without the need for chemical treatment.

With her bio sequins, Brunato is hoping to help tackle a major issue in fashion and textiles and prove that natural materials can be just as beautiful as manmade ones.



Image courtesy: Elissa Brunato


Brunato worked with material scientists at RISE Research Institutes in Sweden to develop sequins using cellulose derived from wood. These sequins are as lightweight as their plastic counterparts but are completely biodegradable and can be grown in moulds in as little as 24 hours.

“Cellulose is one of the most abundant polymers available on earth. It is one of the main ingredients plants are constructed from and you can extract it from any type of tree,” Brunato explained to Dezeen recently.

“As the material forms very strong bonds, the sequins are light and use very little cellulose per sequin,” explained Brunato.



Image courtesy: Elissa Brunato


“In the future, the cellulose could originate from anything from fruit peels, or algae to used denim and waste paper.”

Brunato developed the Bio Iridescent Sequin after talking to sequin suppliers and realising there was a growing demand for more sustainable materials from fashion brands such as Stella McCartney and the LVMH group, whose brands include Louis Vuitton and Fenty.

She developed the new material with scientists Hjalmar Granberg and Tiffany Abitbol, from the Research Institute of Sweden (RISE).

“For a tree, as in the case of the first sequins I’ve made, the cellulose takes about a hundred years to form sufficiently. This is remarkably short in comparison to crude oil, which takes thousands of years to form,” explained Brunato.



Image courtesy: Elissa Brunato


The sequins are currently at the development stage. The next steps include industrial testing for their biodegradable performance.

Dresses embroidered with sequins have seen a resurgence in popularity recently but experts fear that plastic sequins are disastrous for the environment.

As a result, designers are increasingly looking for ways to produce more sustainable materials for the fashion industry. Bolt Threads is a start-up in California that is experimenting with a type of silk made using yeast and sugar, which has been used to make a dress by Adidas x Stella McCartney. While Canadian footwear brand Native Shoes has developed the world’s 100% biodegradable trainer made from eucalyptus and pineapple husk.

So fear not, the future is sustainable!