May/June 2012 Issue | Ursula Sautter
These days you can either drink your milk or wear it, thanks to the inventiveness of German microbiologist-cum-designer Anke Domaske from Hannover. The latest creations from the 28-year-old’s snazzy fashion label Mademoiselle Chi Chi are woven from a soft, finer-than-silk fiber, named QMilk, which consists of a protein called casein, the main component of milk.
Engineers attempted to produce textiles from milk as far back as the 1930s, but the manufacturing processes at the time involved heavy doses of aggressive chemicals and many thousands of gallons of water. The procedure Domaske developed, in cooperation with the Fiber Institute Bremen, requires only “two liters of water per one kilo of cloth, the [dried] casein flakes that float on whey, the yellowish fluid that results from milk gone sour and some other natural ingredients,” she explains. This mixture—the milk in which is all organic—is heated and then pressed through a special sieve. The resulting strands are spun into yarn.
QMilk is biodegradable and sustainable. The casein used for QMilk doesn’t come from the food supply but from the roughly 20 percent of milk that, because of Germany’s strict quality requirements, is regularly rejected from commercial use. QMilk also boasts of a number of health advantages. The antibacterial properties of casein’s amino acids, says Domaske, can help regulate body temperature and blood circulation, and, unlike some cotton fabrics, QMilk is hypoallergenic. Which explains why medical engineering companies have expressed an interest in working with Domaske.
Her clothes don’t come cheap; it costs around 10 euros to produce one pound of QMilk cloth, compared to only a euro and a half or so for a pound of your average mass-produced cotton fabric. But if you’re worried that these textiles may have a use-by date like the milk from which they are made, rest easy. QMilk fabrics never go sour.