“If a bacteria produces a pigment, how do we work with it to dye textiles?” Materials designer Natsai Audrey Chieza asked this seemingly simple question to a packed room during her 2017 TED Talk. The talk, centered around reducing pollution in the fashion industry while creating amazing new things to wear, reflected her position at the intersection of design and biotechnology. She is keen on designing for post-petroleum material futures through Faber Futures, where she is the founder and Creative Director.
At work, she is happiest when she is in the lab and working on a “making” project. Chieza—born in Harare, Zimbabwe and currently residing in London—studied at Central Saint Martins, where she received an M.A. in Textile Futures (now Material Futures) as well as an M.A. with Distinction in Architectural Design from the University of Edinburgh. So far, Chieza has worked as an independent designer with clients such as Ginkgo Bioworks, Microsoft, Nissan, Unilever,) and EDF Energy. Right now, Chieza is collaborating with partners and growing the consultancy arm of Faber Futures.
While science appears to be at the forefront of her work, flexing her artistic muscle has been paramount. In her youth, she loved MTV for its visual culture, drawing inspiration from artists across genres like Mafikizolo, Bjork and TLC. Today, her creative inspiration spans the artistic spectrum, from independent thinkers (Noam Chomsky, Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, Nayyirah Waheed) to women who shaping the debate around sustainable futures (Naomi Klein, Vandana Shiva, Dame Ellen MacArthur) to timely musicians (Solange Knowles, Somi).
According to Chieza, technologies like synthetic biology will be central to our continued survival on this planet. They will help us feed nine billion people by 2050, as well as clothe and shelter that population with sustainable materials and transact within a circular economy. Her long-term goal is to have design and creativity intertwine with the technological developments that emerging biotechnologies are ushering in.