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An interview with Zena Holloway, founder of Rootfull:

'It stood out to me that we can use biology to develop new materials'

Zena Holloway, is the founder of Rootfull, a UK-based material innovation company that is developing a novel textile, used to create decor pieces and lighting. 'Root material is very versatile and can be grown in multiple ways,' Zena explains. 'It stood out to me that we can use biology to develop new materials. The narrative seemed so rich, so I decided to give it a go.' After seeing the devastating effects of plastic pollution in the oceans, Zena decided to tackle this crisis. She has worked as an underwater photographer for 25 years, using her craft to demonstrate the impacts of pollution in the world's waterways.

From roots to design
Zena set up the company in 2018 and works on developing textiles by guiding plant roots through templates to create unique weave patterns which are then incorporated into artisan decor pieces and lamps, but also jewellery and clothing.

Sowed on templates of beeswax, Zena cultivates the sprouts from her living room where with minimum inputs, they're held for two weeks. When harvested, the edible part goes to her chickens and the rest will be used for one of her many artworks. Producing 8m2 of material every two weeks, Zena could reach about 50m2 if she maximises all inputs, yet currently, she's 'at a loss for hands'.

After drying the mats, Zena applies a coating made from kitchen ingredients to maintain moisture and prevent flaking. Which, eventually, will make it solid like leather until it's ready to be transformed into one of her many artworks. Currently, she is applying for an R&D grant and patent to further develop the coating.

A sustainable alternative
Zena has seen her army of followers increase over the past year. 'People tend to love it and are often interested in the dying process of my works.' The colours used in her products are made of a natural base. 'It's bio-design in the simplest form, using natural processes to grow new materials. There has never been a better time to grow this as everyone is trying to find alternative materials and or replacing them. The petrochemical (easy, indestructible chemicals) industry has held these developments back for years and thus are behind on innovations.' Unfortunately, petrochemicals are commonly used in synthetic fibres, coatings, and other materials, hindering the development of sustainable alternatives.

Given the lack of awareness, Zena aims to raise attention to the heavy use of petrochemical plastics in the interior industry, such as in furniture upholstery, carpets, and curtains. 'Products often carry a sustainability tag on them, but when taking a closer look at the materials and the textiles to build the environment, we have to go back to natural solutions to solve this growing issue.'

The roots used by Zena are 100% natural and perfectly suited for the interior industry. Trying to replace the material, Zena would love to collaborate with interior designers who would like to include sustainable alternatives to their offerings. 'The craft is really what I love, the creative side of things. However, it's enough work for three people on its own. Anyone interested in working with me, feel free to reach out.'

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