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Cheesy Chic: German Turns Milk Into A Silky, Chemical-Free Textile

Casein, the protein that makes it all happen, is one of the key ingredients of cheese.

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Milk does a body good from the inside out—we know this from those TV commercials that aired in the 1980s—but it’s trying on a whole new identity thanks to Anke Domaske. The German biologist and designer has converted the beloved lactic liquid into Qmilch, a textile—yes, textile—that’s soft as silk, durable as cotton, and incredibly kind to extra-sensitive skin.

Domaske isn’t actually the first to experiment with the physical properties of casein, the phosphoprotein found in milk that can be converted into solids and forms a crucial ingredient in cheese. In addition to forming the base for paints dating back to King Tut’s reign, it also has a significant history as a fabric. "Germans in the 1930s discovered that the protein has the potential to be spun into a fiber, but it was made with formaldehyde," she tells Co.Design. Italy and the United States each created their own similar materials, but these weren’t particularly hardy and lost appeal once wool rationing was lifted after the war ended. "Over the years, Chinese manufacturers exchanged the formaldehyde for a copolymerization of 75% acrylic and just 25% casein. But the process takes 60 hours and is very resource and water intensive," she says. There was clearly room for improvement.

"We thought there must be a way to keep a natural resource, such as milk, natural," she says, and her motivation was equal parts personal and professional. "My stepdad suffered from cancer and received a textile allergy. We were looking for chemical-free fashion but couldn’t find any—even natural fibers are treated with pesticides that cannot be removed completely nowadays." Domaske developed Qmilch over a few years, using powdered protein direct from dairies, sourced from milk that was otherwise unusable according to the country’s strict regulations (drinkability has no effect on its new incarnation); per the site, the manufacturing process takes about an hour, and uses two liters of water. So when will trendsetters be able to buy the latest frocks from the 1%? "Qmilch is currently delivered to industry partners who will bring their own products to the market when we have our bigger production plant of 1,000 tons per year," Domaske says. Milk mustaches for all in the meantime, then.

(H/T Trend Tablet)