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Colour & Materials
Published: 15 Jun 2017

pH-Responsive T-Shirts Visualise Climate Change

London-based material exploration studio The Unseen has partnered with eco-lifestyle brand The Lost Explorer on a pH-responsive, colour-changing T-shirt that reveals the dramatic effects of climate change.

The project, entitled Water, helps to visualise the impact climate change has on water acidity – a concept that’s almost invisible to the naked eye. By delivering a visual representation of the pervasive issue, Water aims to inspire action and public engagement. It launched on World Environment Day (June 5).

Lauren Bowker, founder of The Unseen, says she wanted to create a pH indicator without using complex or harmful chemicals. Using a straightforward natural dye process, cotton and hemp T-shirts are scoured and then boiled in a mordant solution before being placed in a red cabbage dye. The naturally occurring anthocyanin in the cabbage acts as a pH indicator, making the T-shirt’s colour shift through the pH scale.

Starting out purple at neutral pH7, the T-shirts indicate acidic water with shades of red and pink, while alkaline-heavy water results in blue, green and yellow. The T-shirts have so far been tested in London, Iceland, Fiji and the Dead Sea, illustrating a range of colours across the spectrum.

To engage consumers, the project is accompanied by an instructive video, in which Bowker explains how the T-shirts can be created at home.  

Natural and responsible dye processes are becoming more ubiquitous. Stylus further explores this theme in Considered Colour and Living Colour: Dyeing with Bacteria.

For more projects by The Unseen, see Fire: Colour-Changing Hair Dye, Brain-Responsive Gemstones and Alchemical Heat-Responsive Jacket

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