Students Ana Laura Andrade, Iván Caballero, Moises Hernández, and Manuel Ortiz, under the guidance of Giovanna Danies and Luz Alba Gallo, and with the contribution of Carolina Obregón and Johann Osma, professors and researchers from the Universidad de los Andes, were awarded the PETA Award that includes a one-to-two-week visit to the Stella McCartney studio in London.
The winning project was called WOOCOA, which was a vegan yarn made up of hemp and coconut fibers that had been treated with enzymes extracted from the edible oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus).
The award ceremony took place during the third Biodesign Challenge conference in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The three finalists were teams of designers from the Maryland Institute of Art, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the Universidad de los Andes; they were all competing for the PETA Award for the creation of a vegan yarn.
The Department of Design at the Universidad de los Andes began to offer courses in the area of Biodesign in 2017.
Since then, many students from the university have expressed their interest in this new field. One of the courses, Estudio 7: Biodesign Challenge, is taught by professor Giovanna Danies, a biologist and microbiologist, and Luz Alba Gallo, a designer.
When PETA announced an award for a non-animal yarn, Giovanna and Luz invited Carolina Obregón, a teacher in the Department of Design at the Universidad de los Andes and expert in sustainability with a focus on fashion and textiles to give a talk in the class.
After the talk, the group expressed interest in participating in this complex challenge, and Carolina joined the team. During the process, WOOCOA needed to use an enzyme to weaken the lignin in the fibers to make them feel smoother, so Johann Osma, professor of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the Universidad de los Andes as well as member of several biotechnology companies that produce enzymes, joined the group.
WOOCOA is a clear example of how an interdisciplinary team within an academic context that collaborates with industry can undertake a successful project that is creative as well as pioneering.