Material Research


2019 - Individual Project

The objective of this project was to see how design can be driven by material experiences and related theories. Using a chosen waste material I experimented and evaluated the qualities of the material based on user feedback. The research consolidated itself in a stand alone exhibition consisting of the new materials created  and the findings collected.

I chose to use human hair because it is useful material that is wasted in great quantities on a daily basis. In design I believe that waste materials should be seen as a resource as opposed to a by-product and therefore I wanted to use a material that can be sourced locally, but also found anywhere in the world.

As the global population continues to rise, so does the amount of human hair that is cut and thrown away everyday. With a large emphasis on sustainable design it is important that we continually find new ways of utilising waste materials in order to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, and allow pioneering innovation in materials to drive a new era of products.

I therefore chose to work with waste human hair as it is a valuable material, but has an unappealing stigma attached to it. For millions of years people have been using animals fur for clothing, insulation and other products, yet the thought of utilising cut human hair makes people feel uneasy with a taboo that surrounds it.

                                            Characteristics                                                             Hair  Properties                    

                                            – High tensile strength                                                 – 50.65% Carbon
                                            – Thermally insulating                                                 – 20.85% Oxygen    
                                            – Flexible                                                                           – 17.14% Nitrogen     
                                            – Oil-absorbant                                                              – 06.36% Hydrogen 
                                            – Lightweight                                                                  – 05.00% Sulphur
                                            – Slow degradation rate
                                            – Elastic recovery
                                            – Non-toxic [unless burnt]
                                            – Non-irritative

“Everyone likes human hair as long as it is on their own heads, but when you see it in an external application, everybody finds it disgusting”

Zsofia Kollar

Example: Studio Swine, London

"Hair is one natural resource that is actually increasing globally"

Azusa Murakami

Studio Swine created a collection of products made from human hair during a residency in China. ‘Hair Highway’ includes mirror frames, combs, and jewelry boxes crafted by placing strands of hair in a silicon mold then filled with a non-toxic, sustainably harvested resin derived from pine trees. The outcome is  sheets of plastic that look like amber or exotic hardwoods that can be cut and assembled using traditional tools and techniques.

Studio Swine chose to create a range of products with the hair that wouldn’t be immediately recognizable in an effort to open people's minds to the aesthetic and environmental benefits of fabricating with the waste material. According to Murakami and Groves, the responses have been more "oh, cool" rather than "eww, gross," but some people do raise concerns about the ethics of turning part of the human body into furniture.

This fueled my interest to pursue experimentation with lengths of hair collected from various hairdressers across central Glasgow. I was interested in manipulating the hair and combining it with other materials to see whether or not the hair possessed structural qualities. After learning that hair was used to create jewellery as far back (and most likely even before) Victorian times I was intrigued to see how easily I could manipulate the unsual material and what new forms, aesthetics and functional potential hair possessed.



To begin the experimentation I collected a variety of materials that included; PVA glue, epoxy resin, cement, ink, hairspray/fixative, wax, salt, flour, and grass. With these materials acquired I seperated the hair into two cateogroies of length and colour before starting to push the properties of hair.

Initial experimenting led me to discover that hair as a waste material is hard to work with. When combed, it easily falls apart and cannot be made into long sections without the aid of adhesives. I discovered that burning hair releases a very toxic fume.

Testing: Cement base with hairspray added to the hair to resemble a candle wick

Testing: Using the same technique as above but this time casting the hair inside transparent resin

Testing: A combination of fixative and ink 
Testing: Twisting the hair (applying pressure) and adding paint

Testing: Hair and Salt, exploring  textures and patterns

Testing: Epoxy resin used inside to give the form, whilst the outside remains very organic 

After much exploration I discovered that the easiest way to work with the short pieces of hair was to iron them between parchment paper. This technique bound the hairs together and created a thatched surface that I was interested in exploring further.

Testing: Ironed flat, spraypainted black, and a coat of fixative added

Testing: Ironing the hair against grass, similar in consistency the hair/grass matted texture was an interesting discovery

Testing: Ironing the hair and creating strip before using fixative to hold the hair together and weaving it


Exploring Material Driven Design (MDD) was the first time as a designer I’ve had to consider the qualities of a material prior to researching a topic or knowing what design problem I’m trying to solve. I found it a useful, yet challenging exercise as it required me to perform multiple iterations using a material completely unknown to me.

“The ‘theory of contrasts’ gave attention to the ‘nature’ of materials having the purpose of showing the essential and diverse characteristics of different matter” 

“Designers who can understand these relationships between the user, product and material within a situational whole can more deliberately (or systematically) manipulate materials for meaningful experiences”

– Elvin Karana, MMD

Using human hair wasn’t as I expected it to be as I found it much harder to manipulate, shape and alter the material. However, throughout the duration of the project I was able to learn different techniques, such as weaving or compressing the hair, allowing me to slowly change the properties of the otherwise waste material.

I also learnt through researching previous human hair projects that it is a difficult material to work with but has been used to create things such as rope, furniture, decorative jewellery, and art sculptures, as well as being used to control ocean oil spills and even make soy sauce.