A Fashion Line Designed to Prevent Malaria

© Mark Vorreuter

A Cornell University scientist and a designer from Africa have joined forces to create a collection of clothing to protect against mosquitoes.

The initial prototype garment debuted on the runway at the Cornell Fashion Collective spring fashion show. It is comprised of a one-piece body suit, hand-dyed in rich hues of purple, gold and blue, and a mesh cape and hood – all embedded at the molecular level with insecticides.

Over 200 million people contract malaria each year, and according to the World Health Organization, an estimated 655,000 people died from malaria in 2010.

Though insecticide-treated nets are popular for warding off mosquitoes in African homes, the Cornell garment can be worn all day and the repellant does not wear off quickly like skin-based versions. According to the press release, by binding repellant and fabric at the nanolevel using metal organic framework molecules, the mesh fabric can be loaded with up to three times more insecticide than normal nets, which usually dissipate after about six months.

Responsible for the design is Matilda Ceesay, a Cornell apparel design undergraduate from Gambia, and Frederick Ochanda, postdoctoral associate in Cornell's Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design and a native of Kenya.

Both Ochanda and Ceesay have witnessed family members suffer from the disease. "It's so common back home, you can't escape it," Ceesay said.

"Seeing malaria's effect on people in Kenya, it's very important for me to apply fiber science to help this problem," Ochanda noted. "A long-term goal of science is to be able to come up with solutions to help protect human health and life, so this project is very fulfilling for me."

Ceesay and Ochanda hope the concept they have designed might serve as an inspiration to create new technologies for fighting the spread of malaria. Also in the works, Ochanda said, is a fabric that releases repellant in response to changes in temperature or light – offering wearers more protection during times when mosquitoes are on the prowl.

At the very least, they hope the technology can be applied to create longer-lasting insecticide-laden bed nets.

Tags: Africa | Green Fashion | Insects | Malaria | Sustainable Fabrics