Alice Potts’ passion for sweat drives her work, seeing sweat not as ‘something that smells’ but as a fluid that heals, regulates and communicates crucial signs about the body’s health.
Her designs are instilled with a deep respect for this bodily fluid, as a sort of sister of clothing, as she notes they both act as a second skin. Whilst in Athens completing an artistic research fellowship, Potts invited 200 Athenians to a gym and encouraged them to dance, hug and get sweaty. It is this sweat that Potts collected. Once the samples tested negative for coronavirus, Potts extracted the eccrine, the gland that doesn’t smell, needed to create her designs.
When discussing her bioplastic project, Potts notes the different waste material in each country gives the bioplastic a different sheen, colour, identity. Similarly, these garments are also connected to the Athenians whose sweat is encrusted in the samples. In these creations, the prospective consumer is not alienated from the materials and people who made these products but connected to them, in a somewhat intimate way.
Potts extracts organic compounds from the sweat and allows the crystals to form naturally. These self-sculpting materials then crystallise the moment in time when Potts first asked participants to dance together in Athens. The sweat crystals are integral both to Potts’ philosophy and her aesthetic, it is not only a statement about sustainable thinking, they are used to create beautiful pieces.
Sweat is a bodily response to the natural environment and to ones’ emotional environment. We sweat more when we’re hot, and when we’re nervous, when we have sex, and when we eat food that’s a little spicier than we’re used to. When you move to a different climate, your sweat adapts itself to help you acclimatise.
"What I find the most beautiful about it is that it removes global and political labelling...through my work I want to show that the labels society gives us don’t define who we are and shouldn’t create such divisions between communities. Everyone's sweat is unique and so is each human being; no one is exactly the same and shouldn’t be judged by globalised external factors but who they are internally."
These creations debunk common conceptions about our bodies as waste creators and ask us to consider our bodies as potential materials. In this, Potts aims to challenge the fashion industry’s “addiction to waste”. Potts also notes that fashion has an ability to change in favour of sustainability, much more than other industries, and Potts shows the industry’s potential by thinking creatively with what we already have.
Potts' passion for sweat, fashion and science has resulted in a beautiful challenge to the fashion industry. By questioning our perception of what a material is, and where it can be sourced, Potts helps us to imagine a more collaborative, creative and sustainable future.