A fresh spin: Silky cloth from sour milk

GERMANY • In 2009, when Ms Anke Domaske was 26, her stepfather developed leukaemia.

"He couldn't find anything to wear because he had such a low immune system, and his skin reacted to everything," said the young German microbiologist.

Most cloth contains chemicals used in the growing and manufacturing process: Cotton production, for instance, is said to use 35 per cent of the world's insecticides and pesticides.

So Ms Domaske and a small group of friends who would later join her company, Qmilk, went to a grocery store and bought US$200 worth of milk and basic cooking tools.

And they started to experiment, using a 1930s technique for making milk casein fibre first. They tested more than 3,000 recipes over nine months to create a silk-like cloth that would not dissolve in water.

There were those who counselled using artificial chemicals for a quicker solution. "And I was so stubborn, I said no, it has to work with just natural resources."

Because of health and safety standards, German farmers throw out around two million tonnes of milk every year - enough to fill 770 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Qmilk works closely with about 20 farmers in Germany, though Ms Domaske plans to expand.

One such farmer is Mr Bernd Pils, who said he cannot sell sour milk from cows that are feeding their calves, are ill or taking medicine.

"I find this exciting," he said, "because we always have a part of our milk that cannot be used for human consumption. So it's great for sustainable development."

Ms Domaske said: "There is a huge amount of wasted milk all around the world." If she had her way, millions might one day be wearing it.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline A fresh spin: Silky cloth from sour milk. Subscribe