Crúbag creates silk scarves and textiles inspired by the ocean. Its founder, the marine scientist and designer Jessica Gianotti, tells Ample about her collection of striking silk scarves and exciting material innovation projects.
Thank you for joining us Jessica! Before we get into Crùbag and all your fascinating projects, I'd like to ask you some quickfire questions.
If you weren't in fashion, you'd be... A marine scientist
Who or what inspires you? Our beautiful blue marble—nature's entire splendour, love and humanity inspires me and keeps me grounded and in a state of awe and gratitude. Women in science, like the marine biologist Sheina Marshall who paved the path for the women of today. Equality requires courage and perseverance.
The best advice you ever received is... Ask for advice and listen, but trust your instincts and decision-making capabilities. And don't always follow the advice you receive. If you have a bold vision and a plan, go for it. Be grateful and generous to the people that support you.
You feel most inspired and creative when… I'm confronted with nature when I'm snorkelling, seeing a sunset and sunrise or all alone in the bay looking into the horizon. The more I see the beauty and amenities of nature and our beautiful planet, the happier I feel.
Your favourite app is... AMPLE! I have this kind of love for it as I feel connected to it. It empowers people and helps them navigate options for better, more responsible choices. I use apps as tools, and I'm excited to see Ample grow.
What are the most important factors in personal sustainability? Sustainability is a journey of incremental steps, it's not about being perfect in the next stage or reaching a particular goal, and that's it. Sustainability is a constant evolution of incremental changes and adaption. So set your goals as well, pick your battles and make progress over time.
Do you have a fashion item that you can't live without? Yes, I do. I do. I have two silk scarves given to me by my Italian grandmother Fernanda. My Nonna has had them since she was a child, and now I have them. Like memories stored in silk, they are very precious to me and something I will always treasure.
In five years, you'll be… In a successful business with responsible products, dyes and innovations and a media platform funding vital environmental science and promoting new aesthetics, inspiring a deeper connection with nature and sharing ocean literacy.
Fantastic, thats great. So, can you tell us a little about how you got started?
My plan was to become a scientist. I came to Scotland and started by studying marine science as a mature student. I was going back to my childhood dream to become a marine biologist. Before that, I was a show jumper, and I trained horses. I had a great job but I was longing for the sea; I was longing to go back to my original plan. So I spoke to my boss and said I wanted to study marine biology. My plan was to study and do a PHD, then become an academic; however, when I looked through microscopes, I was so in awe of the beauty and immensity of the ocean. I started to fall in love with the ocean that is keeping us alive and is so beautiful.
I realised that most people don’t have access to all of the colours, shapes and textures. I started to wonder, how can I bring that closer to people and share that access? It’s not just about seeing the beauty but about sharing knowledge of the ocean. I had no idea about textiles. I realised that I used to have a silk scarf my grandmother gave me that was still intact. It just clicked. I saw people wearing scarves with butterflies, and I thought: why not phytoplankton? Textiles are the perfect canvas. People wear them, which becomes part of their identity, so they can become ambassadors of the ocean and share that beauty and the story behind it.
How do you educate your customers on the stories behind each Crùbag print?
Suppose you buy a scarf from our climate change collection. In that case, you get a booklet that is an anthology of climate change stories from an ocean perspective. I try to create designs that aren’t too literal. Instead, they’re more artistic, so people can see the patterns and subconsciously connect the mind with the heart.
All my work is developed with marine scientists. This collection was a collaboration with the Scottish Association for Marine Science, The University of Edinburgh, Newcastle University and the British Antarctic Survey. There are lots of very specific stories that make climate change real for people. You can learn about the global ocean, habitat displays, and other topics. I want to inspire a sense of awe and for people to feel that this planet inspires them. For sustainability to work, it has to be inspiring and bring people together. So I tell stories, sometimes difficult ones, but we’re trying to inspire people to take positive steps and feel inspired to do the right thing.
Can you tell us more about the materials you’re working with?
Sustainability is a journey, and we’re taking steps to continually evolve. For example, we started using natural fibres like cashmere and silks, it’s not vegan, but it’s something that will decompose and will go back to nature. For us, that’s very important. All the materials in the climate change collection are printed on GOTS-certified organic silk and water-soluble dyes. We experiment with other fibres like Tencel and make fibres from seaweed. We are in the process of being designers and storytellers but also working on materials in partnership with the Scottish Association for Marine Science.
You also have a fascinating project called SEADYES in the works. How is Crúbag using local seaweed to create dyes?
We have started working with seaweed to extract pigments and make natural dyes. We showed them at the Sustainable Angle Future Fabrics Expo and received many enquiries from big brands. So we’re discussing with some textile companies and specialists to see if we can develop SEADYES and create a commercial solution.
We started working with local seaweed to see biomass as a crop instead of a wild harvest. For my first test, I had to harvest it myself, so I put on my wetsuit and went snorkelling. I collected a local red seaweed that grows everywhere in the north Atlantic. We also know that if it is going to be successful, we would have to grow it as a crop or find biomass as a byproduct from another process. Although harvesting might work in some cases, extracting large-scale biomass could be dangerous for the ecosystems. So currently, we’re trying to find out how to grow it ourselves.
We have to move away from petroleum-based products and phase out the oil industry; this project is perfect because it’s climate action that tackles pollution and harmful substances. We also support the local economy and use seaweed that doesn’t compete for land space with crops. The seaweed industry has huge potential, but we must make it sustainable and regenerative. Most importantly, we must ensure we’re not introducing invasive species or creating biosecurity issues. Being a marine scientist working in fashion, I’m at the intersection where I can combine sustainable culture, fashion and textiles, and marine science. We have a role to play in making the industry more sustainable.
Can you tell us about SEAQUINS, your other material science project?
I dream of finding a circular model where we first think about what to do with leftover biomass from the dyes. We have beautiful results, but we have to think about what happens after you extract the pigments; you have waste. Of course, because it’s a local seaweed and hasn’t got any added chemicals, you can put it back in the ocean, but that’s not ideal.
We’re looking into whether we can use the cellulose from that biomass to make yarn and fibres. If you think about normal plastics, they’re from petroleum, and that’s also an organic matter. So it’s also biomass if you think about it. The chemistry model will determine whether the bioplastics are a better alternative to existing plastics because if you make them the same way, they also won’t biodegrade, and that’s a problem.
Instead of traditional bioplastics, we may make something similar but more like paper, which will decompose. I’m working with great people, but we’re not a huge corporation; we’re a small business looking to be an example of how things can be done. If you think about a beach, it has millions of grains of sand; if every grain thought it didn’t matter, there would be no beach. So if we can all make a small contribution, it all comes together.