A potentially life-saving hooded bodysuit was debuted over the weekend at the Cornell Fashion Collective, designed by Matilda Ceesay '13, an apparel design major from Gambia. The one-piece garment — hand-dyed purple, gold and blue — features a mesh hood and cape. As Ceesay explains, it "explores and modernises traditional African silhouettes and textiles by embracing the strength and sexuality of the modern woman".
What's really special about the suit, though, is its fabric. Embedded at the molecular level are insecticides that repel malaria-spreading mosquitos. By binding repellant and fabric at the nanolevel, using metal organic framework molecules (MOFs) — clustered crystalline compounds — the fabric is able to be loaded with up to three times the amount of insecticide found on conventional mosquito nets, which are merely dipped in an insecticide solution, not molecularly bonded.
Across Africa, Malaria is responsible for about 655,000 deaths each year, despite being treatable and preventable. From opposite ends of the continent, Ceesay and Frederick Ochanda, a post-doctoral student in fibre science and apparel design with whom she collaborated on the project, each have dealt personally with the loss of a family member to malaria.
Ceesay and Ochanda are hopeful that the MOF technology demonstrated in the garment will inspire improvement in the manufacturing of mosquito nets. A temperature-sensitive and light-sensitive MOF fabric, that releases insecticide depending on the time of day — mosquitos are known night owls — is currently in the works, says Ochanda.