malaria fighting fashion developed at cornell
original content
may 15, 2012
malaria fighting fashion developed at cornell

‘njehringe’ is the african-influenced spring collection by cornell university fashion design student matilda ceesay, who worked with frederick ochanda to develop an insect-repellent fabric jacket to protect against malaria
image © tina chou

two students at cornell university have created a hooded bodysuit, embedded at the molecular level with insect-repellent
to help prevent malaria infection. the piece is part of ‘njehringe’, the spring fashion collection of apparel design student
matilda ceesay, and was developed in conjunction with fiber sciences postdoctorate frederick ochanda. both hail from africa,
where 90% of the world’s malaria infections occur annually.

the textile provides the benefits of insecticide but is about three times as powerful, and remains effective for much longer
than conventionally treated materials. it is also both safer and more durable than the use of skin-based repellent sprays.
the design team estimates that the technology would be market-ready in as few as two years.

closer view of the hood
image © tina chou

fiber scientist juan hinestroza and  student laurie lange worked with ceesay and ochanda to develop the special fabric.
the team elaborated for designboom on the scientific development of the material, which involves capturing the insecticide
(here methyl parathion) using chemicals known as metal organic frameworks (MOFs). the surface of cotton fabric
was first treated with molecules that act as anchors to bind the two materials. crystals, specifically designed with large pores
to increase the amount of insecticide, were grown on the fabric’s surface.

the mesh hood of ‘njehringe’ was intentionally designed to resemble the form of mosquito nets to remind viewers that
the MOFs could be used to treat nets for better resistance; conventional fiber nets, while widely distributed in the country,
generally completely lose efficacy after about six months. waistbands, collars, and other pieces could equally well be treated
with the fabric to provide protection for children at night.

fashion design student matilda ceesay poses with models outfitted in the ‘njehringe’ pieces
image © tina chou

the fashion design behind the collection itself was influenced by ceesay’s heritage. ‘when creating my silhouettes the object
was to create a collection that was distinctly african,
‘ she tells designboom. ‘however, west african clothing/fashion
focuses on the fabrics more than the silhouettes. ‘african silhouettes’ tend to be very simple and effortless.

ceesay continues, ‘I began to imagine what would happen if a group of natives found a chest filled with underwear
from the western world without ever having interacted with westerners. how would they recreate a chest
filled with corsets, bloomers, girdles and night robes?

‘njehringe’, the wollof word for ‘worth’, is one response to that question. all textiles used in the collection were produced
and hand-dyed locally in villages of the gambia, ceesay’s home country. the cuts of the pieces themselves reference
african style and everyday life: in ‘look 2′, the hemline emulates the way african women lift their skirts in performing chores;
in ‘look 3′, the split skirt recreates the effect of african wrap skirts.

the collection– and the insect-repelling hooded jacket in particular– represent a culturally conscious way in which
technological developments might be adapted to day-to-day life towards the solving of both local and largescale problems.

in ‘look three’, the splits in the skirt recreate the look of traditional wrap skirts; while the soft, shaped bodice is intended as bridge between the structure of corsets and the loose cuts of african tops
image © tina chou

closer view of the ‘look three’ top
image © tina chou

the structured, corset-like shape of the skirt in ‘look five’ reflects ceesay’s question, ‘would west african natives who had no contact with westerners use the garments as they were intended?
if they found a corset how would they know it was meant for the upper or lower body

image © tina chou

‘look one’ investigates the long west african tradition and variety of the dying and weaving of fabrics
image © tina chou

closer view of the ‘look one’ skirt during the cornell student spring fashion show 2012
image © tina chou

‘look four’, a 19th century-style corset with bloomer shorts and cape-like jacket
image © tina chou

the voluminous hem of the column dress emulates the way african women lift their skirts when performing chores
image © tina chou

I created this garment to remind people to not be complacent with the current treatments available for malaria.
the world has been fooled into thinking diseases can only be treated by doctors; I hope to revolutionize the thought process
behind finding medical solutions using this garment. this is a prototype garment but with enough research and interest,
MOF technology could be readily available to everyone.
‘ – matilda ceesay

design sketches for the collection

design concepts for the hooded, insect-repellant jacket

during the cornell student spring fashion show 2012

photograph © jason koski / cornell university photography

the innovative hooded jacket on the runway during the show
photograph © jason koski / cornell university photography

‘njehringe’ on the runway for the cornell spring fashion show 2012
video © college of human ecology, cornell university / music by d nilsz

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