Conscious clothing: Yerba Mate driving sustainable design

It fills me with pride to have created a biomaterial that takes animals out of the equation.

  • 3 years ago
  • July 7, 2021
4 min read
Veronica showing scraps of TILEX. Her shirt was also grown from Yerba Mate. Veronica showing scraps of TILEX. Her shirt was also grown from Yerba Mate. | Instagram Verónica Bergottini
Verónica Bergottini
First-person source
Verónica Bergottini is from Argentina and is 36-years-old. She has degrees in Genetics and Biological sciences, and is ambitious and loaded with innovative ideas. She is the first South American who managed to produce clothing and accessories from the Yerba Mate microbiome. Today, she markets her TILEX products through her brand ‘Karu Biodiseño.’

Dr. in Biology @UniNeuchatel/
Geneticist from @un_Misiones
Yerba Mate (also known as Lex paraguariensis, yerba de Los Jesuitas or yerba del Paraguay) is a neotropical tree species native to the basins of the Upper Paraná River, Upper Uruguay River, and some tributaries of the Paraguay River, where it grows in a wild state, especially as part of the understory or the middle layer of the mountains.

From the dried and ground leaves and branches of this aquifoliaceae mate, an infusion is prepared. It is very common in Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, southern and eastern Brazil to select this ingredient in the preparation of drinks. In turn, the term mate, poro, or porongo is given to the “zucchini” that traditionally serves as a container from which to drink the infusion.

It has been widely cultivated commercially in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay since the 19th century, giving rise to an important industry. This has led to offshoots such as sustainable textiles made from the plant.

MISIONES, Argentina — I created a biomaterial for clothing and accessory production that takes animals out of the equation.

The satisfaction I feel after completing my latest research is palpable. What I have created will change fashion worldwide.

It is now possible to produce clothes and accessories with Yerba Mate, a plant species people drink daily. It can replace material like regular leather.

Sleepless nights, anxiety, euphoria, excitement, and tears marked my process but now it is bearing fruit.

A few years ago, this development was unthinkable; now, it is a reality.

Determination, perseverance, and discipline

As I began researching my project to use Yerba Mate for clothing and accessories, I experienced insomnia and anxiety.

The adrenaline rush of taking on this task meant that I couldn’t think of anything else. I would focus on advancing my research one step at a time; on completing one more stage.

The investigation consumed my schedule and I spent entire days without sleeping.

I wanted to contribute a grain of sand to the scientific world which was trying to develop alternative replacements for animal leather.

A dream come true

The investigation paid off.

Today, I explain that a biomaterial is produced by living cells and microorganisms (bacteria and yeast).

We take advantage of this to replicate traditional production processes.

From my discoveries, I started my own business cultivating microorganisms in yerba mate and other nutrients. I call these revolutionary idea TILEX..

From a very young age, I felt deeply connected with nature. The care of our planet seemed essential to me.

Could see the future

I knew that, through investigations, there was a future for my idea, and I combined that passion with a lot of study.

I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Genetics. Being a woman in the world of science and research is not easy. There are a lot of stigmas.

After college, I traveled to Switzerland to specialize in microbiology and earned a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences.

It was a hard time for me.

I was alone, spending a lot of hours studying, with not much time for sleep. I was very stressed.

My goal was to delve into the microbiome of yerba mate, which, until then, served only to develop biofertilizers.

Along the way, something inside me sparked a taste for apparel design, so I started thinking about my endeavor.

TILEX in action

I created my clothing brand TILEX that allowed me to develop leather textures.

Then, I applied it to clothing, accessories, footwear, packaging, and decoration.

Almost without knowing it, “Karu Biodiseño” was born (biotechnology applied to fashion).

This entire process with TILEX was internationally recognized by Vogue Photos Italia, the Healthy Material Labs of the Parsons School of Design, and the Tech Fashion Week in New York.

At the national level, in 2019, I was appointed Ambassador of Sustainable Entrepreneurs. Upon achieving this, I joined as an INTI researcher.

When passion begins to mutate

I was not only passionate about design but also getting a message out there.

It fills me with pride to have created a biomaterial that takes animals out of the equation.

I am interested in telling the world that there is a new possible path in our hands to produce materials with out killing.

I am aware that my work is not complete. This concept is just taking off.

I always have new ideas and more functionalities for my projects.

I feel proud of Karu and great satisfaction in generating consciousness in humanity, at least with a small constructive contribution that looks to the future.

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