Dean’s development of the ‘Breast milk booties’ forms part of a sustained programme of research titled Sole Searching (with Gant
), focusing on the re-conception of ‘surplus’ and ‘waste’ materials, and the re-evaluation of meaning through the communicative cultural archetype of shoes (see Flip-flopsam and Jetsam
for another example). With an emphasis on ‘material communication’, Dean employs methods and processes designed to test and transform industrial perceptions, raise public awareness, and stimulate sustainable, social and ethical debate.
This project promoted the work of NGOs and charities by addressing specific ethical, social and sustainability issues. The booties were designed to question and examine the tensions between the needs of premature or sick babies and the cultural taboos and aversion to human ‘surplus’ or ‘waste’ in the form of expressed breast milk. They were employed as a 'meaningful prop' to recruit new donors and to promote the work of the NHS and UK Breast Milk Bank which collects and uses donated breast milk to provide sustenance for premature or sick babies.
Dean developed the booties through a series of systematic material experiments using breast milk (caesin protein). The resulting material was moulded into symbolic booties and used by the NHS and UK milk banks to promote the International Breast Milk Donor Day (23 April 2013). They represented the foot size of premature babies’ feet, for whom such donations are often life-critical. The process invited new donors to sign up and each donor was offered a pair of booties made from their own milk.
This process stimulated significant public dialogue. The booties featured in the forecasting report for the world's largest trend forecasting agency, WGSN, in the Meaning Making
exhibition at PUMA HQ, the WasteZone
at Eco-build, and were exhibited and presented at the Praxis and Poetics (Baltic, 2013) and Making Futures (Plymouth, 2013) conferences.