TED writes for the Huffington Post

Design Life Times_400

A wee while ago Kay Politowicz was asked to respond to a question for the Huff. We thought it would be nice to share the piece with you on our TED blog.

Has global warming shifted the direction of textile research and development and how are retailers and manufacturers responding?

These huge questions are complex and interesting – so I am pleased to be able to think about them for a moment before answering!

Essentially – the research falls into the categories of: broadly academic and theoretical, institutionally funded OR industry based, technical or scientific and profit driven. Nothing wrong with either – both necessary, but largely separate in their focus and in their audiences. What is needed is some connection – especially through media communication. Fashion is entirely presented as ‘desirable image’ in popular media. The agenda- what it looks like, who is wearing it, where to get it and what’s coming next – are all promoting the consumption without reference to consequences – environmental or social. It would be interesting if some air and print time were devoted to the realities of existing production and the possibilities of alternative ideas – not just to publicise models of quality, longevity, locality, new technology and authenticity – but to explore what is really happening culturally in association with this contemporary phenomenon and what alternative activities/forms of creative engagement could become attractive to consumers.

The global warning awareness has changed the priority for research in design generally – if, by that, you link to environmental, economic and social issues. I would suggest that the most enlightened and engaged research is actually proposing a change to the role of the designer – to one who can facilitate change as well as come up with new reasons to make products.

Some 15 or so years ago – when Higher Education in the UK began seriously to fund research in art and design subjects, we set up a Research Group at Chelsea College of Arts, London, called ‘Textiles Environment Design’. The ‘we’ were a group of teachers, who were also textile designers…. in both roles, we needed to educate ourselves about the suspected environmental damage of textile production – to see whether there was any way that we could ‘design out’ some of the effects of our decisions down the production chain. It became the basis of a design practice-led research approach to our work and to the curriculum.

In many ways the distance between that moment – from THEN when our concerns were entirely about material and chemical pollution in production to the suspected waste in landfill – a ‘cradle to grave’ concern – to NOW, when it is clear that the only way to consider the impact of a design decision is to trace the journey through the ‘lifecycle’ of the material into its intended life as a product, which has a ‘cradle to cradle’ perspective in a circle of continuous use. An Internet community of researchers with this commitment is now able to propose initiatives, discuss ideas and make alliances.

Published design research over the last 10 years has raised awareness of the implications of ‘lifecycle thinking’ for designers (many), educators (some) and manufacturers (a few but increasing) – with a global map of interest in the ideas, where design thinkers and social anthropolgists have had an impact on the work of textile designers. In the UK: Jonathan Chapman, John Thackera, Daniel Miller; in USA – Michael Braungart, William McDonough; in Australia: Tony Fry; in Italy Ezio Manzini and many others. When we began our group in 1996, textile research was seen as a separate activity because of its particular technical materials development focus. It is now much more influenced by social sciences and anthropology – we believe the consumer has to be considered almost part of the ‘supply chain’ as we become aware of the global warming impact of laundry and disposal of clothing.

The increasing consumption of textiles for clothing is causing the biggest textiles impact on the environment – and gathering speed. It depends on oil and gas, consumes enormous amounts of water and contributes to vast mountains of waste. Fashion is seen by many, therefore, as the damaging industry – and must be stopped! But fashion is so much more than a problem product – it represents success, variety, entertainment, identity, ingenuity – and provides a source of economic prosperity. This fact is often overlooked by evangelistic, consumption-reducers. Practice-led design research, therefore, is being done into the production of textiles and garments that take their lead from theories of sustainability. But there is a huge gap at the moment between theoretical research and manufactured production.

In our research, we have devised a ‘TEN Strategies’ checklist for designers, by breaking down the ‘wicked’ problem into smaller elements to enable the development of a personal design brief. For example, we have been working as part of a research consortium with Swedish Government funding (MISTRA) and H&M, for the last 4 years, to make Swedish fashion greener and more profitable. They have a far-sighted approach to the problem, which has the buy-in of the giant fashion retailer H&M, one of the industrial players already committed to changing their supply chain to be more sustainable. The key to the effectiveness of this consortium of research groups is the range of expertise. Designers, political scientists, social scientist, fiber technologists, retail analysts and recycling experts are collaborating to propose systemic change for Swedish fashion. One of the most important features of the research is that it mixes funding from institutions and industrial partners. It therefore enables a bridge across the theory and practice ‘knowing-doing’ gap, to propose practical and profitable change – the only kind likely to succeed.

As for research and development within the brands – the significant players are investing in technical developments to make changes in their existing production chain. The US brand of Patagonia is an inspiration to production and development worldwide – aligning integrity with desirability in their product range. The active promotion of their values has attracted admiration worldwide. From this lead many other producers are listening for the first time to the possibility of change driven by a different set of imperatives from short-term financial profit. Puma are leading with investment into biodegradable, recyclable footwear, Levi with waste-less recycled polyester and water-less production. Considerable interest in ‘closed-loop recycling’ and Co2 waterless dyeing are providing credible developments in the production chain. Huge UK players M&S and Swedish H&M are retail leads in the link to ‘responsible’ consumer awareness.

A recent development is the interest from huge industrial partners in voluntary assessment tools to evaluate the environmental effect of decisions in the supply chain. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is a trade association of brands, retailers, NGOs and academics represent more than one third of the global apparel and footwear markets. In July 2012 they launched an assessment tool, based on established evaluation tools – including the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco Index and Nike’s Environmental Apparel Design Tool – to better measure the comprehensive environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products. Named the Higg Index, the tool is a transparent and open-source tool currently being examined by EU politicians for its usefulness as a basis for legislation so that companies could be required to identify opportunities to reduce impacts and improve long-term sustainability throughout their supply chain. Retailers such as Primark have recently joined the SAC, entering sustainability data into an online assessment tool to generate performance scores and benchmarks. It is, of course, focused on improvements to the existing system albeit connecting sustainable improvements with profit, which is hopeful – but it does not really address system change and it is a far cry from compliance to innovation in this field. That is just beginning to emerge via a new breed of designer-producers, who see creative opportunities in new models of production for the future, where products are combined with services and waste streams are identified as raw material for production. Currently operating at a small scale on average, the hope is that the ‘scalable’ ideas being explored will become competitive with large industrial producers especially if consumers are serious about their preference for sustainable production.

The Textile Environment Design ‘TEN’ design strategy cards, referred to earlier, is one of the first design tools for textile/fashion designers to make their sample collections become demonstration models of the change they want to see in production. The message can be either explicit or implicit in their work – and a new generation of design students is being encouraged to think of positive action in this respect, as a business strategy for their professional progress.

The change from reactive to proactive developments in production can be effected with far-sighted design change to the current system. The question remains: in the face of no credible oil/gas replacement fuel, rising populations and old fashioned acquisitive aspiration in social groups worldwide – will the changes come soon enough to be still relevant?

Kay Politowicz

Denim innovation

Eva Tong_BA Textile Design_2015
Eva Tong, BA Textile Design 2015

Miriam Ribul lead a client denim innovation project with students from the BA Textile Design course at Chelsea College of Arts between July and October this year. The students were selected based on strength of their submitted proposal and were mentored throughout summer to develop innovative concepts for the future of this material.

The project started in July with an inspiration lecture covering aspects of sustainability, technology, social science, material innovation and trends. The selected finalists participating over the summer included recent graduates from 2015 and students entering the third year from the weave, knit and print specialism. The development stage of the project included three master classes with leading designers, and the selected group had unique access to the textile workshops to develop their work.

The final entries were evaluated by leading textile researchers Professor Becky Earley, senior lecturer Melanie Bowles and the client’s innovation team. The winning project and honourable mentions demonstrated innovative thinking for the future of denim and strong concepts based on key trend developments. The winners also stood out for the great quality of work and ideas that are both future-facing and commercially viable.

1st Prize:
Boram Chin – 3rd year BA Textile Design student

Honourable mentions:
Eva Tong – BA Textile Design graduate 2015
Megan Sharples – BA Textile Design graduate 2015
Jo Saich – 3rd year BA Textile Design student

One year without new clothes



Throughout 2015 Professor Becky Earley has been writing a reflective blog about her pledge not to buy any new clothes. It’s full of ideas about how to avoid consuming ‘new’ resources, and instead make the most of what we already have. The process began with developing a five bag system for sorting through wardrobes and putting old clothes into different reuse streams.

Some other key insights from the blog include:

  • Great pleasures and treasures are to be found in well sorted second hand stores and eclectic vintage shops and markets, especially in cities other than ones own, where styles and traditions may offer something unique and unexpected
  • Making days out for kids which include second hand shopping for their own clothes can be great fun, educational, and economically savvy
  • Mending and updating can keep worn items going for longer and the ‘chore’ factor of this is sometimes ameliorated if you can do it with a friend, or for a friend. If you can develop a personal mending culture based on ‘giftivism’, generosity, and co-creation, this out-of-fashion practice could find a new place in our lives
  • Creating a styling wall in the bedroom to arrange wardrobe ‘finds’ to inspire ‘new’ outfits has also been a cheap and quick way to stay feeling stylish; creating unexpected combinations of colours, patterns and accessories that are hard to anticipate when the items are on the hangers or in the drawers
  • Look, touch, but don’t buy – indulge in the visual pleasures of fashion magazine and stores, but go to get inspired, not spend. This will feed your fashion flow and help you keep creating looks in alternative ways. If you fall in love with something, then being prepared to wait months for it will reveal your true feelings and desires – helping you work out what is a wardrobe whim, or a wardrobe winner
  • Receiving gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas never felt so good. Partners, friends and relatives now know what to get you, and receiving a brand new garment or accessory which is beautifully tagged and wrapped feels so special. The new new, as opposed to the old new, should be for special occasions


Follow Becky on the link bellow to read in full about the year of #nonewclothes2015




FastSlow MA Textiles Day II


5th November 2015

After a wonderful day of Slow talks by Kay Politowicz and Slow making workshops from Katherine May and Emmeline Child yesterday, today was all about speeding up.

We began by reflecting on yesterday’s experiences of Slow through words. A word which stood out, resonating from the first day into the second was ‘UNPICK’. Working with mono-materials and limited processing students had been cutting and fraying, weaving, sewing and binding parts from one piece of fabric to fasten, construct or embellish the original piece, resulting in some fascinating samples.

Changing speed further, we played a fast game with slow words, enjoying the abstract and overarching meaning of slow; ranging from slow moods to slow musicians. We also asked students to consider their own clothing, was it Fast or Slow, or both? Where was it made? How long had they owned it? Embedded meaning (gifting) was a prominent feature in garments owned longer than a year, and we considered that the design intention of a garment could be Fast while the owner’s attitude towards it was Slow.

Rosie’s talk in the afternoon introducted the concepts of biological and technological metabolisms, exploring material characteristics that lend themselves to Slow or Fast cycles; functional and emotional durability, authenticity and luxury, compostability and cyclability. 100% compostable sheets as soft as brushed cotton (sourced by Kay from a high street store) were passed between the students, demonstrating the potential performance of Fast textiles. This marked an important moment in the students’ awakening to the opportunity of Fast, to be explored in the afternoon workshop. Gabrielle also presented some useful resources for the students to explore.

The afternoon workshops completed the two day’s activities, and took a more focused and conventional design-project approach to Fast Textiles. Group A, (Kay) took TED’s ‘The Ten’ as inspiration, Group B (Rosie) looked at durability and cyclability as a starting point and Group C (Miriam) looked at different material types.

After familiarising themselves with eachother’s projects, each group chose one project to progress into a Fast product proposal, taking into account the different stages of the lifecycle.

There were some brilliant responses. One group’s proposal “Burn Me!” looked at the potential lifecycle of a candle holding a memento within, while another “Paper Stories” took the vast costume warehouses of London as a starting point. This concept involved pure white paper ‘blank’ costumes which could be decorated according to the production needs using light projections. The paper could then be either composted or recycled into new costume blanks or other paper products for the production. Another project considered the cyclability of wool, prompting a discussion about the potential processing possibilities as the fibres shorten through multiple cycles; felting, needle bonding, moulding, adding longer fibres… then to the question of colour!

These final discussions on Day 2 showed our collective learning and shared understanding emerging through our varied activities. The two-day event had itself been a collection of Slow and Fast elements constantly responding to understanding as it emerged and to changes in the feeling and atmosphere within the studio… the interplay between Fast & Slow is a human phenomenon as much as it is an industrial necessity in our sustainable future.

We look forward to welcoming the students back with their Fast/Slow reflective samples and stories at the next workshops in the next few weeks.

Welcome our new TED team members!

9th November 2015

TED would like take this opportunity to introduce three new members to the team; Rosie Hornbuckle, Alison Taylor, and Gabrielle Miller.

Rosie has joined TED to work as a Post-Doctoral Researcher on the TED Trash-2-Cash project. She brings to the team expertise in open, collaborative information exchange between partners from different industries and knowledge areas. Much of her early career was spent at Kingston University where she undertook a PhD, and worked at Rematerialise on a collection of sustainable materials. Her role as researcher and educator focuses on the interesting place where design, materials and sustainability overlap.

Alison Taylor is the Communications Officer for the Trash-2-Cash project. Alison currently works as both an interdisciplinary designer and communications specialist. She has a chemistry degree and recently graduated from the MA Material Futures course at Central Saint Martins in 2015 with a speculative project exploring sustainable alternatives for jewellery design in a post-mining world. (image)

Gabrielle Miller is a Research Assistant at TED (maternity cover). Gabrielle is a textile designer and researcher, and has been working as a Research Assistant on numerous projects over the past couple of years; FIRE, based at the London College of Fashion, UAL, and a research and design-led project that interrogated intelligent material solutions for future ways of living, at Northumbria University. She has a background of working in textile, print and embroidery design for companies such as Alexander McQueen, Jonathan Saunders, Burberry, and Givenchy.

They are all excited to be joining the TED team!

FastSlow MA Textiles TED Project Launch

Fast Slow Textiles MA Course
4th November 2015

The launch of FastSlow was an intense experience of ideas related to material cyclability. MA Textile Design students participated with enthusiasm in a series of talks and workshops led by practicing textile designers and researchers. The lectures and workshops were designed to demonstrate opportunities and tools to map the full potential of design decisions. The focus was the engagement of today’s textile designer in a material and social economy. A diverse range of solutions was developed by students, in their own, imagined, ‘slow’ design scenarios.

Collaborative, creative workshops led by Emmeline Child and Katherine May, inspired students to explore a series of ideas through the use of often familiar materials applied in new ways. As a result, students proposed transformative actions as potential disruptions to the fashion system. The products that were being conceived, acted as systems in their own right. Creative repair, personal reflection and adaptation of traditional hand techniques were applied to existing individual studio practice. Individual making sessions were propelled by a poetic introduction of chosen words delivered, at intervals, to create a changing focus for thought. Group discussion and material manipulation encouraged students to acquire the practices and skills necessary to make key changes through design.

Written by Kay Politowicz

Resilient Research Event – Recap

24th September 2015

The Resilient Research event explored future opportunities for design research.

The first talk explored ‘the Heartbeat of Cultural Change’ by Dr. Louise Valentine, Head of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship for the College of Arts, Science and Engineering, at the University of Dundee.

Louise talked about the cultural significance of both small to large research projects. In particular the Victoria and Albert Design Museum, which is currently being built in Dundee, Scotland. To allow this new cultural space to flourish, an innovation ecosystem is required and Louise referred to some of the new projects that are popping up in Dundee supported by the University, funding councils, enterprise agencies or government or in some cases led by citizens themselves.

The second talk explored ‘Mastering Mindfulness’ by Chris Connors founder of Modern Consciousness.com. Chris is a creative director, mentor, coach and meditation teacher, with complementary expertise bridging the worlds of design, luxury, wellbeing, trend forecasting and philanthropy. This talk began in an unconventional way with Chris initiating a meditation exercise with the audience allowing them to experience ‘mindfulness’.

This talk explored the term ‘Conscious Innovation’ an approach that encourages practitioners to apply mindfulness and curiosity to explore solutions of issues that go beyond bottom line profit. Chris also talked about curating these outcomes and the examples shared throughout this talk, when collectively combined resembled an inventive cabinet of curiosity for mindfulness.

The heart of innovation lies at the intersection between calmness and chaos and this can be tricky to navigate as our professional practices and personal lives are often intertwined. By making time for ourselves to pause, reflect and re-think both individually but also collectively, we can begin to find our way.

Bridget Harvey is exhibiting in RE-Reanimate, Repair, Meld & Mend

10th October – 14th November

TED’s PhD researcher Bridget Harvey is showing Blue Necklace in a small exhibition at the Bluecoat Display Centre in Liverpool.  The exhibition features the work of artists who are concerned with the re-use and reanimation of existent (often devalued or discarded) cultural material.

Blue Necklace is made from 800 hand cut, coloured and polished beads made from reclaimed or re-animated maple wood. Bridget’s AHRC funded doctoral research is focused on the practice of repairing and making, and this work demonstrates a different cycle of repair – material re-use as environmental repair – and continues redefining the assumed aesthetics of the recycled and examining the impact of personal actions in the greater scheme of sustainability.

Bridget’s research aims to define repair as a bridge between creativity and practicality, as crossing boundaries and as a methodology with which to actively explore sustainability, identity and community. Exploring the multidimensional area of repair through (re)making, investigating materials, joining methods and object narratives, she is making and collecting a series of objects, techniques and experiences, investigating the potential for visible repair as part of an expanded studio practice.

Artists include Michael Brennand-Wood, Neil Brownsword, David Clarke, Robert Dawson, Bouke de Vries, Steve Dixon, Amy Douglas, Jenni Dutton, Matthew Harris, Bridget Harvey, Charlotte Hodes, Gitte Jungersen, Carol McNicoll, Livia Marin, Irene Nordli, Caroline Slotte, Linda Sormin, Hans Stofer & Jacy Wall. The exhibition is curated by Paul Scott.

Re- Reanimate, Repair, Meld & Mend, Bluecoat Display Centre, The Bluecoat, College Lane Entrance, Liverpool, L1 3BZ

People’s Print Fab POMO Bag Workshop at the London Design Festival

24th September 2015

The People’s Print were invited to design and deliver a workshop as part of the London Design Festival during September in their HQ at Makerversity in Somerset House.

The workshop was based around the Italian design group Memphis of the 1980’s. It drew inspiration from the colour, shape, pattern and energy, which they applied to furniture, product, architecture and textiles. The session focused on the work of one of their favourite designers Nathalie Du Pasquier who has had a recent revival and whose work still seems contemporary.

The People’s Print always like to combine hand and digital methods within the design process, making the creative activity playful and fun, giving people the confidence to create their own beautiful print identities that they can own. This approach counters the negative effects of mass consumerism, fast fashion and globalized fashion monocultures.

The workshop task was to design and print a ‘Pomo Bag’ to celebrate the Postmodern Design Movement. For this they used the new big heat press at Makerversity and collaborated with the large digital print bureau Digetex. Digetex generously provided the workshop with lots of Memphis-inspired pattern papers to cut, arrange and print onto Eco bags made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. Technicians Stuart and Scott from Makerversity CNC cut wooden geo shapes for participants to use as stencils to create their very own designs.

Sublimation printing was used to print onto the bags and the results were stunningly bright and bold. This is a direct printing technique, so the results from collage to heat press were instant and perfect for a short workshop.

The well-prepped workshop methods gave everyone the confidence to play and capture the energy of a Memphis inspired design as well as creating a product that was original and unique to the wearer, which is what The People’s Print is all about!

Digetex, The People’s Print, Makerversity

By Melanie Bowles

Trash-2-Cash: Utilising zero-value waste textiles and fibres with design-driven technologies to create high quality products

14th November 2015

TED have been busy over the summer kicking off Trash-2-Cash, our new EU funded research project. Professor Rebecca Earley and Dr Kate Goldsworthy are collaborating with eighteen partners from nine European countries, and together they aim to design high-quality products from zero-value waste textiles and fibres via design driven technologies. In other words, turn textile and paper waste into desirable luxury products.

Designing for cyclability is the TED ethos, manifested in the belief that design-driven innovation can support better waste utilisation and contribute to reduction of landfill area needs. There are growing problems with paper fibre waste from the paper industry and textile fibre waste, originating from continuously increasing textile consumption. Trash-2-Cash recognises the critical need to address this problem head-on by working with a unique multidisciplinary team of designers, scientists, researchers, manufacturers and SMEs (small/medium enterprises).

Designers will drive this recycling initiative, defining the material properties and working with a range of scientists to develop eco-efficient cotton fibre regeneration and polyester recycling techniques.

This is a three-year initiative that aims to lead the future of design for recycled materials and significantly contribute to the overall vision of closing the material loop.

Follow the Trash-2-Cash developments on our Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, and our website is coming soon!

Written by Gabrielle Miller