Denim jeans photo by Mica Asato, Pexels

Sustainable fashion and textiles

Dr Elaine Igoe explains how we’re making fashion more sustainable through our teaching, design and research

Elaine Igoe and her colleagues are our #PlasticHeroes.

Dr Igoe leads sustainable fashion and textiles projects at the University, working to reduce fashion’s plastic footprint.

Unseen behind the catwalk lights is a voracious consumer of natural resources. Our Fashion and Textile Design team are hoping to give fashion a makeover that shrinks its appetite.

Textile dyeing is the second-largest water polluter in the world and one pair of jeans takes 2,000 gallons (9,000 litres) of water to produce. It's statistics like these that have researchers urging an industry that spends a lot of time looking into mirrors to take a closer look at itself.

“The fashion industry needs to change,” says Dr Elaine Igoe, Senior Lecturer in Fashion and Textile Design. “It can’t continue operating the way it does.”

In fact, the fashion industry is calculated to generate 10% of carbon emissions globally, and 20% of wastewater. This means, in pre-COVID-19 terms, that fashion was responsible for more annual greenhouse emissions than all flights and shipping combined.

  • Global clothing production has doubled since 2000
  • 85% of textiles end up in the waste system each year 
  • The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second
  • Washing clothes releases 500,000 tonnes of microfibres into the ocean – equal to 50 billion plastic bottles – each year

    Source: McKinsey & Company

Label of change

Entering the field to confront this challenge is our fashion research project, PO1.

Named from the Portsmouth postcode district, PO1 plans to encompass a place-based social enterprise that feeds into the University’s Fashion and Textile Design courses. Its aim is to encourage local organisations, students and the community to consider how waste materials can be reused or repurposed – given extended life and value. 

“We’re working with local organisations, looking at their waste issues and thinking about how we could use some of that waste and create Portsmouth-designed, Portsmouth-made clothing from this material,” Dr Igoe says.

The concept of PO1 arose after the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) approached the University asking for ways to reduce waste by creating products made from waste material, which could be sold to raise money.

Fashion designers – and shoppers – need to move away from the throwaway fast fashion mindset. The goal should be to create items that consumers will cherish for a long time, pieces they’ll be motivated to mend and maintain rather than wear a few times and then throw away.

Dr Elaine Igoe, Senior Lecturer in Fashion and Textile Design

Student led sustainable design

A former student of Dr Igoe’s, Katherine-Jayne Watts, played a key role. In 2019, Ms Watts won Graduate Fashion Week’s Sports and Leisurewear Award for a collection made from repurposed materials connected to the sea, including lifejackets and sails. After graduating, she returned to work with Dr Igoe on the charity’s challenge.

Ms Watts was intrigued by the design potential of the used life rafts that were going to waste. She was able to deconstruct one raft to create a range of five different trend-led bags, which will be manufactured professionally and sold to support the Portsmouth-based charity.

Dr Igoe says projects such as PO1 help nurture thoughtful, ecologically minded designers of the future. She and her colleagues ask every one of their students to consider where their materials are sourced and urge them to choose the most ethical suppliers they can, even when prototyping.

Fashion designers – and shoppers – need to move away from the throwaway fast fashion mindset, says Dr Igoe. The goal should be to create items that consumers will cherish for a long time, pieces they’ll be motivated to mend and maintain rather than wear a few times and then throw away.

PO1 design by Scarlett Mitchell. Photo by David Clark.

PO1 Sustainable Fashion and Textiles

Our research project aims to create a sustainable fashion system that minimises waste and benefits the environment, our students and the local economy.

Read more

The signs are green

There are “green shoots of hope”, Dr Igoe notes, with some businesses starting to allow customers to return clothes they no longer want to be mended, re-sold or recycled. Some clothing manufacturers are also innovating with biomaterials that are produced in more energy-efficient ways than traditional textiles. 

As well as tackling modern fashion’s disposability mindset, the PO1 project will work with community groups and organisations, helping to embed and develop practical skills – from deconstruction to design and mending – that support both sustainability and employment.

“Art and design practice has a way of communicating and having impact that can be quite immediate because it’s direct and visual,” Dr Igoe says. “Creative, practice-based research has a really important part to play in social engagement and impact.”

Dr Igoe is keen to collaborate with colleagues in other research fields, such as science and business, to explore ways of reducing fashion’s environmental impact.

As well as tackling modern fashion’s disposability mindset, the PO1 project will work with community groups and organisations, helping to embed and develop practical skills – from deconstruction to design and mending – that support both sustainability and employment.

Dr Elaine Igoe, Senior Lecturer in Fashion and Textile Design

One example is considering fashion’s plastic footprint and how the use of polyester and plastic-based fibre contributes to the epidemic of microplastics in the world’s oceans. Tiny fibres are shed from clothes when they are washed and are too small to be filtered when wastewater is processed. Many of these microfibres end up being digested by fish and other sea life.

Solving the microplastics problem will be far from easy, but exploring ways to tackle it at the source has become a crucial thread in weaving a new approach to how we make and choose what we wear.  

 

About our #PlasticHeroes campaign

Across Portsmouth, all kinds of people are taking action to fight plastic pollution. We call them Plastic Heroes. 

We’re celebrating their achievements and passion for making change. There’s now a growing movement of people creating a more sustainable future for our city. And you too can join the revolution.

Through Revolution Plastics we’re bringing together scientists, businesses and individuals to find solutions to the global plastics crisis.

Who are your #PlasticHeroes?

Tell us about them by using the hashtag #PlasticHeroes on social media, and follow Revolution Plastics on Twitter for more stories about Portsmouth’s plastic heroes.

Find out more

Hear more from Dr Elaine Igoe in our podcast about the future of fashion, discover our Revolution Plastics initiative and explore our undergraduate degree in fashion and textiles.

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