Designing a Sustainable Future for Fashion and Textiles
Embedding responsible design into clothing and textile production
Named after the Portsmouth postcode district, our PO1 research project aims to create a sustainable fashion system that minimises waste and benefits our students, the environment and the local economy.
Its aim is to encourage students, local organisations and the community to consider how waste and pre-owned materials can be reused or repurposed to develop garments in educational and business contexts.
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Fashion's environmental footprint
The negative impact of the fashion and textile industries on the environment and society is increasingly recognised and documented:
- Consumption of clothing and textiles is predicted to rise by 63% by 2030.
- 300,000 tonnes of textile waste are incinerated or sent to landfill each year in Britain.
- Increasing rates of consumption of fast fashion are producing more and more textile waste.
- Less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing at the end of its life.
(Source: Fixing Fashion: clothing, consumption and sustainability, Environmental Audit Committee, UK Parliament, 2019)
Circular economy approach to fashion and textiles
The circular economy concept is based on the reuse of resources — removing waste and pollution from the system of production and separating the economy from the consumption of finite resources.
Over the past decade, there's been a growing focus on the circular economy and its application in the Fashion and Textiles industries. A circular approach whereby textiles are re-used or 'upcycled' can have a positive environmental impact.
- Benefits of upcycling textile waste.
- Extends the lifecycle of materials.
- Reduces reliance on vast global supply chains.
- Reduces pollutants associated with the construction and transport of materials, trims and garments.
Some fashion brands have started to introduce upcycling into their production methods to create a more transparent, sustainable supply chain. For example, large businesses let customers return clothes they no longer want to be re-sold or recycled. Others are innovating with biomaterials, which are produced in more energy efficient ways than traditional textiles.
Upcycling offers environmental benefits but it also requires a lot of physical labour, which can add to the production cost of garments. Our PO1 project will test this clothing and textile production method on a local level to examine the scope for upcycling at an industrial scale.
About the PO1 project
The concept of PO1 arose after a Portsmouth charity approached us asking for ways to reduce waste by creating products made from unwanted materials, which could be sold to raise money.
Our students created prototype outerwear garments by upcycling worn or obsolete uniforms. Former student, Katherine-Jayne Watts won Graduate Fashion Week’s Sports and Leisurewear Award for a collection made from lifejackets and sails and, as a result, was invited to develop five trend-led bags made from a repurposed life raft for a UK based charity.
PO1 aims to champion place-based systems change, supporting the city of Portsmouth by making positive changes to fashion consumption and waste disposal, and enhancing the employability skills of local people.
The project is supported by funds from the Sustainability and the Environment research theme, through the Revolution Plastics initiative.
PO1 has 3 interconnected strands and phases:
1. Research-informed education
The fashion and textiles industries need to transition to a sustainable model to reduce their environmental impact. To achieve this, fashion and textile students must learn different methods and skills for their future careers.
PO1 places our students at the heart of responsible design and production, from developing business plans to designing clothing with waste materials. We encourage our students to work in a problem-centred, design-led way, and develop their clothing designs and products in response to global and local issues. This explorative and enterprising outlook shifts the approach from passive teaching to active learning.
Our BA (Hons) Fashion and Textile Design degree is profiled by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for its adoption of sustainable processes, upcycling and circular economy teaching. The degree enables students to establish a career as successful fashion and textile designers, and to respect the values of sustainable and ethical design principles, as showcased in their graduate collections. Our students' sustainable fashion designs are turning heads – former student, Rebecca Powell, won Graduate of the Year 2020 in Drapers’ Sustainable Fashion Awards.
2. Skills sharing and employability
In a future phase of the project, we plan to upskill members of the local community in sustainable manufacturing, design, digital development and the administrative tasks of running a business. We'll seek to develop new employability skills in circular manufacturing methods, which will have social, economic and environmental benefits. By working with Portsmouth residents and businesses, we'll raise awareness of sustainability issues and encourage responsible approaches to consumption and production in the local community.
3. Sustainable clothing social enterprise
In the final phase of the project, we'll develop a social enterprise and sell Portsmouth-designed, Portsmouth-made clothing, manufactured from waste materials by students and local residents. Creative upcycling has the potential to enable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and community enterprises to shape the transition towards a circular and sustainable economy. This can also help build a model of small scale, localised commerce with benefits for local people, the environment and economic resilience.
As well as addressing local organisations' waste issues and minimising the disposability of fashion, the impact of PO1 stands to go beyond recycling.
Preparing ecologically-minded designers of the future
PO1 will prepare our students for careers in the fashion and textiles industries. We nurture thoughtful, ecologically-minded designers of the future. Our students are asked to consider where their materials are sourced and urged to choose ethical suppliers, even when prototyping. The goal of PO1 is to create items that consumers will cherish, mend and maintain rather than wear a few times and then throw away.
Supporting sustainability and employability
The project will share skills with community groups and organisations, helping to embed and develop creative practices – from deconstruction, to design and mending – that support both sustainability and employability. By educating the local community about how garments are made and their environmental impact, we hope to contribute to a reduction in garments going to landfill.
Critiquing the use of new materials
Sourcing pre-owned and waste materials promotes a material-based economy where fabric is traded, swapped and donated. This approach provides scope to critique the use of new materials in the production of garments both in academic and industry settings.
Reducing fashion's environmental impact
The PO1 project will embrace an interdisciplinary approach, working with colleagues in other research fields, such as science and business, to explore ways of reducing fashion’s environmental impact. The project is particularly interested in exploring how polyester and plastic-based fibres can be upcycled in such a way to help reduce the epidemic of ocean microplastics due to shedding in the laundry process.
Creating a sustainable fashion curriculum
Our approach to research-informed fashion education has scope to influence other higher education institutions and encourage the sector to develop environmentally and socially engaged fashion and textiles curricula. By creating a sustainable curriculum that incorporates design-led upcycling, we'll support and assist the changes needed in the discipline on a global scale.
Find out more
Discover more about our research in fashion, textiles and plastics and explore our undergraduate degree in Fashion and Textiles.
Fashion and textiles
Our fashion and textiles research is addressing important issues around fashion and textile design and its associated industries.
From developing sustainable fashion to combatting microplastics, we’re putting our research into practice, working with local groups, organisations, businesses and individuals to solve the planet's plastic problem.
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