UKRI Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Textiles: Circular Bioeconomy for Textile Materials

Lead Research Organisation: Royal College of Art
Department Name: Material Science Research Centre

Abstract

The current global fashion supply chain is characterised by its lack of transparency, forced labour, poor working conditions, unequal power relationships and overproduction caused by fast fashion. Lacking ethics, the global fashion supply chain is also highly polluting. The total footprint of clothing in use in the UK, including global and territorial emissions, was 26.2 million tonnes CO2 in 2016, up from 24 million tonnes in 2012 (equivalent to over a third of household transport emissions).

The Textiles Circularity Centre (TCC) proposes materials security for the UK by circularising resource flows of textiles. This will stimulate innovation and economic growth in the UK textile manufacturing, SME apparel and creative technology sectors, whilst reducing reliance on imported and environmentally and ethically impactful materials, and diversifying supply chains. The TCC will provide underpinning research understanding to enable the transition to a more circular economy that supports the brand 'designed and made in the UK'. To enact this vision, we will catalyse growth in the fashion and textiles sector by supporting the SME fashion-apparel community with innovations in materials and product manufacturing, access to circular materials through supply chain design, and consumer experiences.

Central to our approach is to enable consumers to be agents of change by engaging them in new cultures of consumption. We will effect a symbiosis between novel materials manufacturing and agentive consumer experiences through a supply chain design comprised of innovative business models and digital tools.

Using lab-proven biotechnology, we will transform bio-based waste-derived feedstock (post-consumer textiles, crop residues, municipal solid waste) into renewable polymers, fibres and flexible textile materials, as part of a CE transition strategy to replace imported cotton, wood pulp and synthetic polyester fibres and petrochemical finishes.

We will innovate advanced manufacturing techniques that link biorefining of organic waste, 3D weaving, robotics and additive manufacturing to circular design and produce flexible continuous textiles and three-dimensional textile forms for apparel products. These techniques will enable manufacturing hubs to be located on the high street or in local communities, and will support SME apparel brands and retailers to offer on-site/on-demand manufacture of products for local customisation. These hubs would generate regional cultural and social benefits through business and related skills development.

We will design a transparent supply chain for these textiles through industrial symbiosis between waste management, farming, bio-refinery, textile production, SME apparel brands, and consumer stakeholders. Apparel brands will access this supply chain through our digital 'Biomaterials Platform', through which they can access the materials and data on their provenance, properties, circularity, and life cycle extension strategies.

Working with SME apparel brands, we will develop an in-store Configurator and novel affective and creative technologies to engage consumers in digitally immersive experiences and services that amplify couplings between the resource flow, human well being and satisfaction, thus creating a new culture of consumption. This dematerialisation approach will necessitate innovation in business models that add value to the apparel, in order to counter overproduction and detachment. Consumers will become key nodes in the circular value chain, enabling responsible and personalised engagement.

As a human-centred design led centre, TCC is uniquely placed to generate these innovations that will catalyse significant business and skills growth in UK textile manufacturing, SME fashion-apparel, and creative technology sectors, and drastically reduce waste and carbon emissions, and environmental and ethical impacts for the textiles sector.

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