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Our latest stakeholder magazine, Dialogue, is out NOW and here is one of our articles featured in the Spring 2016 edition.

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Controversy in recent years surrounding the world of fashion has seemed to focus solely on the size (or undersize) of its models.

Without a doubt, size matters.  But let’s consider the future of fashion in a context without the emotive images of half-starved humans eating into the equation. What contribution is the industry making to sustainability or is it, quite simply, stitching the planet up through a pattern of destructive behaviour and outmoded practices?

Considering world fibre production is now 82 million tons, which requires 145 million tons of coal and somewhere between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion gallons of water to produce, it seems clear that the fashion industry has got so much more to focus on than lifting its weight restrictions.

Fashion & Textiles students upcycle men's shirts to create new outfits

Whilst it appears to be going in a ‘promising’ right direction, with the first ever Fifty-Plus Fashion Week recently and a nod towards the fuller figure with a glimpse of Plus-Size collections, it’s an industry which draws excessively on the planet’s resources. And with the rise of mass produced clothes, manufactured at low cost in Third World countries, it’s not surprising that clothes have now become disposable goods, transient trends at cut price costs, made from low quality textiles and blended from materials that can’t be recycled.

We’re dressing for less – but is the planet paying the price?

At the University of Wolverhampton, the Fashion & Textiles Degree course focuses the next generation of creative designers to learn about the impact they will have in the future and students are challenged to think about how they can instigate change by encouraging sustainability to be at the heart of everything they do.

Sharon Watts, School of Creative Arts and Design, said:  “There are so many things to take into consideration when studying for a degree in Fashion & Textiles.  We want students to look further afield than the catwalk and the design of clothes.

“We want them to think about how the fashion and textiles industry can make a valid and valuable contribution to sustainability as well as long-term socio-economic and technology issues.

“It’s not just about what we’re wearing and what we will be wearing in the future – it’s looking at the impact this will have on society.”

Leather without cows?

If you look behind the polished veneer of the catwalk, there is a small revolution taking place in fashion & textiles – one that is shaping the future of the industry.  It’s a world committed to providing leather without cows, silk without spiders and furs without foxes.  It’s a renaissance of bolt threads, biocouture, biofur and cellular agriculture. It’s challenging the dirty industry of synthetic fibre production and outdated manufacturing methods used to dye and finish fabric.

It’s creating materials out of milk, tea, coffee beans and mushrooms – and even human skin, and it’s dying with air rather than water, printing digitally and saving valuable energy reserves and resources, minimising textile waste, recycling synthetics and transforming bamboo into thread.

 A change is looming

Third year Fashion & Textiles student, Gemma Bullock, 21 from Kidderminster, sized up the problem when she visited a local textile recycling centre in Bilston.  More than two thirds of textile waste in Britain is sent to landfill with a small amount sent back to the underprivileged countries that are mass producing clothes at low cost in notorious ‘sweat shops’.

She said:  “In our second year we had looked at the environmental issues relating to the fashion industry. Visiting the recycling centre, and seeing the sheer volume of clothes going to waste, really inspired me to look carefully at how we can produce new clothes from old garments.”


Having been shortlisted in a national ‘Eco Designer of the Year’ competition, Gemma proved she could fashion an idea for recycling into something both wearable and saleable. She created an outfit fit for the future with a scarf woven and knitted from recycled jersey material, a t-shirt made out of organic cotton jersey and trousers made out of organic jersey fleece.

She said:  “We shouldn’t be looking at recycled clothes as something that sits separately from the High Street. Recycled clothes and organic fabrics should be readily available – like buying organic food in the supermarket. People need to be aware that there are alternatives out there.”

Cottoning on to upcycling

First year students have already cottoned on to the upcycling trend by using unwanted shirts and creating new outfits from the material, buttons, cuffs and collars. Jo Bloodworth, Lecturer in Fashion & Textiles, said: “Our aim is to create a whole new generation of young people who can create, design and build brands ethically.”

Becky Bayliss, a student on the course, said: “I’d never upcycled before and it’s certainly challenging trying to create an outfit out of old shirts when you encounter different textiles, fabrics and differing weights.  But the exercise has taught us that, with a little bit of imagination, there is no shelf-life on clothes.”

Taking shape

Mary Allen-Skinner, 22, from Kingswinford was more concerned about the concept of the female body and concentrated her research on how the industry creates a false perception of the perfect woman.  As her ideas started to take shape, she said:  “The industry is all about the clothes and not about the person which has resulted in models striving to look a certain way and damaging their health.”

Mary created a range of clothing that concentrated on curves, using natural fabrics and tribal influences to empower women.  Having worked for the retail company, Evans, she realised that clothes for ‘plus’ size women seemed to lack flair and femininity.

Fashion & Textiles students upcycle men's old shirts and create new items of clothing

“It’s promising that, in countries like France, laws are being passed to ensure that models should be a certain weight but the fashion industry has so much more to do in terms of tackling its size and weight phobia.”

Feet are two sizes bigger on average than they were at the turn of the century, and breasts are four times bigger – as humans continue to evolve, shouldn’t the fashion industry cut its cloth to suit?

The fashion industry is worth £26 billion to the country’s economy, according to figures published by the British Fashion Council and is estimated to support 797,000 jobs according to research by Oxford Economics. 

Its survival rates are looking good – every year it churns out more and more, reams of fabric, with trends moving faster, colours changing with the seasons – but as the next generation makes attempts at breathing new life into the industry, will it take more than a dressmaker’s pin to prick its conscience into fashioning real change or will it just continue to make do and mend?



For more information please contact the Media Relations Office on 01902 32 2736 or 01902 518647.

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