In a pilot project undertaken from January to April this year, the New Landscapes: Fashion, Textiles and Technology (FTT) Catalyst R&D Grant Scheme programme brought together five UK fashion and textile small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and counterparts in Official Development Assistance (ODA) countries.

Supported by the UAL FTTI and the British Council, the SME partnerships received funding, academic research, business support and access to facilities and expertise to work on mutually beneficial projects that promote the cultural, social and environmental values of a sustainable global fashion and textiles sector. 

The report documents the real-world impact of the programme within the ODA countries, and the background to co-creating the methodology, with five case studies detailing the SME partnerships and their projects. These include the production of a circular yarn, 2D and 3D garment and fabric sampling to reduce material waste in Bangladesh, supporting circular denim practices among workers in Nigeria’s denim industry, and development of sustainable yarn from sisal blended fibres in Kenya.

In four months, the programme tested six novel technologies and developed four different product prototypes. The SME project teams created six permanent jobs within the ODA partner countries and improved the livelihoods of 72 farmers. Three cross-disciplinary links for the SME project teams were facilitated and 116 industry advisors were consulted. The R&D project teams conducted two surveys, participated in 12 presentations, workshops and events and two associated reports have been published.

Speaking about the scheme, Sevra Davis, Director of Architecture, Design and Fashion at the British Council, said:
“We are encouraged by the impact of our New Landscapes pilot programme which demonstrates how international co-operation, with access to specialist academic and business provision through UAL FTTI, can be a powerful agent in progress towards a sustainable future for the global fashion sector.” 

Professor Jane Harris, Director of the UAL Fashion, Textiles and Technology Institute (FTTI) said:

“The New Landscapes R&D pilot report shows how much potential there is to apply established research, and implement environmentally and socially responsible practices in the fashion and textiles sector at a global scale.  We are truly inspired by the impact achieved through this knowledge exchange project in a relatively short period of time, as the SME case studies outline. The different communities of practice demonstrate an abundance of innovation and commitment to sustainable practices and show what is possible, as we address issues of climate change. We look forward to building on this pilot and to investigating further opportunities for collaboration and knowledge exchange programmes with British Council.”  

Read the full report on the New Landscapes Scheme pilot [PDF, 6MB].

Case studies

  1. Circular Livelihoods – Creating a circular yarn from regenerative cotton and textile waste in Indonesia.
    SMEs: Zoë Powell, London, UK + Bertram Flesch, Jakarta, Indonesia

“Indonesia faces a growing problem with textile waste, where it is very often burned, a process which releases carbon into the atmosphere, polluting the air as well as people’s lungs. But many farmers and rural artisans, such as weavers and spinners – particularly women – rely on this industry. Circular Livelihoods aims to reduce the environmental impact, but also have positive economic and social impact by creating and improving livelihoods for women in these rural areas.” Zoë Powell, designer-maker and independent researcher, London, UK

This New Landscapes project is the foundation from which we can start to build demand for regenerative and recycled fabrics – benefitting the environment, building communities more resilient to climate change, and creating new, sustainable livelihoods in rural Indonesia.” Bertram Flesch, co-founder, and SukkhaCitta, Jakarta, Indonesia

  1. Denim to Denim – Supporting circular denim practices in Nigeria
    SMEs: Jocelyn Whipple, Devon, UK + Sola Idowu, Lagos, Nigeria

“We wanted to shift the [circular textiles] narrative away from the exclusive arenas of big corporations and instead explore it through the lens of those who are implementing circular practices on the ground. 

The discussions raised several areas for further consideration, including the use of stretch denim, which is increasingly popular but presents problems for recycling, upcycling and longevity due to the mixed use of synthetic fibres with cotton” Jocelyn Whipple, Sustainable Fashion Consultant, Devon, UK

“Many of the participants in Nigeria did not see or understand the importance of their role in addressing the issues of environmental and social justice in the denim industry. We have all gained significant insights from this collaboration; voices have been heard, people feel more empowered and even obligated to carry on as ambassadors of a circular approach to denim practice.

Our hope is that it has also increased awareness in industry of the denim lifecycle and the role of these previously ignored experts in the denim value chain.” Sola Idowu, country co-ordinator, Fashion Revolution, Lagos, Nigeria

  1. Bureau 555 – Virtual fabric and garment sampling in Bangladesh
    SMEs: Gabrielle Shiner-Hill, London, UK + Nusrat Mahmud, Dhaka, Bangladesh

“Bangladesh is home to so many beautiful fabrics, created with skills passed down through the generations – but the craftspeople are becoming fewer in number. By creating digital records of their work, we ensure this knowledge and expertise is secured for future generations to learn from, and experience. We explored the digital fabrics in the same detail and with the same considerations as we would real fabric.

The vast majority of workers in Bangladesh are women, and with key material knowledge and craft skills. Learning these digital skills will not only help make virtual sampling more accessible across the supply chain, but it importantly offers scope for professional development and advancement.” Nusrat Mahmud, Director, Hamid Fabrics Ltd, Dhaka

“To date, we have digitised more than 200 fabrics for a range of international brands. The industry feedback on the digital assets created has been very positive.” Gabrielle Shiner-Hill, Director, Shinerhilldesign, London, UK

  1. Sisal Project – Producing a sustainable, wearable textile from sisal fibre in Kenya
    SMEs: Martyn Roberts, Ramsgate, UK + Iona McCreath, Nairobi, Kenya

“Our original plan was to use enzymes to soften the fibres, but there was a global shortage at the time, so instead we tapped into the vernacular knowledge and used the traditional skills of beating the fibres to soften them. As well as being effective, the hand processing technique is more likely to generate a softer fibre.

One of the key challenges of the project was convincing the craftspeople to try working with sisal in new ways. We were fortunate that a very talented master weaver came on board and together we experimented with different ways of spinning the fibres. The team created 2 successful yarns: a pure sisal yarn, and a 50/50 sisal and sustainable cotton yarn. The next stage will be to scale up production of the yarns in order to weave them into textiles for further experimentation.

Future engagement with designers in Kenya is also important. Kenya relies on a lot of imported fabric. Our hope is that, at scale, sisal fabrics could enable Kenyan designers to dress Kenyans in a home-grown, low-cost, well designed, and sustainable alternative.” Iona McCreath, Creative Director, KikoRomeo, Nairobi, Kenya

“We will next showcase the research to designers, from raw fibre to finished garments. it will be important to gain feedback on the cloth and its potential from designers: the design element is very important.” Martyn Roberts, Director, Fashion Scout, Ramsgate, UK

  1. Project Plan B – Exploring circular garment fastenings and accessories in Bangladesh
    SMEs: Tim Cross, Plymouth, UK + Mahmudal Hoq, Dhaka, Bangladesh

“As we head towards a circular economy, it’s vital we don’t leave behind large-scale manufacturing countries, such as Bangladesh. We need to ensure they have the tools and skills to design and create clothing that is recycled and recyclable – putting this region in the vanguard of addressing the sustainability challenges we are facing globally.

“If we can engage Bangladesh with the circular economy, it could have a significant impact on the availability of recycled and recyclable clothing globally.” Tim Cross, CEO of Project Plan B.

“A key part of the New Landscapes project was to see whether we could design a recyclable zip that could be produced in Bangladesh. This would enable a reduction on the reliance on imports, build on their garment manufacturing success, and enable Bangladesh to be leading in the sustainable, circular clothing production movement.

This New Landscapes project, in its very early stages, shows there is an opportunity for Bangladesh. Manufacturing our own sustainable components cuts out the middleman and makes Bangladesh less reliant on imports, predominantly from China. Demand for circular clothing is growing. It shows our customers – and the wider industry – that what we can produce is relevant.” Mahmudal Hoq, director of Yester, Bangladesh