Fashion: Function in Action

By David Backhouse and Lynne Webster, School of Design, University of Leeds, UK | December 11, 2008

an innovative collection of garments constructed from nonwoven fabrics researched, designed and produced by UK fashion students

Garments have been historically and intrinsically linked with woven and knitted fabrics composed of natural and man-made fibers either alone or in blends. Such fabrics are produced by either interlacing or intermeshing pre-formed yarns. These fabric structures have dominated the world of apparel outerwear for decades and methods of garment design and assembly have been established based on their properties and visual appearance.

     While historically the penetration of nonwoven fabrics in outerwear has been limited, the integration of nonwoven fabrics into garments and accessories for functional purposes is well established, particularly in protective clothing, garment linings and interlinings, insulation waddings, shoe linings and synthetic leather fabrics, which define both single-use and highly durable products. The physical properties and technical performance of these fabrics are fundamental to their acceptance and are readily engineered to meet requirements.

     Technical developments in polymers, nonwoven processing and fabric finishing have led to significant improvements in fabric handling and drapability, extension and elastic recovery, abrasion resistance and pil­ling, washing stability, dyeing, printing and surface texture that create prospects for nonwoven outerwear. Additionally, the ability to engineer properties that are more difficult to achieve in conventionally-produced fabrics provides the basis for unique, high performance materials that are far more than low-cost analogues or substitutes for woven and knitted constructions.

     The properties and behavior of nonwovens are quite different from woven and knitted fabrics and therefore present a major challenge to accepted conventions in design and assembly.

     The fashion program at the University of Leeds has, for a number of years, been inspired by these inventive and exciting fabrics and the opportunities that exist to engineer property challenges in response to specific requirements. The interface between fashion design and fabric technology is a fundamental requirement for future progress and requires multi-disciplinary research collaboration between designers and fabric scientists. Part of the challenge is to consider alternative garment design approaches and pattern blocks specifically suited for nonwoven materials and to actively contribute toward developments in nonwoven fabric technology. There are also opportunities for the simplification of garment design reducing assembly costs and facilitating recycling at the end of life, improving the technical performance of garments and reducing the overall life-cycle impact of clothing. 

     Our research on remodeling industrial nonwoven fabrics began in defiance of laws and traditions some four years ago. Collars that conventionally required interlinings did not, seams that ordinarily received overlocking could be left raw and front bodices that by tradition required facings could be produced without. Ultrasonic and thermal joining techniques enabled stitching to be replaced, and localized termo-forming provided a means of improving fit and simplifying garment assembly. Elements of this research were disseminated at the EDANA Nonwovens Research Academy held at the University of Leeds in March 2007 and at the University of Leeds International Textiles Archive (ULITA) in the same year.

     The current garment collection supported by EDANA and its members commenced by invitation in January 2008 and was conducted by undergraduate students at the University of Leeds. This collection, exhibited for the first time at INDEX08, is based on high performance durable and single-use nonwoven fabrics supplied by the nonwovens industry that incorporate developments in elastic film composites, thermo-active PCMs, masterbatch additives, thermo­chromic finishes, electroconductive fabrics, high temperature protective fabrics and metallized and multi-layer spunbond laminates.

    In this collection some of the traditional boundaries and rules relating to the design and construction of garments have been challenged in light of the unique technical performance and physical properties of nonwoven fabrics. Progress continues in our current work, collaborating with the next generation of designers and we look forward to future garment collections.

    The use of conventionally woven cloth and, more recently, weft or warp-knitted fabrics, has dominated garment production for the past century and before. Meanwhile, at least in the latter half of the twentieth century, nonwoven forms of fabric increasingly dominated various industrial, domestic, medical, automotive and hygiene end uses. Technological developments over the past few decades have extended nonwoven fabric end uses further and, in the first decade of the twentieth century, nonwovens seem to be on the threshold of offering a genuine challenge in garment (and fashion) end uses.

    In order to ensure that this anticipated market development is realized, it is crucial that relevant producers and suppliers participate and encourage the engagement of staff and students involved in fashion design education. This exhibition is a manifestation of such collaboration and engagement and, as such, represents a bold step on behalf of the participants and sponsors to that goal of increased marketshare in areas dominated conventionally by other forms of textiles.

    For more information: www.nonwovens.leeds.ac.uk/fash­ionwithnonwovens/.                      

Related Application:

Related Technology:

Related Other: