Research Essay – Critical Review

Textiles 3: Research- Assignment 5

Gillian Morris

Student No 511388

Title: Material Innovation and the Environment: Positive Change?

Jasmine Linington (2019) Textile Artist and Maker. As part of a Master of Fine Arts in Textiles from Edinburgh College of Art she explored the potentials of seaweed as an alternative material within her creative practice.

Title: Material Innovation and the Environment: Positive Change?

How can innovative materials support a more environmentally sustainable way of living?

How are textiles being used in an innovative context using modern day technology and traditional processes?

What is driving the application of innovative materials and how has this been informed by the past and influenced by the present and future?

What role can the individual play in the progressive use of materials to promote environmental sustainability?

Through an investigative process the relationship we have with materials and the environment can be explored.


There is a need for urgent change to rethink the use of materials including single use plastics and throw away textiles, to utilise new materials and making in innovative ways to support the environment.  Increased attention to the current plight of environmental loss is required to enable enhanced understanding of the continuing threats but also of the growth of innovative options which are currently available to save our environment. The emphasis then is to promote and optimise our relationship with the making of new materials including improved textile function and durability to promote longer term usage, to encourage reuse and repurposing, as well as upcycling and recycling when it can facilitate greater global sustainability and responsibility and prevent unnecessary pollution and waste. Through this critical review process, it is hoped that a light can be shone on the scale of innovative making and materials which are available alongside the utilisation of reuse models like the circular economy to foster improved relating with the environment to prevent further loss, to promote growth and regeneration.

Innovative Processes within Making and Materials

With the recent scale of technological advancement, the whole arena of textiles has been widened significantly to encapsulate a range of fields including science and engineering. Such technological development has enabled materials to be made and used in ways not previously possible for architects, interior designers, and artists. Hong Kong-based designer and textile experimentalist Elaine Yan Ling Ng is using nature-inspired biomimicry and digital weaving technology to create new materials (Tomlinson & SK, 2017).

The use of such technological advancement in the making and fusing of materials can benefit the environment however is it the best way forward for material use and reuse? Graphene has been named a “wonder material” given its range of diverse properties which can aid sustainability. The University of Manchester has led the way in this textile revolution using graphene within wearable applications. Of noted importance is the making of textile composites sustainable through incorporating graphene into natural fibres such as jute to improve strength and performance as well as to ensure 100% biodegradable, recyclable, and environmentally friendly properties. (Sarker, 2019).

Natural fibre composites like jute are the preferred alternatives to the use of synthetics due to the environmental benefits

Within clothing Advance Denim is investing in cutting edge innovations in technical denims. Through the infusion of graphene new materials have been manufactured greenly as Kyroene Single-Layer Denim which is one of the first super materials. Such material is now considered to be one of the lightest, thinnest, strongest, and most durable which will enhance longevity and circularity.

Advance Denim (2019) use graphene to improve the material properties of denim to aid longevity & durability

Russian brand Krakatau 2019 Spring-Summer Collection has been infused with Graphene, the world’s strongest material to create a range of outer wear including sportswear which is durable and functional with high-performance trench coats and windbreakers.

Krakatau 2019 Spring-Summer Tech-wear Collection for men
Krakatau 2020 Spring-Summer Women’s Outer Wear
Krakatau 2020 Spring-Summer Women’s Outer Wear

Graphene’s host of properties are suitable for a multiplicity of uses beyond soft materials as the same qualities that ensure high performance in clothing and interiors outperform elsewhere with its thin, strong, transparent, dense qualities and good conduction to name a few. The use of graphene in 2D nanotechnology is made from carbon atoms and when arranged in a honeycomb layer has the potential to improve the thermal regulation of buildings to help prevent unnecessary heat loss and energy use (Kovtun, et al. 2019). That said I have been left wondering what such technological advancement really means. While the need for continuing technological advancement is often framed within the arena of achievement, of producing the best material to promote heightened environmental sustainability through improved durability and longer life I have been made to stop and take stock of this supposed reality throughout this critical review. As I have compared and contrasted knowledge and understanding from various sources, I have been left wondering about the underlying ideology of the ever-pressing need for the creation of new material development, of the improved performance of materials.

More recently a range of fabrics have been developed to minimise the environmental burden through working out how to produce natural fibres and fabrics synthetically through decoding the gene responsible for the materials production which has offered enhanced properties including durability, a longer lifespan, improved health, and safety qualities with a reduced impact on the environment. A Japanese start-up company called Spiber has managed to isolate the key protein used in the production of fibroin in spiders to create extremely strong strands of silk. From there Spiber have gone on to create bioengineered bacteria that can make silk very quickly and easily through feeding the bacteria to produce silk protein, which is turned into fine powder, spun, and processed to create fibres, composites, and solid blocks. Spiber now collaborate with technologists, designers, and creatives to help produce a range of biomaterials from brewed proteins for multiple uses which are designed to be renewable as biobased and biodegradable (Condliffe, 2013).

Yuima Nakazato collection exhibited at Paris Fashion Week Haute Couture 2020 Spring/Summer on 24th January 2020 (In collaboration with Spiber).

This designer has created a new dimension to making biomaterials for high fashion by digitally fabricating this specially designed protein. It was purported that the designer has challenged what we think of as materials however when I thought about this at greater depth, I started to review my initial considerations. What was challenged? The selling feature was the uniqueness of the material making without any accompanying message concerning material use.  Is the purpose to generate new materials to sustain the environment or to sustain consumption within the fashion industry? Do we need to consume more, do we need ever more materials to wear?

Mycelium textiles have also become an increased area of research between biological sciences and design. Mycelium is the network of all the threads of a fungus and is the lattice-like root of the mushroom. The Design and Living Systems Lab at Central Saint Martins in London have focused upon the development of sustainable materials and forms of production from such mycelium threads. In researching the potential of mycelium growth as a sustainable new treatment for textiles biodegradable, compostable textile coatings have been developed through the manipulation of environmental conditions in which the mycelium grows. The mycelium produces various designs and patterns as it is cultured on a range of materials which support, utilise, or resist the fungi’s growth which include hemp, sisal, agar, and soya-bean fibre (Collet, 2019).  Mogu from Italy stated that there were opportunities to extend the development through scaling-up the range of mycelium-based technologies for the production of naturally grown biomaterials and products, so mushroom-based fabric can be tweaked to be as hard as enamel and shell-like or as soft and porous as a sponge, depending on the amount of light, humidity, exchange of gas, temperature, and types of “food” the mushroom is given rendering it as the ideal creative material (2018). Mogu has proven that fabric created from mycelium is non-toxic, waterproof, and fire resistant. It can be as thin as paper for dresses and lamp shades or incredibly thick for heavy-duty items, and in both cases, the end result is remarkably flexible and strong.

Dutch textile designer Aniela Hoitink has created clothing using disc-shaped pieces of mushroom mycelium, whereupon she came up with a production method that allowed the material to retain shape and flexibility without using any additional fibres. New technology and techniques were used to create this sustainable fabric.
Mogu Radical by Design has used cutting-edge technology based on mycelium and the vegetative stage of mushrooms. Over the years, they have identified effective protocols to monitor the growth of these organisms and have learned to engineer the properties of the resulting materials for use within interior design and architecture including floor and wall tiles.
Mogu Acoustic panels are the first commercially available products of their kind, entirely made of fungal mycelium and of upcycled textile residues. Such unique technology has produced an environmentally sustainable solution dedicated to functionality, aesthetics, and comfort.

The worth of the materials from mycelium can be applauded to take the place of more environmentally harmful materials especially for the home if its production methods accrue no or little waste from naturally sustaining sources however is it something we need? Increasingly I am being enabled to evaluate need with function set against the context of environmental sustainability. Given the sheer prevalence of innovative material making I have been drawn into the debate concerning new versus old and is one necessarily better or worse? On stepping back from reviewing countless books on innovation within design and the way forward to designing and making materials for sustained environmental sustainability I have been left with more questions than answers. If environmental sustainability was the root cause for such innovative material development, why do so many new materials and composites need to be developed and for whom? Ultimately does such material making fully consider what it is replacing and is it increasingly fit for purpose beyond what went before or is it about producing new materials to increase and meet ever mounting demand and consumption for material gain? Functionality, purpose and meaning seem to be fundamentals to preserving and not throwing away rather than the next best thing in material development and production.

From visiting Japan at the beginning of 2020, I was deeply influenced by their ancient ways to sustain the environment. I could not help but be in awe at the care taken to make and to use. In daily life mottainai has been utilised to promote reuse, repurposing, and repair through respect for the material which ameliorates the need for such consumption and waste. Such meaningful connections between material and owner originates in Buddhist culture which focuses on the essence of things. In Japan people are encouraged to look beyond instant gratification, the need to consume and throwaway and instead to value each item independently, to continue to value and keep connected to the environment.

Hoogvliet (2019) Kaumera Kimono

The focus of Nienke Hoogvliet is to make textiles more sustainable, to generate materials that are valued, kept, and reused. Given the scale of polluted rivers in China from chemicals used in textile dye factories the designer wished to correct this wrong. In devising more sustainable production processes Hoogvliet used the raw materials from wastewater and discovered that Kaumera, a new bio-based resource makes textiles absorb dyes more readily so less water is needed. The designer also extracted natural dyes from the wastewater to make clothing. Kimonos were made as they are normally cherished as family heirlooms to challenge the concept of fast fashion and the accumulation of pollutant waste.

Environmentally conscious designer Nienke Hoogvliet has explored seaweed’s potential as a material and produced wide-ranging soft yarns, natural textile dyes and bioplastics with proven lightfastness and a diverse colour palette including greens, browns, greys, pinks, and purples.  Hoogvliet made seaweed yarn with cellulose extracted from kelp and its properties were compared favourably to viscose. The kelp cellulose fabric was handwoven and naturally dyed also using seaweed to create multifunctional textiles. Homeware ranges were created using non-toxic algae and paint remnants which included furniture and crockery. 

Hoogvliet (2019) Sea Me- Constructed rugs from sea algae yarn which was hand dyed and woven with recycled fishing nets
Hoogvliet (2019) Re-Sea Me- New materials formed from discarded fish scales to create alternative leather without the use of chemicals
Jasmine Linington (2019) Experimentation with a range of seaweed to advance material development within the fibres and as surface decoration to produce seaweed-based textiles.
Jasmine Linington (2019) continues to be led by use and reuse of natural materials from within and around coastal and marine environments to construct her textiles. http://www.Jasmine
Jasmine Linington (2019) Seaweed Collection-Part of this textile artist and makers degree show at Edinburgh College of Art which focused upon material development using seaweed.
Jasmine Linington (2019) Seaweed Collection-Part of this textile artist and makers degree show at Edinburgh College of Art which focused upon material development using seaweed.

Jasmine Linington acknowledged that seaweeds and microalgae make up approximately ninety per cent of Earth’s plant-like existence and they are amongst the fastest growing organisms on the planet, making them highly sustainable resources. Given the devastating environmental impacts of the textile and fashion industry, she became focused upon producing materials that were conducive to the environment and did no harm so immediately saw the seaweed’s potential as an alternative for fibre, embellishments, and dye (2019). This textile artist and maker constructed her own materials using technology and handmade techniques, SeaCell, produced by smartfiber AG, acted as the base fabric to this textile collection. Seacell is composed of seaweed and eucalyptus to create sustainable alternatives which would not harm the environment given its natural environmental credentials.  More recently Jasmine Linington has obtained a licence for small-scale harvesting through Scottish Natural Heritage and East Lothian Council to extend material development.  Central Saint Martin’s graduate Luisa Kahlfeldt also utilised the natural properties of seaweed and designed a new nappy using 100% SeaCell material. Since the material is antibacterial, antioxidant rich and has skin caring properties it has been proven to be more effective and sustainable than other comparable reusable cloth nappies. Eco Repel technology waterproofed the material whereby it retained all its recyclable properties and capacity to biodegrade.

Ultimately then the vision is to make, to extend usage, to reuse and to repurpose whereby there is minimal waste from the making of materials. Ideally waste itself can be used to prevent any waste and decision-making concerning consumption is based upon ethical and moral prerequisites related to what is needed and what is best for the planet, the environment we all rely upon for life. Like Hoogvliet and Linington from basing my making on a series of ethical decision-making, of doing no harm I have been able to make using material waste which has not left any residue on the environment. Indeed, the series of work using repurposed cardboard and screen printing has demonstrated that a different relationship with materials can be forged for multiple purpose use with originality, function, and respect for the environment. Every hand-made image originated from the surface qualities of natural forms to promote the beauty of nature but also its fragility. The real beauty of repurposing cardboard is that there was and will be no harmful waste beyond the natural duration of its life and usage. The use of shredded printed waste added texture, and the printing ink was waste from other art projects within the studio space. Waste itself is a material which has purpose and function which must be considered before the further development and making of new materials.

Morris (2020) Wasted Resist: Use of A1 Sized White Cardboard with a Range of Screen-Printing Processes
Morris (2020) Wasted Resist: Detail of A1 Sized White Cardboard with a Range of Screen-Printing Processes including free hand ink application using orange high lights with black and brown-red and orange printing inks
Morris (2020) Wasted Resist: Detail of A1 Sized White Cardboard with a Range of Screen-Printing Processes including free hand ink application using orange high lights with black and brown-red and orange printing inks

For example in making and using natural rice paper to create a series of nine prints and imprints this paper type demonstrated unique qualities in how it reacted to the screen printing and printing inks. A sheer paper was selected as a raw product with heightened degrees of absorbency with a soft and textured surface quality which exemplified this idea of fracturing and fitted with what I wished to communicate, of environmental fragility and beauty.  Ultimately for me screen-printing is not about repetition but uniqueness, so with every print and imprint something different and dynamic is being created, which further fuels an ongoing process of discovery through the varying and changing use of materials, techniques, relationships, scale, and feelings. In doing so it is increasingly likely that what is made is valued, kept and preserved as making without meaning has no meaning. Fast making and mass production serves only the landfill as it holds no real value or meaning.

Morris (2020) Sheer Brittleness-Series of Nine Prints & Imprints on Natural Rice Paper using Waste Printing Inks (26x38cm)

The need to slow down making processes, for making to be led by environmental concerns seems paramount, for innovative making to support a more environmentally sustainable way of living. That said it is not about making more but making less, to make in environmentally conscious ways what is needed and to do so with care and consideration. Given that the textiles and clothing industry is the world’s second-largest polluter just behind the oil industry less is needed but what is made is only likely to be retained and not thrown away as waste if it has meaning and individuals see value and worth in the making and the material. Oslo-based materials designer Natsai Audrey Chieza has used biology, technology, and design to create textiles that are dyed using bacteria with no chemical fixatives. Through impregnating natural fibres with a small quantity of pigment-producing bacteria Stretomyces coelicolor and incubation a vivid range of colours form abstract shapes which are reflective of fungus mixing with the bacteria and not chemicals. Such materials appear to be highly sought after and not discarded  

Natsai Audrey Chieza (2019) Future Materials through Bio-fabrication using Microbes
Natsai Audrey Chieza (2019) New Materials & Processes

The Circular Economy-Reuse of Materials including Plastics and Textiles

Dutch start-up Plasticiet terrazzo-like material from recycled plastic for use in interior design (2018)

As stated by Professor Michael Shaver, Professor of Polymer Science, University of Manchester, Plastics are often demonised, but are frequently a lower energy alternative due to their ease of creation and processing and their low weight minimising the impact of their transport. But without an end-of-life circularity, global waste will continue to grow. We must make smart choices to minimise the carbon footprint of these materials, to improve our management of waste, to increase recycling and upcycling rates alongside repurposing plastic (2019)

The current dependency on single use plastics is not sustainable and because of the durability of the polymers involved, substantial quantities of discarded single use plastics are accumulating as debris in landfills and in natural habitats worldwide especially in the oceans and on the coasts with no capacity to biodegrade for years. Plastics are organic polymers derived from petroleum, these single use plastic materials have been found to be the major macroscopic pollutants world-wide in many published reports including McDermid and McMullen, 2004; Moorce et al., 2001, Barnes, 2005; Henderson, 2001; Ericksson and Burton 2003; Otley and Ingham, 2003 to name a few (Vikas and Dwarakish, 2015). Due to the poor waste management practices all around the world both the macro (25mm+) and nano (-100mm) sizes of broken-down pieces of plastic have created a devasting legacy on marine ecosystems and biodiversity of which a primary source is textile fibres (Garaba and Dierssen, 2018).

Wrap (2016) stated “a circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.” The European Clothing Action Plan launched in May 2016 has set out to encourage industry, scientists, and creatives to reinvent how we design and produce textile products, rethink how we use and consume products and redefine reuse and recycling of these products (Niinimaki and Karell, 2019).

studied cases and their circular strategy.
Source: adapted from Achterberg et al. (2016).
With over 100 billion items of clothing produced each year, creatives have resorted to using old garments in product design as a way of keeping the surplus textiles from being thrown away. Sophie Rowley took discarded denim jean offcuts and made them into a series of tables featuring mottled patterns like marble (Hitti, 2019).

The demand for textile products continues to increase irrespective of the costs to the environment, a trend which is likely to continue due to population growth and economic development. Around 63% of textile fibres are derived from petrochemicals and the production of such textiles give rise to significant CO2 emissions (Lenzing, 2017). Much of the remaining 37% is centred upon the production of cotton which depletes the immediate environment of water and creates toxic pollution with the use of pesticides. Not only that but 95% of textiles landfilled could have been recycled. Due to such challenges, there is a pressing need to establish a different relationship with all textiles (Sajn, 2019). The integration of textiles within a circular economy has been acknowledged as the way forward.

While the founder and CEO of Natural Fibre Welding (NFW) Dr Luke Haverhals noted that by reformatting natural biodegradable polymers Mirum was created which stands for 100% natural inputs and zero use of plastic this can only be environmentally sustainable if what is made is needed, used with no or little waste. Haverhals stressed that NFW is “pro-planet”, “pro-ocean”, and “pro-animal,” but at our core, we are “pro-people” (2020). Use of the pro adage does not mean an automatic general truth and common observation because it has been stated. Alongside Mirum an extensive fabrication platform has been developed that reformats a range of natural fibres with linen, cotton, hemp, and silk to create stronger and longer lasting materials which has the potential to eliminate the problems linked to plastic microfibre pollution. That said does such making processes replace other more harmful making or does this equate to more mass production and possible waste?  

Natural Fibre Welding Inc., Science: A new technology for creating natural fibres. The innovative method allows for the developement of new manufacturing technologies that use widely available natural fibres like linen or silk instead of man-made plastics. (Simpson, 2020)
Christopher Raeburn (2018) championing innovative and responsible fashion design at RÆBURN as Global Creative Director at Timberland with Collaborative clothing ranges.

Ashton (2020) acknowledged that the increased use of deadstock or leftover inventory which has long been considered as waste and either incinerated or put for landfill throughout the fashion industry needs to be challenged. Innovative designers like Raeburn are now sourcing such unwanted materials to use and to transform their own collections. Increasingly more recently a circular way of making and reusing has been acknowledged given that the planets resources are finite. This designer has proven that by using what is already available he can still design and make collections that people want to buy with functional sportswear ranges. Through going straight to the source including the Ministry of Defence and buying online from eBay he continues to model positive environmental credentials for others to follow. He has acknowledged that you can both look good and do good at the same time through reduce, reuse, and recycle using innovative strategies, materials, technology, and techniques.

The Spanish fashion brand Ecoalf was founded on the principles of recycling and developed a sustainable ethos of only using 100% recycled materials. Such materials stem from discarded fishing nets, post-consumer plastic bottles, worn-out tyres, post-industrial cotton, and coffee grinds to make outerwear, swimsuits, sneakers and accessories. The main raw materials however are the recycled polyester from polyethylene terephthalate or PET bottles and nylon from the fishing nets.  Ecoalf stated “In order to ensure 100% transparency and provide the highest levels of quality, our team manages the full process from waste collection to recycling technologies, manufacture, design and retail.” Their focus is on clearing the Mediterranean Sea of its plastic waste, of working in collaboration with the crews from fishing boats to retrieve and separate out the plastic rubbish from the fish. In utilising such waste Ecoalf recycles one ton of plastic from the sea every day including 70,000,000 plastic bottles and 60 tonnes of fishing nets.

Ecoalf (2019-20) PET Jacket from current outdoor range of clothing

More recently there has been a heightened range of eco-friendly artistic initiatives to promote awareness of climate change including the loss of biodiversity which has brought new meaning to the artists’ works which I can relate with. The Art of Pennsylvania represents one of dozens which is a non-profit community art centre whose aim is to inspire and support artists to develop their skills by using items regarded as waste or are produced in excess of actual demand. The ultimate objective is to create generations of artists who themselves are more environmentally conscious and who then have the capability to educate and inform generations of this urgent need for increased environmental sustainability through their art. Many artists are involved and many produce fantastic large-scale thought-provoking works. One of the most striking is artist-sculptor El Anatsui who uses thousands of aluminium bottle tops to create cloth-like installations. Anatsui’s main themes surround consumption, transformation, and the environment. He views these bottle caps as symbols relating to the history of Africa when the earliest group of Europeans arrived to trade. Apart from bottle caps, Anatsui also used found materials such as old milk tins, railway sleepers, driftwood, iron nails and printing plates to highlight the value in a range of reused materials previously regarded as waste (Cotter, 2013).

El Anatsui (2009) In the World, But don’t know the World? Aluminium and Copper Wire. Private collection. Photo: Jonathan Greet, courtesy October Gallery, London
El Anatsui (2010) Gli (Wall): Aluminium and copper wire. New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman called them, “great chain-mail tapestries,” the works’ glittering metallic surfaces and patterns also recall kente cloth, the emblematic fabric of Ghana.
El Anatsui (2006) Detail of Taago: Metal Cloth. Large Scale Installation made from aluminium and copper wire. Woven Tapestries to represent cultural identity and the environment.

In considering my own creative practice with making and materials, of my own relating with the threatened environment, of the fading and disappearance of multiple marine and coastal ecosystems I was led by the need to promote further the pressing priority for environmental sustainability, to live in ways which are conducive to and with the environment through my making. Every creative decision which was made reflected favourably upon the environment and minimising waste, of only using what I needed, of selecting reclaimed materials, of repurposing, and reusing as part of my making process. Of the use of imprints from prints through layers of reclaimed sheer muslin was based upon the portrayal of the context and themes of fragility, breaking down, disintegration, and disappearance. The larger scale screen printed processes included paired back and restricted colour palettes… worn and antiqued versions of colour were deeply influenced from early life experiencing on the Fife coast…the grey skies, blue sea, white clouds, and streaks of battered sands, of imprints left from earlier times as imbued with meaning centred upon my own identity and sense of self coupled with loss and change.

Morris (2020) Passing from Sight: Implicit Traces and Imprints of Environmental Breakdown within the Print on Repurposed Sheer Muslin. Use of an antiqued and worn colour palette of printing inks. (1.3 x 5 metres)
Morris (2020) Passing from Sight: Implicit Traces and Imprints of Environmental Breakdown within the Print on Repurposed Sheer Muslin. Use of an antiqued and worn colour palette of printing inks. (1.3 x 5 metres)

The fragility of the sheer muslin to look at and to touch highlighted this sense of brittleness with its fraying, disruption, and broken parts. I felt that through this environmentally conscious process of making and relating respectfully to the materials in use I was communicating effectively this core need to use, reuse, reclaim and repurpose to minimise waste, of fulfilling my responsibility of supporting the environment and encouraging others to support the environment through my own creative practice.

Morris (2020) Passing from Sight: Implicit Traces and Imprints of Environmental Breakdown within the Print on Repurposed Sheer Muslin. Use of an antiqued and worn colour palette of printing inks. (1.3 x 5 metres)

Conclusion- Material Innovation and the Environment: Positive Change?

How can innovative materials support a more environmentally sustainable way of living?

Through reviewing the literature there were endless current and forthcoming ideas for new material development under the auspices of environmental sustainability. Given the word count for this critical review so much had to be left out. That said environmental sustainability is not only about reducing waste during the end-of-life cycle but cutting consumption from the outset, of making and using only what is needed and required, no more. Of course, technological advancement is important but through this review process there was insufficient evidence to support such a scale of new material development and production solely for environmental gain. Instead, it appeared that the increased supply of new materials fed and fuelled an ever-increasing demand rather than being about the environment itself. There was a noted correlation between increased production with greater consumption and increased demand for more material production. Reframing unhelpful beliefs concerning innovative materials away from new and best to increasingly rescript towards the innovative use of materials which are already available, to educate and re-educate to develop norms concerning value with continuing use and reuse.  

How are materials being used in an innovative context using modern day technology and traditional processes?

Through the review process and re-evaluating what I know and understand about innovation I have come to an entirely different perspective about what innovation can mean and refer to. Being infused with science and technology from an early age I used to think that innovation reflected what was new and best but more recently I have come to realise it is about worth. The meaning of innovation is so often encapsulated as doing, as it is crucial to the continuing success of any organization and through this it has been increasingly applied to saving energy, reducing waste, and helping the environment. Admittedly while some innovative processes, systems and products are of technological and environmental worth many are not. Even within the arena of recycling from old to new the environment can be compromised. Recycling means turning a range of materials into raw materials which can be used again for a completely new material which can involve energy consuming processes and procedures. Admittedly this has the potential to reduce waste disposal but often it can mean transforming useful materials such as plastic and textiles into new materials. Considerable resources are often used to transport, reprocess, and reassemble recyclable materials which can be expensive and costly to the environment. There was acknowledgement however of increased environmental benefits when local communities were directly involved with the locally based designers and makers to reclaim and reuse materials in ways which forge greater links with identity, meaning and the environment.  In considering this the use of more traditional processes and materials to design, make and consume seemed to take precedence when a material was coveted, used, reused, repurposed, kept and valued as something regarded as unique and superior as filled with meaning for the maker and the consumer. The relationship with materials appears to contrast sharply when mass produced with little meaning and reverence so are readily discarded and quickly considered as waste without value.

What is driving the application of innovative materials and how has this been informed by the past and influenced by the present and future?

From the review the speed of technological and scientific advancement has increasingly quickened since the industrial revolution but especially so within the last eighty years with industry and production methods expected to continue to transform and change to somehow keep pace with expectation and abreast of innovation. Such need for change seemed to be heralded by reduced costs to the organisation, to the environment, with less use of scarce resources. Many designers and makers can often appear trapped within a perpetual cycle of growth to meet actual and perceived societal and business demand. For example, while new synthetic fabric can be viewed as innovative in its own right given the environmental context if this fabric is however additional to what is required or fails to effectively replace to avoid environmental depletion then their overall usefulness can be challenged. If new biomaterials can be made with zero waste and pollution to reduce the need for harmful material production methods, then such slower making processes can be validated if need has been substantiated. The development, making and application of such innovative materials can therefore reconnect maker with consumer and with what is wanted, needed, and required to challenge the pursuit of constant consumerism, preoccupation, and disconnection. More recently there has been an increased focus and need to slow down and pay attention, to appreciate and value more to need less, to connect with sustainability and more traditional making processes to foster more meaningful relationships with the material to value quality over quantity.

What role can the individual play in the progressive use of materials to promote environmental sustainability?

As I researched, I became increasingly aware that the following Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle which are often used to describe the core components of environmentally responsible development, production and consumer behaviour was not always what it seemed and can be used to promote further consumption. Indeed, there are six Rs that makers and designers need to keep in mind regarding the environment centred around rethink, refuse and repair, of making and consuming environmentally supportive quality materials which last and do not need to be instantly replaced which goes beyond material making and incapsulates changes in how we see ourselves and the environment. It is about the relationship we foster with materials in the first instance, of the meanings we subscribe to making and materials which determines how we use and care for the material. For the Japanese, an additional R is structured around respect for the item or material itself which acts as the core motivator for value and retention, to have and to keep only what is meaningful and of worth from the outset to give no cause for waste.

Initial making with meaning and repurposing the materials themselves through repair and reuse instead of recycling has the potential to encourage keeping materials and not discarding. Reusing does not need remanufacture and creates little waste and pollution. Ultimately reduced consumption has been shown through this research process to mean the most with the greatest potential for environmental gain. The greatest need for change lies within all of us to make conscious decisions about what we consume, what we need and do not need to live fulfilling and meaningful lives, of the need to put social and mental wellbeing over material wealth and gain, to decrease consumerism to promote sustainable lifestyles. I have increasingly focused my creative practice upon relating with materials, and making to derive meaning from using, reusing, reclaiming, and repurposing what is readily available locally to work in ways which best sustain and promote the environment using waste and the creation of no waste. Ultimately it is up to all individuals to live in ways which support local communities to thrive through an ethos of respect, value and worth of making and materials and the amelioration of waste. Beyond reduced consumption the priority then is to increasingly make sure that material resources are used more efficiently and kept in use for longer to minimise waste and reduce its environmental impacts by promoting use, reuse, and repurposing. To work towards eliminating all avoidable waste by 2050 and all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042, to secure clean, healthy, productive, and biologically led environments including diverse seas, oceans and coastal ecosystems (HM Government, 2018).



New materials and their potential use

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Condliffe, J. (2013) Five New materials that will Shape the Future. Available at  (Accessed 18th July 2020)

Franklin, K. and Till, C. (2019) Radical Matter: Rethinking Materials for a Sustainable Future. Second Edition. London. Thames and Hudson.

Garaba, S.P. and Dierssen, H.M. (2018) An Airborne remote Sensing Case Study of Synthetic Hydrocarbon Detection using Short Wave Infrared Absorption Features from Marine-Harvested Macro- and Microplastics. Remote Sensing of Environment. 205, pp.224-235

Gelo, G. (2012) On Research Methods and their Philosophical Assumptions: Raising the Consciousness of Researchers again. Psychotherapy and Social Science: Journal of Qualitative Research and Clinical Practice. 14 (2), pp.111–130

Hitti, N. (2019) Dezeen’s Top Ten Innovative Materials of 2019. Available at (Accessed 17th February 2020)

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(Word count including references, headings and excluding core text = 1,500)


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