TT: What are some of the emerging applications of technical textiles?
Technical textiles covers a huge range of products. From medical textiles and agro textiles, it goes all the way up to bio composites and fibre reinforced composites. Now there is emerging traffic into all of these areas. In medical textiles, for instance, it was always used for things like wound dressing, medical gown etc to counteract hospital acquired infection. But more and more medical textiles are now being used in implantable devices and drug delivery. Thus, the applications that you can do with technical textiles is increasing. There is a lot of research going on in every aspect of technical textiles. In short, though technical textiles existed for a very long time, today there is a renewed energy in research and finding products with technical textiles.
TT: What are some innovations in technical textiles that will shape the future of this industry?
In principle, if you look at applications like medical textiles or composites or agro textiles, mainly for medical textiles, for example, the price point of the products are much higher than the conventional products that the textile industry manufacturers. So more the industry adopts technical textiles, more the price point will go up, more there will be lucrative opportunities for the industry and that in turn will completely shape the direction of the industry.
TT: What new research is being undertaken at the Technical Textiles Research Centre (TTRC) at the University of Huddersfield?
Due to commercial confidentiality, we cannot divulge much details, but we are doing work in medical textiles and composites. We are part of some big commercial opportunities and grants like Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) creative economy funded Future Fashion Factory, which is a £5.4 million initiative between University of Leeds, University of Huddersfield and Royal College of Art.
TT: What are some of the core areas within the technical textiles sector that you are focusing on at the TTRC?
We are really working with a lot of different industries to solve real life problems that they face. We are also doing a lot of work on textile recycling, and we have active grants for the same. We are trying to find practical and cost-effective ways of recycling and repurposed textiles.
TT: Please tell us about the Textiles 2030 agreement and what role you play in it?
Textiles 2030 is a voluntary agreement which is managed by WRAP. We want to decrease 50 per cent carbon and 30 per cent water of the textile industry by 2030. It is a voluntary agreement and a lot of retailers have already signed up to it. They include John Lewis, M&S, Next, Primark, Tesco etc. The agreement aims to accelerate the UK fashion and textiles industry towards a circular economy.
TT: What are the top three challenges for the textile industry to be sustainable?
The biggest challenge is the mindset. Since the textile industry is a very cost driven industry, we have to rethink about it, we have to rethink about all the chemicals that we are using, all the processes that we are using, and the carbon footprint of that.
That leads to the next challenge where narratives around sustainability needs to change and that is a big challenge to number driven approach. So, we have to integrate proper lifecycle analysis into every thinking process that should be part of the framework. In our R&D and in our industry production, this is the second and the biggest challenge.
The third challenge is—since the textile industry is also a very water driven process—to sincerely think about the water footprint; how in every step we can replace the use of gallons and gallons of water which invariably leads to the thought challenge, i.e., to do that, we probably need a huge amount of capital investment for the industry, so on and so forth. So how to sustain that growth will be the third challenge.
TT: How do the programmes at the University of Huddersfield help overcome some of these challenges?
Throughout the education ecosystem, we try to incorporate sustainability as the most important pillar. So, students are taught in a way that in every thought process and every R&D action in their working life, they will not only keep sustainability as a cornerstone, but will keep sustainability as a primary pillar for their decision making. We try very hard to shape the education in a way that number driven approach to sustainability becomes the heart of their thinking process.
(Interviewer: Shilpi Panjabi)