Science and Fashion Work Together Creating Social Innovation Fabrics

Engineers in China have created a social innovation self-cleaning cotton fabric. It has a chemical coating that causes the cotton materials to clean themselves of stains and remove odours when exposed to sunlight. The treatment is cheap, non-toxic and ecologically friendly. This study was carried out by researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Hubei University for Nationalities.

Retail experts believe this social innovation could be a big hit with retailers thanks to a growing demand for "functional clothing." The study focuses on titanium dioxide, a chemical known to be a fantastic catalyst in the breakdown of organic pollutants. In fact, the material is already used in self-cleaning windows, odour-free socks and stay-clean kitchen and bathroom tiles.

The team's breakthrough was to create a nanoparticle (nanotechnology is the science of the very small) of an alcohol-based compound made up of chemicals - titanium dioxide and nitrogen. To test the effectiveness of their social innovation invention, the scientists marked the fabrics with an orange dye stain and exposed them to the sun. After two hours in the sunlight, the team found 71 per cent of the stain had disappeared. The experiment was repeated on the same cloth five times with the same results. Moreover, washing and drying the material did not reduce its effectiveness. The clothing industry are said to be paying attention to this process, especially if it can be rolled-out on an industrial scale.

Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Sheffield and the London College of Fashion in the U.K. are using science and fashion to explore how to develop new types of social innovation textiles. These two organisations have created Catalytic Clothing to see how clothing and textiles can be used to purify the air around the people wearing treated clothes. Big retailers such as Wal-Mart in the U.S., and Marks and Spencers in the U.K. are keen to see how this apparel develops, as it would dramatically enhance their basic clothing lines.

Catalytic Clothing also launched a film starring supermodel Erin O’Connor with music from Radiohead. The film intertwines fashion, social innovation, science and music to create a message of inspiration to change the world. Catalytic Clothing’s message is a clear one with the tag line - “Join us. Shape your world.” I believe that when we come together are we able to make cool things happen.

Photo Credit: Thomas Fano