Future Fashion Factory supports more sustainable fashion innovation projects
Twelve collaborative R&D projects were successful in Future Fashion Factory’s latest round of R&D grant funding, taking the total investment in fashion and textile innovation secured so far to just over £3.3 million.
Embracing a variety of tools and approaches to achieve agile, profitable, sustainable fashion and textile manufacturing in the UK, the projects enable businesses to solve pressing industry challenges through collaborative research with industry and academic partners.
Independent fashion brands, heritage Yorkshire mills, and manufacturers at each stage of the fashion and textile value chain are among the successful businesses.
Together they are addressing challenges such as using waste as a raw material in a circular economy, integrating AI into intelligent data-driven design and manufacturing, and developing the UK’s agile manufacturing and product development capabilities to support re-shoring.
Future Fashion Factory is part of the Creative Industries Clusters Programme, an £80 million initiative led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The Programme is led by the University of Leeds in partnership with the University of Huddersfield and Royal College of Art.
Projects will tackle challenges including:
- Communicating accurate colour information digitally without sending physical yarn samples (Abraham Moon & Sons)
- New tools and technologies enabling UK fashion ‘micro-factories’ (Assyst Bullmer)
- Testing the user journey for an AI-driven virtual bra fitting service (Brarista)
- Integrated, intuitive, user customized design platform for fashion creatives (Digitoile)
- A circular manufacturing process for sustainable running shoes (Hylo Athletics)
- A robotic prototype of a combined digital-design-engineering system for 3D weaving (Optima 3D)
- Developing AI and machine learning to automate factory planning (Pennine Weavers)
- An advanced, circular swimwear material made from waste synthetic sportswear (RubyMoon Gym to Swim)
- High-quality yarns for the luxury fashion market from Yorkshire-grown hemp (SeFF Fibre)
- Biodegradable sequins made from waste and industrial by-products (The Sustainable Sequin Company)
- A new weaving facility to test cutting-edge performance fabrics in the UK (Vorteq Sports)
- A proof-of-concept collection of 3D-woven trousers (Weffan)
Professor Stephen Russell, Director of Future Fashion Factory, said: “The fashion and textile industry has a huge role to play in achieving Net Zero and tackling other environmental challenges, as well as in creating economic opportunities by supporting the sustainable growth of design and manufacturing in the UK.
“These projects reflect the commitment of businesses to innovation that will help the industry meet these ambitions by reducing waste, using alternative materials, and enabling accurate digital communication about garments and fabrics so that only what is necessary, is made.”
Discover more about the projects below
Abraham Moon & Sons
Luxury fabric manufacturers work with colour yarn suppliers in the UK and worldwide. Physical samples are shipped between the mill and suppliers to be checked, and if a shade is rejected, production delays, additional costs and waste ensues. This project will develop a new digital system that generates accurate, calibrated colour measurement information and communicates this to suppliers and customers around the world. Making decisions immediate will enable shorter lead times and better accuracy, as well as significantly reducing waste associated with raw materials, energy and transport – reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing luxury fabric.
This project will explore how recent innovations in the automotive and aerospace sectors could accelerate the development of ‘micro-factories’ for the UK fashion industry, incorporating small-scale tools, robotics and digital technologies. Designers, engineers and manufacturers will co-develop and test new machinery and processes, empowering UK fashion manufacturers to achieve world-leading standards.
Martin Sofranko, Account Manager at Assyst Bullmer: “We are excited to be part of the project to enable the transfer of some of the latest technologies, which we have been developing, for use in Micro factories. In the last few years, we have been heavily involved in integration of Robotics and Automation with our Bullmer CNC cutting machines. This is a new field, which promises wide range of opportunities for UK based fashion companies to automate their productions.”
Brarista’s AI-driven bra-fitting tool will enable every consumer to find the right fit using their phone’s camera. In collaboration with behavioural psychologists, this project will test and improve user interaction and experience by understanding how to ensure consumer confidence in a virtual bra fitting service.
Bella Ngo, co-founder and CEO: “We are extremely excited to be working with such reputable individuals, and for the opportunity to include this research in the evolution of our product. The outcome of this project will enable us to bring to market a product which will disrupt an industry and positively impact the health of bra-wearers everywhere.”
Working with fashion designers and software developers, Digitoile will develop a platform that promotes experimentation, harnessing opportunities in creative digital design and liberating digital and non-digital designers from physical and wasteful processes.
Kathryn McGee, founder: “Finding digital solutions for creative experimentation will be an asset to the Fashion community, to enhance the early stages of design ideation in a fast-evolving digital landscape. I can’t wait to get started on this project to begin the development of these tools.”
This project will trial new end-of-life recycling processes for Hylo Athletics’ high-performance and materially innovative running shoes, supporting their development of a circular manufacturing model where used footwear can be recycled back into new products.
Michael Doughty, co-founder and managing director: “We are very grateful to have the support of the FFF in our pursuit to ensure that Hylo takes accountability for its products from beginning to end.”
This project will develop a robotic prototype of a combined digital-design-engineering system for 3D weaving of textile products. It will enable fully integrated on-loom production of 3D-woven pieces, opening up creative and commercial possibilities outside the constraints of conventional weaving technologies.
Production planning for bespoke luxury fabric manufacturers is a complex and time-consuming task, requiring in-depth technical knowledge and precision. Using machine learning and AI techniques, this project will develop an intelligent digital system to maximise the efficacy and efficiency of premium fabric manufacturing – reducing lead times, costs, risk and waste.
Gary Eastwood, Managing Director: “Pennine Weavers and our software partner Juno Software are delighted that our project has been approved by FFF. Pennine Weavers has always prided itself at being at the forefront of systems development and implementation in the textile industry and we believe this project will not only have benefits for Pennine Weavers but potentially the whole industry. Working alongside the University of Leeds we believe we can develop an AI-based planning system which will maximise effectiveness and efficiency of the resources employed internally, and deliver considerable benefits to both our customers and suppliers.”
RubyMoon Gym to Swim
Sportswear made from synthetic materials can be difficult to recycle because of the limitations of existing sorting techniques when faced with mixed fibre materials. RubyMoon Gym to Swim is investigating how to break down and reconstitute synthetic fibre activewear so it can be economically re-manufactured into new high-performance swimwear.
Jo Godden, founder of RubyMoon: “We are excited to be part of the FFF programme to accelerate this development in circular economy textiles. The future of textiles is circular and we want to make that future happen now.”
SeFF Fibre’s patented environmentally-friendly cottonisation process enables hemp fibre to be used in high-value apparel applications. This project will go one step further, optimising fibre processing within a Yorkshire supply chain, maximising the quantity of SeFF hemp in fine, high-quality yarns for the luxury fashion industry.
Joshua Nusenbaum, CEO: “We are excited to be awarded this grant and to be working with the University of Leeds and our great project partners. Having already featured in a successful global product launch in the denim industry, we are looking forward to further optimising SeFF hemp for other high value apparel applications.”
The Sustainable Sequin Company
Sequins made from synthetic polymers shimmer on the dancefloor before spending centuries in landfill. This project aims to optimise UK-manufactured, commercially viable biodegradable sequins made from renewable materials including waste and by-products, reducing global demand for oil-based synthetic materials and producing a more sustainable product.
Rachel Clowes, founder: “I am thrilled to begin this project to develop and manufacture biodegradable sequins in the UK supported by Future Fashion Factory and through collaboration with University of Leeds and Royal College of Art. The overall aim is maximum sparkle with minimum adverse environmental impacts; plastic-free sequins which look great, perform perfectly and biodegrade at end of life.”
Vorteq Sports specialises in aerodynamic skinsuits for athletes, ensuring cutting-edge performance on a global scale. Establishing a specialist weaving facility will enable the company to re-shore its materials supply chain and design new innovative high-performance fabrics in the UK.
Rob Lewis, Managing Director: “Vorteq are delighted to be working with Leeds University on this exciting project to develop new aerodynamic fabrics for a wide range of sports. This new capability will compliment and in many ways complete the toolset and capability Vorteq has at Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub.”
Weffan’s 3D woven garment development will offer a sustainable approach to fashion design and manufacturing by eliminating overproduction and waste, through a single-step production process. Weffan’s initial collection of fully-fashioned trouser shapes and styles will experiment with materials and design details for near-zero waste and efficient manufacturing to shorten supply chains for fashion brands.
Graysha Audren, founder: “Weffan revolutionises clothing production by weaving fully-fashioned 3D woven garments reimagined with existing, automated technology.”
UKFT works across a wide range of projects to help the UK industry take full advantage of new technologies and markets and to help change the future landscape of the textile industry in the UK into one where circularity and environmentally sustainable supply chains are the new normal.