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UK Fashion Looks to R&D to Boost Productivity, Sustainability

The U.K. fashion industry is embarking on two multi-stakeholder schemes to promote its capacities for creativity, agility and sustainability.

The first, known as Future Fashion Factory, is a 5.4 million-pound ($7.1 million) initiative that will leverage the expertise of partners like Burberry, the Royal College of Art, Wools of New Zealand, Wooltex U.K., the British Fashion Council and the U.K. Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) to explore and develop new digital and advanced textile technologies.

Led by the University of Leeds, its goal is to help designers and manufacturers work more collaboratively to shorten product development and design lead times, lower costs, eliminate waste and “substantially” increase global industrial competitiveness and productivity.

“Future Fashion Factory is about driving innovation and digitization throughout the manufacturing process of U.K. clothing and textiles, and digitizing the link between brands and retailers to shorten timescales around sampling and development,” Adam Mansell, CEO of UKFT and chairman of the project, said in a statement. “It’s about creating efficiencies and improving high-value, luxury design processes.”

Achieving this will require a “convergence of new digital and textile technologies” within the fashion design process, said Stephen Russell, professor of textile materials and technology at the University of Leeds School of Design.

“Collaborative research and development by creative companies across the supply chain is fundamental to ensuring future growth, and harnessing U.K. design and manufacturing assets is central to our strategy,” he said.

The three-year effort will also inform the creation of a new fashion-design degree and industrial apprenticeship programs to address a skills gap in the industry for multidisciplinary designers who are as competent in science and technology as they are in art and design.

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A second initiative, the 5.5 million-pound ($7.2 million) Business of Fashion, Textiles and Technology Collaborative, endeavors to wield research and development to catalyze textile innovation for small and medium-size enterprises.

The five-year project, which is spearheaded by University of the Arts London (UAL) and includes Asos, Clarks, the British Fashion Council, the London Legacy Development Corporation and the Centre for Fashion Enterprise among its partners, will feature work streams dedicated to sustainable business practices, rethinking the industry’s reliance on synthetic materials, developing new sustainable materials and “building critical mass” in new modes of manufacturing for fashion and textiles, according to Graeme Evans, professor of creative and cultural economy at UAL and director of the collaborative.

“We look forward to working with industry and with university partners, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and our fellow creative industry clusters so that this key sector can secure a sustainable future that thrives in the global marketplace,” he said in a statement.

Both Future Fashion Factory and the Business of Fashion, Textiles and Technology Collaborative are part of the AHRC’s Creative Clusters Industry Programme, an 80 million-pound ($105 million) effort, delivered on the behalf of the government-funded organization U.K. Research and Innovation, to bring together world-class researchers, top-performing creative businesses and members of industry to investigate new ways of boosting their sectors.

Other clusters include StoryFutures, which will delve into immersive storytelling through smart devices, artificial intelligence and data-driven personalization, and Creative Canal, a group that will develop novel products and services for sustainable, affordable and distributed ways of working.