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Designers, including fashion designers, are increasingly aware of the fact that their products will eventually be recycled. This ‘design4recyling’ principle is based on guidelines that indicate what designers need to take account of in the design process so that their products can be 100 per cent recyclable.

Lastly, there are designers who take a more political stance as hackers in an attempt to deplete the enormous amounts of unsold clothes generated by the Fast Fashion industry. This so-called ‘dead stock’ is their material. They adapt the design or customise it in order to make it more attractive. In this way these ‘waste’ garments find their way to customers rather than ending up in landfill sites. See, for example, the project Hacked by Van Slobbe Van Benthum, and the work of Conny Groenewegen.

In fibre production in the Netherlands there is now a keen awareness that flax and hemp are much more ‘climate neutral’ than cotton and that until well into the nineteenth century these crops were widely used for making linen and canvas. This realisation has led to a ‘green deal’, in which the Ministry of Economic Affairs has partnered with businesses to set up educational programmes for the cultivation of and processing of hemp. Farmers are encouraged to grow hemp and are being educated on how to use all parts of the plant: in textiles, cattle feed, building insulation and composite materials.

The technological solution

It is often assumed that natural materials are more sustainable than their synthetic counterparts because they are made from renewable raw materials. But the development of innovative, smart materials can contribute to the greening of the clothing industry, and the combination of new textile technologies and IT can increase the efficiency of clothing production.

For example, the Japanese chemical and pharmaceutical company Teijin has employed mimicry to develop Morphotex, a coloured fibre that contain no dyes or pigments, thus reducing water and energy consumption and industrial waste. The fabric is inspired by the wings of the morpho butterfly found in the Amazon rainforest. In flight the butterflies seem to disappear in the blue sky. The butterfly’s metallic blue colour derives not from pigment but from the structure of microscopic light-reflecting scales on its wings. For Morphotex, Tejin developed a similar structure that reflects light to produce colour (O’Mahony 2013: 179). The Austrian Lenzing Group has used nanotechnology to develop a fibre called Tencel from wood pulp and the Austrian yarn manufacturer Schoeller Spinning Group has introduced a mix of merino wool and inox (stainless-steel) that makes the fibres stronger and more resilient and therefore longer-lasting (O’Mahony 2013: 180). New fibres such as these are distinguished by a new aesthetic and new material characteristics. Designer Jef Montes explores the beauty of technological fibres, mostly developed for technical applications, by incorporating them within his couture.

That biological processes can help to make the fashion system more sustainable is evident in the work of designers such as Suzanne Lee. For several years she has been developing a leather-like fabric from the layer of cellulose that forms on the surface of tea. Plants and bacteria can also assist in more sustainable methods of dyeing fibres. Neffa by Aniela Hoitink, is an example. On a more fundamental level, Carole Collet, professor of Design for Sustainable Futures at Central Saint Martins in London, is exploring the use of genetic technologies to allow fabrics to grow on plants (Teunissen 2014:33).

The interplay between sustainable concepts and technology has brought about radical changes in the traditional process of making clothes: from drawing to pattern to stitched panels. The rapidly advancing field of 3D printing is a good example: the Electroloom, a technology for 3D-printing fabrics is currently being tested. Experiments are also being carried out with 3D scanning the body to create a mould for making clothes that require no traditional patternmaking or sewing. Li Edelkoort has predicted a future in which people can download patterns from an open-source platform to make their own Dior dresses. And so we return to the nostalgia of homemade clothing, only now it is made to measure. 

These technological innovations not only effect sustainability but also influence the communication and meaning of clothing and fashion. There is an important role for technologically advanced materials – so-called smart fabrics – that can measure temperature, make emotions visible through colour or react to external factors such as air quality. Pauline van Dongen, for example, has explored how light in clothing reacts when a group of joggers train together.

Smart fabrics change the relationship between clothing and the wearer, thus altering the meaning of the clothes. They strengthen the body by supporting movement or they make the wearer (and others) aware of the body’s condition or response to external conditions. The question remains whether we will wear such items in order to communicate who we are as individuals or in order to interact with others. Smart clothing can become a cocoon from within which we communicate with others at a distance or indeed with ourselves because it permanently confronts us with our own body and the bodily functions it records. Like Slow Fashion and the circular economy, this Smart Fashion will shape future definitions of our concept of fashion. All these new tendencies will eventually make the dream world of magic and glamour served up by big fashion brands, fashion shows and magazines seem outmoded while fashion’s tangible, concrete dimension – the power of craftsmanship and its timeless and durable aspects – will gain ground.


This article is an elaboration of research carried out for the exhibition Fashion Data and draws upon findings that were published in A Fashion Odyssey (ArtEZ Press, 2013). 


Banz, Claudia en Schulze, Sabine Fast FashionHamburg, Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, 2015.

Black, Sandy Eco-chic The Fashion ParadoxLondon, Black Dog Publishing, 2008.

Brand, Jan en Teunissen, José A Fashion OdysseyArnhem ArtEZ Press, 2013.

Clark, Hazel, ‘SLOW + FASHION – an Oxymoron – or a promise for the Future?’ in Fashion Theory, deel. 12, nr 4, 2008, pp. 427-446.

Lipovetsky, Gilles ‘Moderne Luxe, Postmoderne Luxe’  in (ed.) Jan Brand, José Teunissen.

Mode & Accessoires. Arnhem, ArtEZ Press & Terra. 2007 pp 28-41.

Scheffer, Michiel, “Problemen en de aanpak ervan,’ in (ed) Jan Brand, José Teunissen, Fashion Odyssey. Arnhem ArtEZ Press, 2013, pp86-106)

Teunissen, José, Mode in Nederland. Arnhem, Terra, 2006.

Teunissen, José, ‘The Future of Fashion is Now,’ in (ed) Jan Brand, Jose Teunissen The Future of Fashion is Now. Rotterdam, Boijmans. 2014 pp 12-26.

Vivian Hendriksz, Fashion United website, 'De dood van de mode leidt tot honger naar iets nieuws: de emancipatie van alles', 03/12/2016. (Dutch only). 

Routekaart Tapijt 2030 



From Claudia Banz and Sabine Schulze, Fast Fashion, Hamburg: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe. 2015

Janne Kromhout, 'Sta droog!' One World website 

Greenpeace, 'De vuile was van de kledingindustrie', 2011


With thanks to Modint, Matthijs Crietee

Temporary Fashion Museum
Guus Beumer
Maureen Mooren

This project is part of the programme track Things and Materials and the folder Material innovation.

Fashion has quietly renewed the very idea of renewal by constantly selling the past as a future, thereby framing current reality. This contrasts sharply with the idea that renewal always stems from technological innovation.