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Textile Toolbox exhibition to explore sustainable textile design

KG 1
KG 1

Written by
Sarah McLean
Published date
05 November 2014

This week sees the launch of an online exhibition, the Textile Toolbox which will be celebrated on 13 November with a 24- hour Pop-Up event at Chelsea College of Arts. Launched by Chelsea’s TED (Textiles Environment Design) research group, the exhibition will showcase ten propositional design concepts inspired by research into the sustainability of the fashion and textile industry.

TED is a research cluster of staff based at Chelsea and is pioneering with its practice-led and practice-based sustainable textile design research. Members of TED are expert practitioners and teachers of a wide range of textile skills and techniques including digital printing, weave, knit and stitch and sustainable print and dye techniques. They form a key part of UAL’s Textile Futures Research Centre (TFRC).

We spoke to TFRC’s Professor Becky Earley about the project and how people can get involved.

Can you tell us about how the Textile Toolbox exhibition came about?

TED is the practice-based design research team within the Mistra (The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research) Future Fashion consortium. Our research project is titled ‘Interconnected design thinking and processes for sustainable textiles and fashion’ (or ‘New Design Processes’ for short!) and is producing the Textile Toolbox exhibition as part of Phase 1 of this project which we have been working on since 2011.  For the exhibition, we have commissioned 10 exhibits that respond to research breakthroughs in the consortium. The new design briefs and resulting artefacts use a range of our research data – from new materials to consumer behavior insights.

The commissioned work is going to be revealed on 13th November 2014, in both an online format and also as a pop-up showcase at Chelsea. The aim of the online-based exhibition format is to reach a vast global community of designers and to establish a dissemination and data collection platform for Swedish fashion and textiles stakeholders. The exhibits are directed largely towards designers in large, medium and small companies, and in education, wherever in the world they may be.

Tell us more about TED’s work.

TED’s expertise is strategic design thinking for sustainable textiles, resulting in the development and application of ‘The TEN’, a set of design strategies for textile designers. TED’s The TEN were co-developed by me, Professor Kay Politowicz and the team at TED between 2006 – 2010. They are sustainable strategies which aim to help designers reduce the environmental impact of textile design, production, use and disposal. They are a framework for creative thinking and action. As ideas emerge, The TEN can be used to develop layers of strategic innovation – a chance to redesign and improve, or simply to communicate concepts and products more clearly.

Please tell us about a couple of your favorite design discoveries that the works in the exhibition respond to.

Each exhibit will apply TED’s ‘layered thinking’ and connect more than one of The TEN strategies in the outcome. Most of all we want the exhibits to provoke thought, then actions. The exhibits are ‘provotypes’ – prototypes that provoke debate. We have played with The TEN cards to create ‘hands’: each prototype has a ‘lead card’ or strategy that has inspired it, e.g. cyclability, and then used other strategies to build the idea into a more sophisticated design brief. The 10 new garments in the exhibition use layered thinking rather than reflect each of the individual strategies per se.

The provocations vary – from asking questions about technology and processes for the future, to how business models and consumer behaviors need to change. Here are a few of them:

  • How can we make fast fashion genuinely faster, and ‘lighter’?
  • How can the use of laser technologies lead us to more localised production?
  • How can the consumer extend the life of their garments – either at home, within a retail environment, or in a social space?
  • How can the multitude of small makers join forces to create new economic models for fashion?
  • How can a design toolbox enable box designers and consumers to make innovative, bespoke digital fashion fabric?
  • What tools and skills do designers need if they are to go outside they comfort zones and contribute to social change in other, less developed cultures?

The commissioned projects are being mapped against scientific collaborators and industry peer review partners to develop a connectivity map of the design research and its related industry. Part of the success of the work is the link to other researchers in the consortium – we believe we are being pioneering in the way we are pursuing collaboration across disciplines and even cultures.

Will there be a chance for other people to get involved in the exhibition? How?

In the exhibition there are fashion shoot images, still images, close ups and sketch book images, films about the making process, texts and web-links, a resources section for download, and a survey to take part in to help us build our data.

We are inviting a global audience of designers to visit the site, sign up and submit design projects for our Open Gallery space. We will invite each submission to use the TED strategies, and to apply a layered approach with the strategies to articulate the work. We will select the ten projects that demonstrate the most interconnected design approaches – innovative systemic and material approaches for textile design that fuse different disciplines in one original design proposal. We want the prototypes to provoke debate, and conversations to ripple out – leading to real change.

We are also inviting visitors to review our exhibition, (please contact to get in touch) and the versatile format of the live Pop Up display will offer the opportunity for the exhibition to travel widely and to be set up in other partner institutions and organisations.

What other projects are you currently involved in?

All our design research is about educating, inspiring and guiding the designer – from the individual in education or in an enterprise to teams in large companies. At Chelsea, TED’s research is integrated in the curriculum at both BA and MA level through tailored The TEN workshops or specific lecture programs. In order to enable the understanding of sustainable design strategies in a more effective and timely manner – we have recently completed a series of short animated films, to help participants grasp the essential considerations for textile and fashion designers to embrace in their day-to-day practice. The TED team have been writing scripts over the last year, Ana Diaz (MA Textiles graduate from Chelsea) from SokFok Studio was the animator, and the project was funded by CLTAD, TFRC and Chelsea research. See our The TEN webpage to watch the animations and read more about each strategy.

Recently, the TED work has been exploring what design strategies are needed in a circular economy – a hot topic right now – and one which TED are well placed to answer, having conducted research into design for ‘upcycling’ through an AHRC project in 2005 – 2009. We have just submitted a Mistra phase 2 and an EU funding proposal, both of which are concerned with design strategies for the circular economy. Fingers crossed!

We are always working on creative outcomes and craft and making is a shared interest amongst us all here at TED. I will be debating the future of making this month in Nottingham, arguing that technology is helping craft to move forward rather than killing it! You can find out more about the talk on their website.


If you would like to attend the live exhibition at the Banqueting Hall, Chelsea College of Arts on 13 and 14 November, please RSVP to or get in touch with TED for more information about touring the show.

Find out more about TED on their website.

Find out more about studying Textile Design at Chelsea College of Arts on our course pages.