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Can Fashion Technology Purify the Air?


Maria Jaber

When two different worlds of an artist and a scientist collide, the potential of a more beautiful cleaner reality is shaped. In 2008, the Catalytic Clothing Project was initiated by artist / designer Helen Storey, a professor of fashion and science at the London College of Fashion, and chemist Tony Ryan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the faculty of science at the University of Sheffield. Their aim was to use their best knowledge and practices in fashion and science to create a better breathable world.

Fashion Technology to Purify the Air

Textiles to Purify the Air

Technically speaking, catalytic clothing attempts to make use of recent discoveries in nanotechnology by applying it to textiles to purify the air. This technology has the ability to break down air borne pollutants by using the power of a photocatalystthe process of accelerating a chemical reaction by light. In simple terms, an additive that contains the technology will be added to the traditional laundry procedure and will transform our daily clothes into air purifiers that acts as long as we are moving and exposed to light.

The public was introduced to the fashion technology and breathable technology concept through a succession of exciting cultural events and art installations. The founding father of catalytic clothing‘s cultural interventions is Herself; a couture textile sculpture made from fabric coated with titania loaded cement and blue dye. Definitely, this is one of the best illustrators of the intricate design abilities of the designer and the powerful scientific force of nanotechnology. In addition to being exhibited in Sheffield October 2010, Newcastle University 2011 and FuturoTextiles exhibition 2013 in France, “Herself” was highlighted through The Catalytic Clothing Film directed by Adam Mufti and featured the British super model Erin O’connor as “Herself”.

Fashion Technology to Purify the Air
Prof Tony Ryan and Prof Helen Storey Edinburgh Science Festival

The World’s First Air Purifying Jeans

The second endeavour was entitled Field of Jeans. By using jeans as one of the most commonly used fashion items, Field of Jeans aimed at stressing the potential of transforming ordinary people into an extraordinary movement. The installation probably featured the world’s first air purifying jeans.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the red planet dresses that were donated by Professor Helen Storey herself. The dresses were part of her personal archive and are sprayed with the air purifying technology TiO2, titanium dioxide that transformed these beautifully designed couture dresses into walking air purifiers.

According to the University of Sheffield, “the exposure to air borne pollutants presents a risk to human health and also has a detrimental effect on ecosystems and vegetation. Air pollution is currently estimated to reduce the life expectancy of every person in the UK by an average of 7-8 months. The widespread introduction of catalytic clothing would dramatically reduce the level of air borne pollutants, thereby improving the quality of life for all members of society”.

There is something quite romantic about the whole concept of this project. The union of two seemingly different fields, the sense of community in which this technology gives people the power to fix their own wrongdoing, and ultimately, the use of fashion and science for the good of society.

Fashion Technology to Purify the Air
Helen Storey and Trish Belford making HERSELF. Credit Aoife Ludlow
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