The textiles of the future

ZHdK is committed to sustainability. Among other things, decarbonized action is anchored in its sub-strategy for “Operational Sustainability”. One place where this is meant to be implemented is the workshops: knowledge about materials and processing techniques is fundamental to understanding sustainable development. But what might the fabrics of the future look like? Visiting the textiles workshop provides illuminating insights.

LEA DAHINDEN
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An orange pair of linen trousers made at ZHdK: their colour comes from beetroot waste from the canteen, their fabric is made from flax from the roof garden, which is spun and woven into linen in the textiles workshop. When it has served its time, the fabric is exchanged in a circulation zone, modified or reprocessed in a tearing machine. Admittedly, this is a future scenario. But it should not remain a fantasy: “Our recycling rate on campus still has potential,” says Nadja Fässler-Keller, Sustainability Officer at ZHdK Services. ZHdK wants to anchor sustainability in everyday campus life and create an environment that promotes developing solutions for a sustainable ecological, social and economic transformation. To this end, ZHdK Services has developed the “Sustainable Campus” sub-strategy. Besides climate neutrality and decarbonization, the clusters “Natural Resources and Biodiversity,” “Equity and Inclusion,” “Health and Well-being” and “Learning and Working” are particularly relevant to university operations. “Raw materials should be valued everywhere on campus and be brought back into the cycle,” says Fässler-Keller. Also: “It’s not enough to throw old clothes into the nearest collection point.”

From the textiles workshop …

Sigrid Wick agrees that there is a need for action, particularly in textiles. She is the group leader at ZHdK’s 2D teaching workshops and the textiles workshop manager. “Textiles contribute a lot to today’s sustainability debacle,” says Wick. This reasons, she says, include too little transparency in production, the fast-fashion culture, often involving poor workmanship, short-livedness and increasing consumption — and finally, too little knowledge about textiles. “The first improvements are noticeable, but even for me as a textiles specialist, it is almost impossible to find sustainable material,” she sums up the problems.

The colourful diversity of the textile world: How many production steps do you think it takes from raw materials to finished woven, dyed and finished fabrics?

Flea markets and swap meets are hip, sewing tutorials and DIY videos are frequently accessed online. But is that enough? “I see great potential in starting with education,” says Wick, who earned a CAS in Sustainability at the University of Lugano and the Swiss Textile College. Especially more materials knowledge is needed, as her experience at the teaching workshops confirms: “Many students have barely any knowledge about basic materials. Textile raw materials, for example, evoke different wear properties: plant-based textiles are more breathable, while synthetic fibers tend to insulate.” But relying only on plants also falls short. “Nature is growing too slowly to meet our current consumption needs,” Wick explains. She is committed to finding new, creative solutions.

… to material studies

ZHdK offers no materials-focused programmes in the classical sense. Students using the workshops come from various fields, including industrial design, trends & identity, art education or fine arts. “We have experts for wood, textiles and metal. Combining different craft disciplines is where things get exciting,” Wick says. She would like to see more room for experimentation to find new solutions. Raw materials could thus be brought into a cycle or be used in new ways in other contexts. With clothing, the basis would have to be created for textiles to be produced in pure fibers. Buttons and zippers should also be dispensed with.

But where to find sustainable ecological, social and economical textiles? What might such material studies look like at the Toni-Areal? “Experiments with liquid cultures, food or blood,” Wick says, thinking aloud. “It would take refrigerators, storage rooms and, above all, space to enable all these new things to emerge,” she continues.

So instead of flax, will there soon be algae or mushrooms at the Toni-Areal? Will they grow in refrigerators instead of on the roof terrace? Nadja Fässler-Keller and Sigrid Wick hope that sustainability will be given more space and resources. Well-educated students should carry their knowledge of sustainable action into the world. So that we can continue dreaming on planet Earth a little longer.

Sigrid Wick (sigrid.wick@zhdk.ch) is group leader at the 2D teaching workshops and the ZHdK textiles workshop manager.
Nadja Fässler-Keller (nadja.faessler@zhdk.ch) is an advisor to the Director of Adminstration and a sustainability officer at ZHdK Services. She heads the Services Sustainability Working Group and writes the ZHdK Sustainability Report, which is published every two years.
Lea Dahinden was a project manager at ZHdK University Communications.
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