The Future of Textiles & Fabrics: an interview with Anne Marie Commandeur & Liesbeth in ‘t Hout

The textile sector is evolving in many different sectors: the clothing industry, interior design, and technical applications. Textile innovation experts Anne Marie Commandeur and Liesbeth in ‘t Hout will represent the sector Textiles & Fabrics at our annual trade fair MaterialDistrict Rotterdam (formerly Material Xperience). Here, they paint a picture of their vision for the future of textiles & fabrics, for both apparel and interior use. (Click here for a free ticket for MaterialDistrict Rotterdam, 12-14 March 2019 in Rotterdam Ahoy, the Netherlands.)

1.What does apparel/textiles look like in 100 years if it were up to you?
Anne Marie Commandeur: I think there is a reason for apparel to look like it currently does, a reason that it did not change that drastically over the past centuries. That is what sets fashion apart from the tech and automotive industries. I don’t believe we will all be dressed in futuristic 3D printed onesies or spray-on garments. Most of all, I hope we’ve found ways to produce smarter. No waste, no harm done to the environment, no harm done to mankind. I hope that smarter manufacturing will enable a sustainable, diverse offering, since we currently see that uniformity is gaining ground due to upscaling and mass-market systems. Smart manufacturing can accelerate and enable customisation. I do hope we will consume less fashion in general and that we opt for looks with longevity, that are more individual, tailored, of a higher quality, and locally produced. Fashion that can include characteristics that improve health, safety and performance, but won’t compromise on great and desirable aesthetics.

Hopefully, we will have found ways to design with mono-materiality, or for closed-loop systems, but also smart and safe solutions for short-life applications. Since fashion is about change.

Key is that the material offering will allow fashionable exciting and entertaining aesthetics, since these should not be marked as superficial or as a secondary benefit. Fashion is beneficial to our wellbeing, it helps to shape and reflect our personality and our identity. As Roland Barthes, French philosopher and critic, stated, “Clothing concerns all of the human person, all of the body, all of the relationships of man to body as well as the relationships of the body to society.”

Liesbeth in ‘t Hout: It is impossible to know how we look at ourselves in 100 years time. Textiles, worn on the body, have many functions. Clothing has to keep you dry, warm or cool, it must be comfortable and/or make you look beautiful. Future Material has to do with the combination of old and new techniques and technologies. This can change the outlook but still there is not much more possible than thinking about colour, thickness, transparency, shine, light, heavy, rough, refined, etc. Another future can be that the digital world takes over en we’ll find ourselves naked at ‘home’ in a comfortable space while creating our most beautiful self on a screen! Even that thought seems to be old fashioned already.

When you remember the predictions one had 50 years ago about dressing and material in the future, you will see it was always a kind of children’s imagination. When you see science fiction films and television programmes from that period, it is always a phantasm that never became reality. How do we look in hundred years? Let’s hope we’ll still exist!

2. What do you think is the best invention ever and why?
AMC: I think that knitting is the best invention ever. Versatile, nearly no waste, comfortable, performance enhancing, protective, contouring, great fun, wonderful aesthetics, etc.. There is great innovative power in knit thanks to enhanced software as well as hardware. Great efficiency, turning fibre straight into garment. Digital 3D knitting allows you to easily create complex designs with many different yarns simultaneously. Whole-garment knitting machines are capable of knitting entire garments without any seams or need for finishing. Not only does that save the time and labour costs, it also improves comfort and wearability. It lowers the cost of creating individualised knits and enables people to use 3D scans of their bodies to create clothing that is individually tailored. It enables on-demand manufacturing, which also reduces the waste of creating mass-produced products that may never be sold, and that would not fit anyone perfectly.

To make the knitting technology more accessible, Kniterate developed an affordable and compact digital knitting machine for the designer’s workshop. Their goal is to democratise clothing manufacturing, to allow individual designers to explore knitting’s potential and locally make personalised goods for customers, friends, family and themselves. Knit solutions could add to the systemic change needed for a more sustainable fashion future.

LH: The best invention ever in the textiles and apparel sector is, in my opinion, the discovery of the use of sheep’s wool, more than 10,000 years ago, and the invention, at the same time, of techniques to turn it into wearables for human beings. There never was a more fulfilling textile product that could be used both in hot as cold environments. Warm clothes, rough, thick and water-resistant, next to refined, thin, almost translucent products. Nowadays, we have all kind of coatings and treatments to make wool really ‘easy to wash’ and moth-resistant, but the quality and usability will never overrule those of wool in its own pure state.

The second best discovery in textiles is, in my opinion, the spider silk with its extreme quality and strength, especially that of a new spider recently found in Madagascar. It makes enormous webs with threads of 25 meters!

Final conclusion; nature itself displays the most spectacular inventions!

3. What do you think are the most important material innovations within your sector and why?
AMC: Biobased textile innovations are surely the most exciting innovations. Fruit waste is found to be a suitable raw material, featuring fashion textiles derived from orange, apple and grape skins, as well as pineapple leaves. Orange Fiber, which is made from by-products from the citrus juice industry, is applied by Salvatore Ferragamo. Liselore Frowijn worked with the vegan ‘leather’ Piñatex, produced from pineapple leaves, for her collections. Stella McCartney collaborates with US-based biotech company Bolt Threads to study silk proteins found in nature to inspire the development of lab-engineered synthetic spider silk. And these are just some of the commercially applied developments, there is so much more happening in the labs.

The outcomes of the Trash2cash project, taking waste and making new fibres, are extremely important. These are still in an early stage, but aiming to create new regenerated fibres from pre-consumer and post-consumer waste. All developments that facilitate us to design for recyclability are of massive importance. So to start from scratch, with virgin materials, in anticipation of future recycling.

LH: The clothing industry, at the moment, is one of the biggest industries in the world and, unfortunately, still a very polluting one that fills the world with heaps of textile leftovers and garbage that won’t disappear for hundreds of years.

For that reason, the best industrial innovations are the ones that reduce the extreme overdoses of clothes and textiles and go for the use of materials that are biodegradable and go happily back to Mother Earth. In the first place, that means the use of new natural sources for the creation of textiles and materials. Currently, many students and designers are working together with companies and universities like Technical University Wageningen and TU Eindhoven, to create new textiles from plants, fruits, fish skin and many other natural raw materials. Of course, the projects are still experimental, but more and more often you see them widely exposed on presentations and exhibitions like Dutch Design Week and published in the media. Sustainable innovation is, for textiles and clothing, the only option.

New technologies in production play an important part in it. This can be about 3D printing and industrial inventions like knitting machines that create a whole garment in one piece. Using these methods, a lot of polluting logistics and overdoses of energy can be avoided. Next to that, it will be possible for people to have their own personal garments, perfectly fitted.

4. With which other sector is your sector the most closely related, and is the most similarity or cross-pollination in material innovation?
AMC: Stijlinstituut has a cross-disciplinary approach. Our customer base operates in fashion as well as interiors industries and our team holds expertise in both disciplines. Both areas are part of the lifestyle industries. There is this obvious link: both fashion and interior are projections of our soul. Both reflect our personality and enhance our experience.

The importance of textiles in fashion is clear, and textiles play a key role in interiors. And this role is growing. In homes and office interiors as well as in hospitality and automotive industries.

LH: Textile material and design are very closely related. Designers are able to think in new ways and can have a totally different view about the creation of new material. They can make unusual experimental choices and combinations with raw material, colour shape and use. Designers often choose to collaborate with experienced craftsmen, the industry and technological experts. Together, they can come to interesting and unexpected solutions and results. A perfect partnership of design and industry can create miracles.

5. Which theme is currently the most important in your sector?
AMC: Sustainability, we will have to find a way to reduce the environmental impact of textile design, production, use and disposal by re-thinking the system. Instead of limiting creativity, it can boost future design thinking.

LH: This question is more or less answered above. A sustainable process is most important for the creation of all material. As part of the biological responsibility, technological inventions will also be necessary to help nature with a come back.

6. MaterialDistrict’s goal is to connect various parties. Which other party or person should the visitor get to know according to you, and why?
AMC: A collaborative approach is THE way forward. So research, industry, and brands/retail should meet. Next to that, we should engage the consumer. Design, education as well as science, technology, manufacturers and brands should connect and share.

The most exciting innovations need explanation and education so we should involve retail and brands into discussions on material innovation and the system change. How can we inform and engage the consumer? They have to be made aware of (material) innovations, and they can make a difference by making a well-informed, conscious and sensible purchase decision. So we have to explore and expand the role that technological innovation can play in communicating with today’s new digital consumer.

LH: Fashion might be a very good new party for MaterialDistrict. In fact, it is the motor of the whole clothing Industry.
Explicitly in this time, with so many questions about the fashion industry, it is good to see how world-famous designers deal with those problems and give the signals for a change.

The use of materials, of course, is mostly important for the expression of fashion design and needed in the discussion about sustainability. Use and re-use, but also technological development and solutions. Fashion walks always in front. With on the background the excess of clothes and textiles in the world it will be an interesting partner for MaterialDistrict to take up the sustainable thread of fashion innovation.

About the ambassadors
Commandeur is specialised in textile innovation for both interior and apparel. She heads a team of multidisciplinary designers working on creation and communication in the area of material innovation, forecasting, colour trends and strategic design concepts.

After working as an art buyer for Dutch PTT, In ‘t Hout started her own firm in 1984 as a consultant for work apparel. Currently, she is doing projects as an independent consultant for fashion and design. Read more about the ambassadors here.

MaterialDistrict Rotterdam
MaterialDistrict Rotterdam is the leading event for R&D and design professionals within six sectors: Architecture, Interiors, Urban & Landscapes, Products, Textiles & Fabrics and Print & Sign. The trade fair takes place from 12 to 14 March 2019 in Rotterdam Ahoy, the Netherlands. Want to visit? Click here for your free ticket!