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Burberry Material Futures Research Group venn diagram of research areas, 2018 (Graphic design: Giulia Garbin)

The aim of the Group was to inspire creativity and pioneer more sustainable materials and techniques in the UK creative industries by researching the future of sustainable future materials, consumer experience and manufacturing through taking a systems approach to materials research to propose new realities that effect a new coupling of materials resources use to human wellbeing and economic development, in order to help society transition to a sustainable existence.

The Group brought together world-leading researchers in STEAM-led material futures to investigate the major challenges of sustainable materials, new sustainable approaches to manufacturing and supply chain processes, and design-led innovations in consumer experience and product interaction.

The Group included two research Phases:

Burberry Material Futures Research Group Scoping Project

Burberry Material Futures Research Group Feasibility Project

Sustainable Future Consumer Experience

The Sustainable Future Consumer Experience theme investigated experiences around the consumption and use of products that would catalyse consumers to be custodians of materials. Our research was aimed at enabling consumers to have a key role and to actively participate in enabling circularity, and was focused through our main research question: “How can designed experiences catalyse people to be custodians of materials, and therefore stakeholders in material circularity, as a circular design strategy?”

Conspicuous consumption is fuelled by a market that exploits the need for immediate satisfaction, novelty and status building. We propose a new culture that will fulfil the more sustainable needs of co-creative engagement with the physical world of materials and its enhancement by digital experiences and design; active exploration of physical possibilities, sensory experiences, and social participation in a shared, multi-sensory narrative with continuity and historicity, facilitated through novel technologies in increasingly mixed realities.

Through our work, we established a Circular Consumer Experience Framework, grounded on the values of sustainability and wellbeing, to engage people in interactive, meaningful, co-creative and sustainable cultures around products. Through our interdisciplinary collaborations, we explored psychological, social and experiential aspects of human-material interactions and the space that needs to be prepared for new materials to come into, in ways that promote sustainable consumption, and we designed novel interactions and sensing and creative technologies that allowed consumers to engage with materials in more nuanced ways, also allowing for the creation of narratives through immersive and multi-sensory stimuli.

We applied the new knowledge on human wellbeing and sustainability and the specifications derived from it, to create novel circular product designs and the cultures around them, through close collaboration with SME fashion, technology partners, and consumers.

Sustainable Future Materials

The Sustainable Future Materials theme investigated the processes required for materials circularity in recycling, textile fabrication and design by exploring bio-based waste-derived feedstock for a scalable manufacture of textiles in the UK. Exploring our main research question ‘Is it possible to design and develop circular materials from food industry by-products and waste?’, the research was at the intersection of materials science, design and biotechnology.

At the Recycling stage in the textile value chain, we applied biotechnological approaches to transform waste feedstock such as crop residues from the agri-food industry into biopolymers for fibres and flexible materials. We used enzymes and microbes to augment current recycling technologies for a circular material lifecycle. In order to achieve this, we established a collaboration with the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at the University of York to produce novel high-performance composites for apparel (BBNet project) and to bio-manufacture textiles from waste (BBSRC project).

Our approach to Textile Fabrication enhanced both existing textile manufacturing technologies as well as developed new production processes for textiles that expand and adapt to the new properties of our biomaterials. We introduced biopolymers into novel deposition of materials in Additive Manufacturing (AM) and sustainable regeneration technologies for fibre spinning in the BBSRC project.

The interdisciplinary collaboration in the Sustainable Future Materials theme has highlighted insights for Design in materials circularity, which will inform future research in the form of: (i) materials transparency to communicate material development to all stakeholders in the textile value chain; (ii) circular design process integration for biocompatibility of textiles, materials functionality and material recovery; and (iii) methods that apply circular design principles at the material scale within textiles and products.