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THE BEGINNING

In 2004 staff and students in the Fashion Area at the University of Leeds embarked upon a programme of research to experiment with the use of nonwoven fabrics for the manufacture of garments.

The Fashion programme has, for a number of years, been inspired by these inventive and exciting fabrics and the opportunities that exist to engineer property challenges in response to specific requirements. The interface between fashion design and fabric technology is a fundamental requirement for future progress and requires multi-disciplinary research collaboration between designers and fabric technologists. Part of the challenge is to consider alternative garment design approaches and pattern blocks specifically suited for nonwoven materials and to actively contribute towards developments in nonwoven fabric technology. There are also opportunities for the simplification of garment design reducing assembly costs and facilitating recycling at the end of life, improving the technical performance of garments and reducing the overall life-cycle impact of clothing.

Our research on remodelling of industrial nonwoven fabrics began in defiance of laws and traditions some four years ago. Collars which conventionally require interlinings did not, seams which ordinarily receive overlocking could be left raw and front bodices which by tradition require facings could be produced without. Ultrasonic and thermal joining techniques enabled stitching to be replaced and localised thermo-forming provided a means of improving fit and simplifying garment assembly. Elements of this research were disseminated at the EDANA Nonwovens Research Academy held at the University of Leeds in March 2007, at the INDEX08 Exhibition in Geneva in 2008, Yorkshire Fashion Week in 2009 and the INDEX11 Exhibition in Geneva in 2011.
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THE ISSUES

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Advances in fabric engineering facilitate the production of nonwoven fabrics with improved drape, a soft handle, stretch, elastic recovery and abrasion resistance all of which are considered essential in mainstream apparel.

Trends in Fast Fashion are redefining the life and associated life-cycle of garments in certain sectors. Nonwoven fabrics, depending on structure and composition can be designed for single use and rapid disposal (some materials are potentially compostable) or can be durable capable of withstanding multiple washes and other agencies of wear. The intended life of the garment can be defined in terms of days, months or years. The fabrics are engineered for purpose depending on requirements.

Approaches to the colouration, printing, embossing and functional finishing of nonwoven fabrics continue to be developed in technical research work. This is enabling effects that are difficult to achieve with traditional fabrics. These findings are being translated in to a range of high performance nonwoven fabrics with aesthetic appeal.

Nonwoven fabrics facilitate alternative approaches to garment assembly including process simplification. Advantages include replacement of sewing threads with ultra-sonic or thermofused seams, thermo-forming of garment panels, removal of edge-fraying and obviation of edging and modification of block patterns to produce entirely different garment constructions.