Stories around self-cleaning clothing began emerging almost a decade ago, when two scientists, Mingce Long and Deyong Wu of Shanghai Jiao Tong University announced that they had developed a type of cotton that could rid itself of stains and dirt when exposed to sunlight. Fast forward a couple of years, and a team of scientists at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, had developed a similar, and cheaper, way for clothing to clean itself by being exposed to something as simple as being placed under a lightbulb, or by being worn outside during the day. But at the time, these were still experiments, rendered impractical for public consumption. Fast forward to today, when sustainability is never out of the news and there are various brands vying for your attention, claiming to sell clothing that self-cleans.
Wool & Prince
There is Pangaia, an eco-fashion brand, which sells an off-white seaweed fibre T-shirt, treated with peppermint oil, for a cool $85 (£67). Over the garment’s lifetime, the brand claims that it could save up to 3,000 litres of water. At Wool & Prince, who’s founder, Mac Bishop, used to work for Unilever, you can buy garments such as ‘odour-resistance’ boxer shorts and a dress that doesn’t need to be washed for 100 days. Whilst previous articles on the topic centred on the scientists use of chemicals and compounds, Bishop’s clothing relies more on natural products, such as superfine wool that breathes naturally and regulates its own temperature, preventing it from trapping sweat and moisture.
Although these brands aren’t currently very well-known, there is clearly a market out there for fashion companies with a defined USP around sustainability. Inditex, which owns the likes of Zara, Pull & Bear and Berksha, has recently announced its intention to make all of its clothes sustainable by 2025. When a high street giant such as this foresees sustainability as the future, then brands with clearly defined sustainable USP’s are likely to gain more appeal. Just add to that the multiple news articles with frightening facts around our over consumption pulsating into our psyche every day, then self-cleaning clothes sound less of a gimmick and much more of a necessity.
Another solution to the problem is the simpler one of basically cleaning your clothes less. The invention of the washing machine may have freed up time for half the population, but instead it created an overzealous need for cleanliness. There’s the enormous waste of water, gas and electricity that we are all well aware is causing devastation to our planet. But, importantly, there is also the issue of the materials that make up the garments, which can be layered with plastic microfibers that enter the water every time you wash them, causing harm to marine life. Fashion designer Stella McCartney caused both controversy and intrigue last month, when she suggested that we should all “let the dirt dry and you brush it off”. Her concern isn’t just around our overuse of washing machines and the impact this is having on our environment, but also around the longevity of our garments. Washing too often can be detrimental to both high-end and fast fashion garments.
Like all things in fashion, trends come and go, but hopefully, as ideas develop and mind-sets evolve, consumption can decrease and the persistent need to be ‘clean, clean, clean’ is replaced with an understanding of the impact this has on our planet. So whether self-cleaning clothes is the absolute answer for the future or whether, at least to begin with, we can choose to clean our garments less, understanding and perception appears to be making significant progress.
About Our Author: Katie Calvert's background is in fashion and textiles with a first class honours degree in Fashion Communication and Promotion and experience in trend, PR and events. She decided to take the plunge back into education in 2015 to complete a Master of Arts in Multimedia Journalism. Using these newfound skills and her love of fashion and culture, Katie has been freelance writing for over two years.