Exploring sustainable cotton: A student’s journey

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Photo credit: India Trek students

Recently, Dr Winston Kwon wrote about a student engagement initiative, which involved two dozen students from multiple disciplines trekking across India. This month, Niamh Mundy, a Product Design student at Edinburgh College of Art who took part in the India trek, reflects on her experience of exploring the production of sustainable cotton…

Cotton is one of the most widely used materials in the fashion industry, yet it remains one of the most environmentally damaging natural fabrics. In a world becoming increasingly invested in sustainable living, I became curious about the implications this has had on the cotton industry after taking part in a week-long research trip to Mumbai at the start of the summer.

A group of 24 interdisciplinary students from the University of Edinburgh were invited to take part in a week long research trip to Mumbai at the start of the summer. The aim? To explore cotton manufacture from production through to retail. The trek saw us touring the factories of TechnoCraft Industries, a leading innovator in cotton production, taking part in print-making workshops and Q&A sessions at House of Anita Dongre, a fashion brand dedicated to sustainable growth, as well as exploring the sights, eateries, and nightlife that the city had to offer.

From day one, we were fully immersed in the project. We took part in tours of Mani Bhaven, the house where Ghandi spent his final days. Introduced to handmade cotton spinning here, we learnt about other textile making techniques at a gallery known as Artisans. We became familiar with Radhi Parekh’s realised dream of connecting highly skilled craft designers with consumers. Later on in the week, we were introduced to some of the sociably sustainable initiatives of Anita Dongre. Two of the most standout being an initiative that aims at teaching widowed and unmarried women how to manufacture clothing, and the second a collection that celebrates traditionally Indian, handmade textiles.

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Photo credit: India Trek students

The most important part of the trip for me occurred midweek where we toured the factories of TechnoCraft Industries. Based on this trip, I have now begun pursuing research into cotton production for my dissertation. Key connections were made off the back of the trek such as a research partnership with TechnoCraft Industries and the foundations of many relevant case studies. However, the value of this trip was not solely academic: I have made life-long friends and have been connected to different schools of the University that I have had no previous interaction with.

My current research has me investigating how different manufacturing procedures and operations have affected the affordances available for designers and the affected practices and principles, especially in regards to fashion. Using the work of Ulrich Lehmann among others to explore the theories of materialism and new materialism, I am investigating the extent that design choices are linked to the affordances created with the development of material manufacturing.

For a more in depth description of our activities, see:

Niamh Mundy

Niamh Mundy is currently a final year undergraduate student of Product Design. Her current research focuses on the technological development of cotton manufacturing and the affected principles and practices of design and fashion.

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