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Sustainable textiles focus of Richmond KPU researcher

A $3 million donation to KPU allowed the creation of two research positions.
Stephanie Phillips is the new Sherman Jen research chair.

Textiles design expert Stephanie Phillips will be doing research at Kwantlen Polytechnic (KPU) into how to make the apparel industry more sustainable.

Phillips has been appointed to the second of two newly created Sherman Jen Research Chair positions at KPU.

After receiving a $3 million donation from the founder of a group of private schools, Sherman Jen, KPU created the two research positions to support its polytechnic mandate.

As the Sherman Jen Research Chair in Next-Generation Design, Phillips will focus on biodegradable functional materials, exploring how enhanced natural materials that remain recyclable can be used in the apparel industry.

“The apparel industry at the minute is highly unsustainable. We make a lot of clothes that get worn very few times then go directly to landfill,” said Phillips, who joined the Wilson School of Design at KPU in 2014. “I’m going to be looking at materials based from nature, whether those are traditional materials such as cotton, linen, silks, and then looking at the modification of them using possibly biopolymers and coatings, things like that, but making sure that everything in the cycle can be disposed of in the same way.”

Some synthetic materials can survive more than 1,000 years in a landfill but the clothes made from them might last 40 years at best because of holes, tears and stains. In contrast, a waterproof cotton that could last five to 10 years would be in line with its functional life span and be recyclable, said Phillips.

“That’s the sweet spot of research,” she adds. “Finding the technology to really figure out how to do this. How to create something that will last that functional life span, but not too much longer. Not the extra 960 years.”

Phillips will work with partners in industry and other universities, looking at materials that might currently exist only as small samples to see if they can work on full garment prototypes.

The work will be driven by industry needs, particularly those from Vancouver to northern California.

Students will take part, both in class and as research assistants, and Phillips plans to draw on knowledge from across KPU.

Sherman Jen Research Chairs come with a term of five years, renewable for an additional term, in key research areas for KPU.

“Stephanie Phillip’s design work is purposeful research that will help KPU meet UN sustainable development goals,” said Deepak Gupta, associate vice president, research, innovation and graduate studies. “And it is applied research that will provide great hands on learning opportunities for students.”