Exploring a place-based approach to developing new materials for sustainable futures: Natural fibre composites in New Zealand

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Loughborough University
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As the interdisciplinary field of materials design expands, pressing environmental, social and economic crises mean that the impacts of materials are more clearly perceived (Drazin 2015). This presents a challenge to activate materials towards positive change. Design practices that are relational, place based and deeply attuned to justice and the Earth are needed (Escobar 2017). What might such practices look like within the field of materials design? And how might they be informed by textiles practice? To address these questions, this paper presents and reflects upon a recent study into the development of harakeke (Phormium Tenax/New Zealand Flax) based nonwovens. The aim of the study was to support the re-establishment of harakeke based industry in Aotearoa New Zealand, which recent research suggests could address a range of environmental, social and economic problems specific to the region (McGruddy 2006). The approach taken drew on notions of place-based design and textile thinking, and was underpinned by a collaboration between university based design researchers, an agricultural and a forestry/ biomaterials research institute, an independent designer and an expert in traditional harakeke weaving. An initial review of materials design, research and developments that are predicated on regionally specific resources and knowledge was undertaken. Processing trials were conducted that brought together knowledge from indigenous harakeke weaving practice, fine art practices, industrially based fibre processing techniques and biopolymer processing. The resulting new materials were qualitatively evaluated using emergent models of experiential characterization (Camere and Karana 2018), which showed potential for the materials to be developed towards applications including architectural surfaces and packaging.
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https://www.textile-intersections.com/proceedings/#page-content, 2020