Back in November 2009, TED member Clara Vuletich gave a presentation on environmental impacts of the lifecycle of textiles for a student project at London College of Fashion called Fashioning the Future , where fashion students were given the brief to re-design the uniforms for the student nurses at Kings College.The project is now complete with the winning design being made up into prototypes.
The designers had to consider several factors when they were re-designing the uniform, including comfort and ease of movement and how the nurses would be washing and caring for the garment. Nurses have to wash their uniforms at 60c after each wear for health and safety reasons, and as there is strong evidence that suggests most environmental impacts of a garment lifecycle is in the use phase, this was a key factor for the designer's to consider.
The winning design by Pandora Howard-Griffin, included the introduction of stretch jersey panels to the sides and back of tunics and dresses and removal of collars and introduction of soft bias bindings to eliminate chafing.
Pandora's extensive textile research led her to propose the introduction of bamboo fibre as it draws away moisture, breathes up to four times more effectively than cotton, has naturally occuring antibacterial properties and can be produced in a manner which has lower energy use impact. (Although, the environmental credentials of the production of bamboo is starting to be questioned and there are several students at the University of Cambridge, researching this, some of which can be found here).
However, this fabric has not yet been tested and approved for use in in the UK healthcare system, although it has been adopted by states in the USA and by Singapore. Consequently, approved light-weight polycotton fabrics were substituted for bamboo fabrics in the prototype uniforms produced.
The garments are undergoing limited trials in partner hospitals where nursing students are on placements.