Catalytic Clothing: How A Denim Kilt Could Help Save The Planet

<p>Catalytic Clothing uses nanotechnology to clean pollutants from the air.</p>

Tony Ryan and Helen Storey

Last year we reported on some eco-fashion that went further than simply using sustainable materials and techniques by making the garment itself a tool for reducing pollution. The project was called Catalytic Clothing and involved an air-purifying dress covered in spray-on nano particles that suck pollutants from the air, allowing the wearer to score maximum eco-points (while still wandering around in sweatshop Nikes).

This was back in January 2011 and at the time the garment was more of an experimental sculpture than a wearable dress, but a year is a long time in fashion and now the technology is ready for its public debut. The project is a collaboration between Professor of Fashion and Science at the London School of Fashion Helen Storey and chemist Tony Ryan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the Faculty of Science at Sheffield University.

Catalytic Clothing launch video

In an interview last night about the future of nanotechnology on BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific, Ryan spoke about this art-science collaboration, which also yielded dresses that dissolve in water in a project called Wonderland.

The Catalytic Clothing project will catwalk its way to the Edinburgh International Science Festival, March 30 to April 15, and will see Ryan in a catalyzed denim kilt—that will take nitrous oxide and volatile organics out of the air—and Storey will be rocking an air-purifying Vivienne Westwood tartan ball frock.

The technology works because a catalyst takes part in a reaction but isn't changed by it, so it stays there and can be used many times—absorbing pollutants, changing them, then sending them back out into the atmosphere as something more benign. For instance, it can transform the toxic greenhouse gas nitrous oxide into water soluble nitrate. Explaining how the Catalytic Clothing technology could impact a local environment Ryan said, “If all the people in Sheffield wore catalytically enabled clothes, then they’d be able to take out enough nitrous oxide to keep us [Sheffield: pop. 555,500] below the safe limit throughout the whole of the year.”

Data visualization of international online engagement with the project

Speaking about putting his theory into practice Ryan said, “We hope to set up a pop-up laundry so people can bring their clothes in and have them done and go out and be catalysed and I’m hoping that it’ll get into the market. But it’ll get into the market in such a way that it’s like herd immunity, one or two people doing it won’t have any effect and you won’t benefit from you doing it, but you will benefit from me and everybody else doing it. So it’s a whole community thing.”