Leading figures in the fashion and textile industry have welcomed the launch of the Leeds Institute of Textiles and Colour (LITAC).

The new University of Leeds institute will tackle global challenges – such as those created by fast fashion, and the need for advanced materials, manufacturing processes and sustainable products – by partnering with industry to apply the world-class research expertise found across a wide range of disciplines at the university.

Stephen Russell, professor of textile materials and technology in Leeds’ School of Design and the founding director of LITAC, said: “Textiles and colour are fundamental to the function and appearance of countless products used by society, and the industry as a whole is looking to innovate at every stage of the supply chain, to increase competitiveness, address environmental impacts and drive sustainable growth.

“Whether it is significantly reducing waste, or a lack of transparency in the global fashion industry, creating new materials to rapidly diagnose infection in healthcare, or deploying artificial intelligence to decide the colour of products and increase their value, we can help with these sorts of diverse challenges.

“Our expertise across the university – in design, science and engineering – make us ideally placed to build on existing relationships.”

LITAC brings together existing areas of excellence, including Future Fashion Factory (FFF) which since 2018 has helped businesses to develop sustainable processes and digital tools to guide design and manufacturing processes from start to finish, analysing demand, increasing agility and reducing waste. FFF is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Alongside the contributions of the university, LITAC has received significant investment from The Clothworkers’ Company, a City of London livery company focused on supporting the British textiles industry through education, research, skills development and training.

Jocelyn Stuart-Grumbar, clerk to The Clothworkers’ Company, said: “We believe that the Leeds Institute of Textiles and Colour will be a strong, collaborative force that will shape the future of the textiles industry.

“Our co-investment with the University of Leeds represents the largest single funding commitment that The Clothworkers’ Company has ever made. 

“It further affirms our belief in the capability of the University of Leeds to build effective partnerships with the textiles industry across the UK and internationally, and to foster intelligent, innovative and environmentally sustainable solutions to society’s needs.”

Professor Russell added: “We are collaborative and international in our outlook. Leeds’ Institute of Textiles and Colour is built on a heritage of nearly 150 years of teaching and research in colour and textiles on the same site in Leeds, and we are proud to have been supported by The Clothworkers’ Company since our foundation in 1874.”

The new institute has been welcomed by industry leaders. Adam Mansell, CEO of the UK Fashion & Textiles Association (UKFT), said: “The current renaissance in UK manufacturing means that factors such as sustainability are more important than ever.

“LITAC has the expertise to inform the future of UK textile manufacturing and acts as a hub for collaboration, bringing together critical partners from all over the world to make a difference.”

Paul Johnson, managing director of Huddersfield-based WT Johnson & Sons, one of the world’s leading textile dyeing and finishing companies, added: “Innovation and the adoption of new technologies are critically important for manufacturing in the UK.

“There is increasing evidence of small and medium-sized enterprises involved in textiles’ manufacturing collaborating with each other and with universities. LITAC will accelerate this collaboration and will be a terrific asset for UK textiles.”

LITAC will harness the collective strength of universities in the Yorkshire and Humber region, which collectively enrol some 2,000 students in fashion, design, textiles and colour disciplines each year.

It will address gaps in skills and professional development, including those in technical manufacturing, digital technology and the circular economy.

Gilda Smith Leigh, senior economic development officer at Leeds City Council, welcomed the institute’s inception, drawing on Leeds as a centre of excellence: “The city of Leeds has a rich clothmaking heritage and the university leads the sector in textiles research and innovation.

“I welcome the opportunities that the institute brings to work with business and industry all over the world to tackle pressing environmental concerns.”

Professor Russell added: “Alongside The Clothworkers’ Company, which regulated a part of the textile trade in medieval London, the Leeds city region has been a world leader in high-quality textile manufacturing for centuries. LITAC will build on that legacy.

“With core expertise in polymer science, textile technology, textile and fashion design, colour chemistry and technology, we are ideally placed to contribute to future developments.”

Judith Rosser-Davies, head of government relations and education at the British Fashion Council, said: “Through our Institute of Positive Fashion, we encourage the industry to actively participate in a network to accelerate a successful circular fashion economy.

“To address global challenges in our industry – including sustainability – we need to fully understand the issues and the latest research, working together with higher education experts such as LITAC to seek real world solutions.”

Professor Andrew Chitty, challenge director for the UKRI’s Creative Industries Programme, said: “The launch of the Leeds Institute of Textiles and Colour is testament to the work that has been achieved by Future Fashion Factory (FFF) as part of the UKRI-funded Creative Industries Clusters Programme.

“Under Steve Russell’s leadership, FFF have demonstrated the value of industry and university collaboration in applied creative research and the opportunities for the future.

“Committing to a long-term partnership in the form of a new institute shows that R&D in the creative industries can now be regarded by research-intensive universities as opportunities for collaboration between research and industry partners as valuable as those in STEM areas.

“That’s an enormous step forward for the sector, and a huge tribute to the pioneering efforts of the Future Fashion Factory team.”