Rose Danford-Phillips is obsessed with colour. Having grown up with a close connection to nature, a fascination with natural tones and patterns informs her practice as a fashion designer today.
Now, an exploration of bright colour palettes is met by a drive to have them appear in the most environmentally sustainable collections possible. Working with Future Fashion Factory researchers, Rose is exploring the possibilities of using natural pigments in printed fashion products as an alternative to traditional synthetic colorants.
Since graduating from the Royal College of Art, Rose has developed her fashion brand with an emphasis on nature-inspired patterns and prints – even moving away from knitwear and into print design to ascertain greater control over her palette. Yet the components of traditional pigments used in printing, often derived from synthetic materials, have led her to question the system in which her collections are made.
“If I’m inspired by nature, I don’t want to damage it!” Rose explains. “It makes sense to me to be as sustainable as possible. There’s an assumption that ‘sustainable fashion’ must be beige and unappealing, and I wanted to explore whether we could be more environmentally friendly and still produce beautiful colours.”
Collaborating with a team of researchers across RCA and the University of Leeds, Rose led an innovation project to replace the synthetic colorants with natural alternatives and test the results in fashion products.
Dr Nikitia Mexia and Professor Richard Blackburn at Leeds derived dyes from feedstock such as red cabbage, blackcurrants, turmeric and carrots, comparing the shades and hues they produced at different Ph values with how the colours would change over time.
The result was a set of pigments that Rose trialled in a workshop led by Dr Dawn Ellams from RCA, alongside print designer Arantza Vilas at Pinaki Studios.
By experimenting with the process of layering the pigments and applying them to different fabrics, the team discovered additional shades that could be made from the same set of colours and learned more about how the pigments could be applied in a real collection of printed products.
“Some of the colours were quite unexpected, especially in their vividity,” Dawn explains. “The designers explored different ways of combining and applying them and thought about how they would actually receive and use the pigments in their work. That creative enquiry helped to expand the possibilities that came from scientific development.”
Additional technical testing is taking place to understand the performance of the pigments, such as how well the colours withstand washing. By understanding the wider life cycle of the products, Rose will be equipped to design appropriately – and with a few prints already inspired by the project, she has ideas for a whole collection using this new coloration system.
As part of the project, a toolkit of resources and assets is also being developed by the team at RCA, both to support designers working with the new pigments and to communicate the process and its benefits to customers: a USP for Rose’s brand on which she can build.
“This project had to demonstrate if there was potential for this to work,” Rose adds, “Now we’ll see how it can be scaled up as part of my business.”