If you think that fashion design and STEM couldn’t be more different, think again.
Fashion designer and University of Technology Sydney postdoctoral researcher Dr Mark Liu knows first-hand that STEM skills are essential to be at the forefront of fashion.
Mark was gaining his qualifications as a fashion designer when he first became interested in materials science.
He’s since used his STEM know-how to run a zero-waste fashion label and completed a PhD on revolutionising pattern-making with maths.
“STEM and fashion go hand in hand: innovation happens when you combine different disciplines"
Mark was always drawn to a career in fashion because it brings together a broad range of disciplines – such as sculpture, materials science, engineering and business management – in a creative fusion.
He discovered the importance of materials science in developing innovative fabrics while studying Textile Futures at the prestigious arts college Central Saint Martins in London.
Mark explored the chemistry and mathematics of acid-base reactions involved in dying and the applications of physics in laser-cutting.
Mark interned at several fashion labels such as Ghost and Alexander McQueen and noticed that there was a potential for the fashion industry to minimise fabric wastage by making pattern designs more efficient.
“In industry, up to 15% of the materials are wasted, so there is a huge potential for greater savings”, he says.
Mark started looking into the geometry of pattern making to get around these problems, and he used his mathematical understanding to establish a self-titled zero-waste fashion label.
Another problem with traditional pattern-making is that it uses linear, 2D measurements from a tape measure to capture the complex shape of the human body.
2D patterns use flat geometry, known as Euclidean geometry, and Mark noticed that the measurements never quite fit.
“The level of tech and maths that fashion designers used was really old school. The geometry of curved surfaces has only been around since the 18th century and is relatively new.”
Mark began thinking about how he could incorporate the use of curved or non-Euclidean geometry – which includes 3D shapes such as spheres and saddles – into pattern-making.
This eventually formed his PhD thesis on non-Euclidean fashion pattern making. The challenge was to apply complex mathematics to a tool which fashion designers could use simply.
Mark was able to translate the complicated geometries using 2D pattern-making concepts, like darts and gussets.
Mark works with a team of computer scientist and engineer based in Sydney and in Switzerland to create algorithms that can take 3D scans and generate fitted garments.
Mark has also set up an open educational platform called Fashion is Science to teach the underly science of fashion and how we can use it to avoid misleading fashion advertising.
Mark says most fashion design education is not based on science and STEM fields such as 'Industrial Ecology' that measure the energy and emissions of manufacturing clothing.
"Fashion is on track to use a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions by 2030".
"We need people from all careers to act: lawyers, accountants, scientists and engineers will be just as important as fashion designers in making the fashion industry more sustainable."
Mark believes that STEM and fashion go hand in hand and that innovation happens when you combine different disciplines.
“The arts and sciences have a very symbiotic relationship,” he says. “They shouldn’t be divided – STEM can be a universal language.”