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.
Fashion + code
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.
Mark’s designs from his self-titled fashion label.
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.
The zero-waste design process.
Traditional pattern-making and wastage
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.”
Modern tech meets age-old pattern-making
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 the 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.
Bringing fashion design into the 21st century
Mark is currently working on 3D printing and expanding his pattern making models to take into account the motion of the body.
“The body is constantly moving and changing, but traditional pattern-making was never made to incorporate that much movement.”
Mark uses 3D scanning tools to track motion and CAD (computer-aided design) software such as SolidWorks to develop 3D patterns.
Different 3D printers use different software, which can involve switching between programming languages.
“We’re constantly learning”, says Mark. “YouTube is really good for looking up what you want to do, as well as consulting an expert.”
Mark (second from right) on a sustainable resources panel at the Vivid Sydney event “Algae is the new black” in June 2018.
Want to combine STEM + fashion?
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.”
Read Mark’s article about why the future of fashion requires STEM here.
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.