How can new textile thinking contribute to fashion- and technology-led wearable initiatives to enhance public health?

Marion Lean


World Health Organisation reports 13% of adults obese worldwide, and almost 30% in UK (5% diabetic). The obesity epidemic is only 40-50 years old, so its underlying causes are dominantly our changing economic, socio-cultural, physical, occupational and educational environments: the gene-pool has not changed. This ‘wicked problem’ (Groves, 2008) has profound adverse effects for individuals and families, but in our commercially-driven obesogenic environment, responsibility falls to the victims. With no single solution, national and international reports are unanimous, calling for multidisciplinary collaborations and thinking outside the conventional health-promotion box.


This materials-based, practice-led research uses ‘Textile Thinking’ (Igoe 2010) and ‘Socially Responsive Design’ (Thorpe and Gamman, 2011) to develop textile interventions which will support actions for preventing excessive weight gain. Public responses to questions around social barriers to fitness contribute to ideation and prototyping for development of textile based enablers to physical activity (which may be but are not limited to clothing, accessories or surfaces).


This study is creating and evaluating plausible textiles-led interventions to encourage awareness and initiate sustainable changes in health behaviours. A case study approach using socially responsive design is used to identify, implement and evaluate textiles – based interventions which encourage weight management through movement for everyday health and fitness.


Using obesity as an example, co design methods are employed to show how smart textiles and ‘smart use’ of textiles in and around the body can form part of a solution to wicked problems in design.