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Microfibres | In Conversation With Sophie Mather

Finisterre are proud to be working with Sophie Mather on her Don't Feed The Fish campaign, a project to prevent 190k tonnes of plastic microfibres from polluting our oceans every year. We spoke to Sophie to get a little more insight.

Where does your love of the ocean stem from?

My love is more generally for nature and the environment.  For me it is my place where I escape to and also the place that inspires me most.  We have so much to learn from nature and it saddens me to see people mess it up so badly for the generations to follow us.  I work in innovation, so I get really excited as I run, hike and play outside that the nature around me is inspiring my work. Biomimicry can teach us a lot.

How did you come to start the Don’t Feed The Fish campaign?

I had been watching the industry conversation for a while on this topic, and saw a lot of conversation but very little action.  Coming from a textile innovation background I felt there was a much deeper approach that could be taken to start to understand WHY fabrics shed as they do.  I tend to get inspired by difficult challenges (that’s innovation really) and finally one day when I was faced with industry figures demonstrating the scale of the clothing industries impact I decided it was time to be part of that change.  I reached out to my network of suppliers, and found partners with Leeds University and built the work up from there.  The scale of the challenge is huge, and the Don’t Feed The Fish work is only a small part of this, but I feel it is up to us all to play our part to create the solution.

What’s your background? 

I am a self confessed textile geek and have been working in the industry for the last 20 years. The last 15 years of that has been focused on textile innovation, specifically innovation that solves a sustainability challenge.  I have worked globally in the EU, Asia and USA both independently and for large corporations and the network of great brains and expertise that I have met along the way, supports my work now in creating the change that the industry needs. 

The prediction that by the 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish is something that puts this situation into context. How real is this threat? 

This is a pretty large statement and there are many other similarly frightening stats out there just now.  Personally I think the numbers grab attention, but what worries me is the effect that this ‘figure’ is having.  Even if a percentage of this amount of plastic will kill our marine life, and or even contaminate our fish as a food source this is a concern and one that I personally am taking pretty seriously.

What are you looking to do with your campaign? You talk about going beyond just raising awareness - can you talk to us a bit more about your research? 

Beyond just raising awareness, we are busy working behind the scenes in the lab.  We have taken samples of polymers and yarns from the suppliers that make fabrics for key brands and retailers, and are currently studying them under various conditions.  With the results we will be able to start to map out triggers that make fabrics shed these tiny microfibres.  We are also in contact with other researchers that are looking more specifically at fabrics and garments.  Ultimately we will bring these 2 levels of research together so we can understand the full process better and  start to design and engineer our fabrics differently so that they do not shed microfibres as they do today.  

What can we be all doing in the short-term and the long-term to help eliminate this threat? 

A call for consumer to ask the brands they purchase their clothing from what they are doing around this issue is key.  The more the consumer demands something to be done the easier it will be to create the change that is needed.

Consumers can also get involved capturing fibres during the laundering of their clothes.  2 recently launched products through Kickstarter which are the Cora Ball and Guppy Friend.  These go into the washing machine and capture loose fibres during the wash cycle.  

Longer term as  more textile engineering information is provided to brands, retailers and suppliers we will see more product come to market that has been developed and tested not to shed microfibres.  At this stage engaging and educating the consumer to wiser product purchasing will be key.

Finally for everybody and anybody, there are two plastic issues at the marine level currently.  1) The large plastics that we can see floating around and 2) the microfibres that to the naked eye are pretty much invisible.  Both of these offer risks, however as the microfibres can not be seen, they are often overlooked and not understood.   Helping to make people understand both issues and the importance of both are key.

Read more to get the lowdown on microfibres. 

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