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Catalytic Clothing

Catalytic Clothing seeks to explore how clothing and textiles can be used as a catalytic surface to purify air, employing existing technology in a new way. It is the brainchild of Prof. Helen Storey and chemist Tony Ryan.

A series of catalytic jeans displayed on bamboo sticks outside Chelsea College of Arts

Between 2011 and 2016 Catalytic Clothing explored the use of an existing nano technology in an entirely new context. The project combined the power of science and art to tackle a global challenge: Air pollution. Air pollution causes the deaths of between 28,000 – 36,000 people per year according to Public Health England, 2019

Applying an air-purifying photocatalyst to textiles and clothing explored the possibility that each of us can actively contribute to improving the quality of the air we breathe as we go about our daily lives. The efficacy of the technology is only apparent when mass adoption is achieved and so Catalytic Clothing uses art and design to inspire the citizen action that is needed to realise the potential that science offers. It was first proposed as a laundry additive to radicalise existing wardrobes of clothes.

Catalytic Clothing was conceived by artist/designer Prof. Helen Storey and chemist Tony Ryan – people from very different disciplines whose shared values and inquisitive minds came together to create a number of highly acclaimed art/science collaborations.

Clothing to purify air

Catalytic Clothing ran for 8 years. The first iteration of the project was the pioneering Catalytic Dress ‘Herself’. It was created in collaboration with Trish Belford of the University of Ulster. 'Herself' toured the world raising the profile of the Catalytic Clothing project and introducing city dwellers worldwide to the notion that clothing and textiles can play a vital role in improving the urban environment and the health of those who live in it.

In 2011, the first in a series of art installations took place in Newcastle, targeting public engagement and debate. Jeans were chosen both for symbolic reasons, due to their ubiquitous role in urban attire and for practical reasons because the technology proved to be particularly efficacious when applied to indigo denim.

During 2011 and 2012 ‘The field of Jeans’ popped up in Sheffield, London, Durham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Copenhagen, extending the debate across the UK and into Europe. The project took Storey and Ryan to 9 different countries to lecture on the project, as well as a British Council tour of China in 2012.

Project Outcomes

Catalytic Clothing has had many iterations including work with schools across the UK.

  • The Catalytic Clothing Film, directed by Adam Mufti and featuring Erin O’Connor was released online, kicked off an immensely successful and far reaching viral campaign. The film was downloaded in 75 different countries within the first two days of its release and the campaign reached over 173 million people worldwide. 

  • The Living Map tracked real time engagement with the project across the world.

  • Field of Jeans inspired Catalytic Learning – an educational project for students and teachers, in collaboration with The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) between December 2013 – Jan 2015. The project Field of Jeans, worked with Thomas Tallis school where 50 pairs of Jeans were planted in a grassy space by a main road outside the school. Prompted an inset day, where teachers put together ideas for a Catalytic Learning Day – held in April 2014, Catalytic Learning Day took inspiration from Catalytic Clothing itself and from the Field of Jeans. The day was full of project based learning, involving children from years 7 – 11. See a film of the project on vimeo.  This project inspired Catalytic Teaching and Learning projects at 5 schools in the UK. Field of Jeans and a catalysed ‘Limb Dress’ toured schools. This enabled Helen Storey Foundation to work with RSA Academies further.

  • Catalytic Poem, In Praise of Air – displayed at the University of Sheffield on one of the busiest routes into the city, the catalytic poem helped to absorb the pollution from 20 cars every day. Catalytic Poem was a spin-off project from Catalytic Clothing and was instigated by University of Sheffield, written by Simon Armitage, working with Tony Ryan.

Project Team

  • Professor Helen Storey, Professor in Fashion Science, UAL

  • Professor Tony Ryan, University of Sheffield

  • Caroline Coates, Helen Storey Foundation

  • Professor Trish Belford, University of Ulster

  • Professor Frank Kelly, Kings College London

Contact for the project 

Professor Helen Storey, Professor in Fashion Science, UAL



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