Winter 2021

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Toray inspires students with sustainable Ultrasuede

Students at Tama Art University showcase creative design ideas using Ultrasuede

Students at the Tama Art University recently showcased a selection of creative ideas and designs that explore avenues of progress and development for quality materials. The exhibition was held at the university’s complex in Akasaka, Tokyo, and according to Professor Takashi Ashitomi, resulted in numerous projects with significant potential. 
“Works were born free from thinking about business and money, with only creativity in mind,” he said. “Examples include the application of heat to transfer colour from materials, and the lamination of expensive, high-quality materials to make the most of their advantages.” 
To support the exhibition and identify areas of innovation, Toray Industries provided the students with Ultrasuede – a partially plant-based, non-woven microfibre material with a suede texture – free of charge. The sourced material was re-used and would otherwise have been discarded. The company hoped this would encourage creativity while also ensuring students weren’t restricted by factors like cost.

“We believe in supporting students around the world who are aiming to become professionals in their respective fields,” said Mito Yokokawa, Toray's fibres and textiles marketing department. “By physically holding Ultrasuede in their hands and using it in their studies, we think that they can develop a unique interest in, and relationship with, the material. We also want to work with educational institutions that represent various fields and foster young designers to make a meaningful contribution to society.”
Projects varied considerably in their focus. One student presented a pair of sandals that were designed to ensure wearers wouldn’t sink into sand. Another student had made small-scale building blocks that contain air for insulation, while a third produced a hat by baking Ultrasuede.

“The fashion industry is always working on cutting-edge designs, many of which will eventually filter down to automobiles,” said a Toray spokesperson. “Referencing designs in the fashion industry that utilise the features of Ultrasuede will lead to the creation of ideas for automobile interiors… All works were outstanding in leveraging the features of Ultrasuede and expressing new sensations and ideas. We found it extremely inspiring.”
Professor Ashitomi believes that the experience each student had when working with Ultrasuede will prove vital as they continue their individual journeys and start careers as designers. “If we are only looking at other materials that we have handled before, we will not come up with new ideas,” he said. “Ultrasuede, a material with many variations and characteristics, has the power to trigger ideas. It is common to create things with an idea in mind from experience, but knowing and handling a completely new material like Ultrasuede expands the imagination. A student's new idea is also new idea for Toray, so both are stimulated.”
As well as helping at the exhibition, Toray supported the Tama Art University on delivering a two-month workshop called ‘’Material design cooking’’ for junior and senior students of the Product Design course, with lectures delivered by various materials experts. The workshop highlighted several trends, with a clear focus on efficiency and sustainability.

“During the period of high economic growth, everything tended to expand, but now it is going in the opposite direction – products are becoming more compact and efficient,” said Professor Ashitomi. “And environmental issues are more prevalent. We are now in an age where we need to be frugal and eco-conscious. The students are especially sensitive to the world.” 
Katsuhiko Ando, general manager of Toray’s Ultrasuede department, was particularly impressed with the ideas that came from the workshop, highlighting the student's impressive creativity. “All of these are innovative and made us once again realise that Ultrasuede is a material which has potential for various expressions,” he said. 
Toray has supplied information about Ultrasuede and donated samples of the material to prominent fashion and design schools in Japan and elsewhere since 2016. It also assists young, up-and-coming designers by sponsoring overseas fashion events and award programs.
The company looks to unleash creativity by driving the evolution of Ultrasuede, helping to transform societies for the better in keeping with its commitment to innovating ideas, technologies, and products that deliver new value.

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