Fashion 101

The Science of Fashion

Dr. Martin Bide understands the chemistry of textiles


Dr. Martin Bide is the department chair and its resident scientist, often working on projects that sound more fit to an episode of CSI than Project Runway. He specializes in textile science and technology. Among his many notable achievements, Dr. Bide has collaborated in providing the FBI with a database of dyed fibers, worked on a number of projects to develop infection resistant medical materials (resulting in a patent for multifunctional wound dressing), and been a part of several pollution prevention projects in Tunisia, Ecuador and India.

“People don’t usually realize just how far the world of fashion and textiles extends beyond clothing,” Dr. Bide says. “My interest in fashion usually comes primarily from an interest in what something is made of or how it was put together.”

Dr. Bide hails from the UK, where he earned his undergraduate degree in color chemistry, focusing on textiles and dyeing. When he made his way stateside, he spent 10 years at UMass Dartmouth before joining the faculty at URI. He has been at URI for 21 years now, where his research covers dyeing, printing, dyestuff analysis, wool processing, color science, the environmental effects of textile processing and biomedical textiles. His recent projects include researching infection resistant artificial arteries, measuring how effectively a tent material blocks light, testing the strength of bow strings for archery devices, and identifying fibers for forensics.

“It’s great to be able to engage students in some of these projects,” Dr. Bide says. The experiential focus of the TMD program is very important to him. The department emphasizes the internship and study abroad opportunities that they offer. The course design of the program also incorporates a broad focus on the industry. “This degree lets students experience fashion through multiple lenses,” he says. “Art and Design, History, Business, Sociology and Science. The interdisciplinary nature of it is what equips them with academic skills that extend beyond the world of fashion.”

Dr. Bide remains an active member of his professional community as well, serving as the president of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists for two years. He has represented the Association at meetings in India, China and the UK. This past March, he was awarded the association’s 2011 Olney Medal for achievement in textile chemistry.

Although he’s more likely to be found in a lab than on a runway, Dr. Bide’s contributions to the fashion world have been no less interesting. “People in the US consume about 90 pounds of textile stuff each year,” he points out. “One hundred years ago, it was about five pounds.” None of this would be possible without scientists like Dr. Bide, working on our clothing at the chemical and fiber level.

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