Xianyi Zeng: I want to change the entire textile industry in Europe

It is fascinating and a pleasure to see our findings implemented and recognised by both industry and society.

Xianyi Zeng became interested in AI when it was still only a small field of research in the early 1980s. He left his native China in 1987 to pursue a doctorate in robotics at the University of Lille in France and received his doctorate in automation and information technology in 1993. He then continued his career at the renowned educational and research institute École nationale supérieure des arts et industries textiles (ENSAIT), at the same university, which conducts education and research in textiles. Today, Xianyi Zeng is a professor and is also the director of the national research laboratory, GEMTEX, in textiles, in France.

Research between different disciplines

“My research career differs from that of most academic colleagues in that I have worked for a long time in an interdisciplinary but linked way to textiles, I have worked with textile optimisation, textile innovation, supply chains, quality and design. But most of my projects are about digitalisation and AI,” he explained.

But what is it that fascinates him most about his research? He explained, “In applied research for the textile field, it is mainly the innovation element that fascinates. Our research results make it possible to quickly transform the industry. It is fascinating and a pleasure to see our findings implemented and recognised by both industry and society. My goal is to change the entire textile industry in Europe towards more sustainability and through digitalisation. The goal is for everything to be connected throughout the production and value chain.”

Initiated research school together with the Swedish School of Textiles

Xianyi Zeng already has a relationship with the Swedish School of Textiles at the University of Borås. He initiated the SMDTEX research school together with Håkan Torstensson, former professor at the Swedish School of Textiles. It was an ambitious project funded by the EU’s Erasmus Mundus programme and involved international collaboration between several higher education institutions in different countries.

“The purpose of the doctoral school was for the doctoral students who participated in the programme within their respective doctoral projects to be trained to implement sustainable development in textile management and design by collaborating,” he explained.

The various participating universities were to jointly supervise the doctoral students. A total of 33 doctoral students from different parts of the world participated and graduated.

“It was very interesting to train these cutting-edge doctoral students with the capacity to do research in innovation and with an understanding of the problems that the textile industry is facing, which benefits the textile industry. And it is important to remember that the textile chain is everywhere in the world and connects different countries with each other. It is important to have international knowledge in order for it to work,” he said.

Development of new analytical methods

The doctoral programme led to new methods for conducting life cycle assessments, LCAs, and evaluations of the impact of the textile industry. It also led to new methods for the management and optimisation of the textile value chain at an international level and new methods for quality control as well as for the digitalisation of fashion and fashion design.

The Swedish School of Textiles was of great importance to Xianyi Zeng, who praises the collaboration, not least with Håkan Torstensson.

“It was thanks to Håkan Torstensson that we were able to achieve such good results. At the beginning of the project, we were in daily contact with each other to evaluate and select suitable doctoral students,” he recalled.

In recent years, he has continued his collaboration with the Swedish School of Textiles, together with, among others, Professor Vincent Nierstrasz, Eva Gustafsson, Chair of the Research and Education Board, and Professor Rudrajeet Pal.

The textile industry is important in Europe

Xianyi Zeng talks about how he sees the textile industry today.

“The fashion and textile industry is still important in Europe. Not least in Sweden and France, but we must invest more in higher education and work to produce more research results in order to develop more innovation in the field. Compared to other parts of the world, we are lagging behind when it comes to innovation,” he said.

What does it mean to you to be awarded an honorary doctorate?

“It's a great honour. This means that I want to see even more collaborations with the Swedish School of Textiles and also in other research areas at the University of Borås, and with other universities in Sweden. Together with the Swedish School of Textiles, he is already putting together new applications for new projects. It is also a great honour to be appointed together with the two other honorary doctors, former Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson and entrepreneur Staffan Hillberg,” he concluded.

Honorary Doctor 2024

"Xianyi Zeng is a well-renowned full professor at the ENSAIT Textile Engineer School at the University of Lille and Director of the GEMTEX National Laboratory. He has the French National Knight's title in the Order of the Academic Palms and was holder of the Innovation R&D Award from the National France-China Committee in 2021. His main research interests include artificial intelligence applied to textiles, fashion and textile digitalization, sensory analysis, intelligent wearable systems, computerized garment design and customized production management. Xianyi Zeng has been an important and highly valued partner of the Swedish School of Textiles. He initiated and coordinated the highly successful European research school SMDTEX, Sustainable Management and Design in Textiles (2013-2020), which was financed by the EU through the Erasmus Mundus programme. A significant part of the 15 doctoral students who obtained their doctoral degrees in Textile Technology and Textile Management, are now employed at the University of Borås and other universities. In addition, a large number of scientific papers were produced through these collaborations. Through Xianyi Zeng's involvement, the entire environment and its internationalisation were strengthened in the field of Textiles and Fashion at the Swedish School of Textiles."

Xianyi Zeng will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Textiles and Fashion. 

Lecture: “Creating an AI-Based Metaverse for Fashion and Textile” on 2 May at 9:00 in Sparbankssalen   M2