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It’s tiny in isolation and barely noticeable at first. But when it multiples and spreads — and it always does, quickly — it has a ruinous affect.

Like any insidious blight, it’s indiscriminate. I doubt there’s an Australian household, regardless of income, that it hasn’t penetrated, a rubbish dump or op-shop that hasn’t borne its consequences.

The problem at hand? Fabric pilling. Those tiny balls of fluff you pick off your coat cuffs. The fuzz that amasses along the sleeves of your favourite winter woollies, meaning the jumper you intended to wear for many seasons lasts less than a month.

As we become increasingly conscious of the environmental cost of fast fashion, and lose the ability to repair clothing like the generations before us did, our clothes must stand the test of time. So finding a way to avoid fabric pilling is a worthy enterprise.

You can get rid of the annoying little pills by spending hours buzzing away with a fabric shaver. Or you could put to test the idea that spending more will mean better quality and less pilling, but my own experiences debunk this. I’ve had expensive jumpers that have pilled after two days, while some of my cheaper garments remain fluff-free 20 years on.

New research from Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials, however, suggests that there may be less fluff on the horizon. This is good news for those of us who want to love our clothes for a long time (or as long they fit) and who have no desire to run the fast fashion race.

The researchers worked with Swiss textile innovators HeiQ to create a fabric treatment that works on all fibre types and limits pilling without giving the garment a rough feel.

How does it work? Material scientist at Deakin University, Dr Alessandra Sutti, explains that yarn is made of single fibres, which are held together in varying degrees of tightness.

“The treatment provides some very small structures in amongst the yarn to hold the fibres together more than otherwise, to reduce pilling,” she tells me. It works in a similar way to how a tree’s roots stabilise the soil around it, she adds.

There is a social benefit to her research.  “There’s an increased sensibility in the market for what a clothing lifecycle means,” Dr Sutti says. “We can create a push for things that last longer.”

In terms of clothing waste, most of us could probably do better. Research has found 30 per cent of Australians throw away more than 10 items in a year and nearly a quarter of us have thrown away clothing after wearing it just once.

Certainly, I don’t have a squeaky clean record. I’ve bought frivolous items on a whim or for the wrong reasons and hardly wore them.

But I want a better relationship with my clothes; I want us to look good together and for a long time. If fabric pilling factors less in the union, we’d have a better chance.

I don’t have the time, money or inclination to replace a black winter jumper with another black winter jumper. And I don’t want to add to the world’s rubbish problems. I just want the first black winter jumper to last. If I get bored of the look, I can always change the colour of my lipstick.

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