FEATURES

Jill Chatwood, lululemon athletica, selects internship award winners

21 July 2014 by Jainnie Cho

We talk to Jill Chatwood, Design Director of lululemon athletica, the Canadian athletic apparel company dedicated to making functional and equally beautiful clothing for proactive, optimistic modern women.

At lululemon athletica, customers are “guests” and store employees, “educators”.  Since its founding more than 15 years ago this unorthodox approach to business and fashion has helped put lululemon on the map as the ‘go to’ innovative and fashion-led athletic apparel company. “I’m passionate about bringing together art and athleticism. These aren’t areas that people generally put together but athleticism is a form of art and art can be athletic and dynamic too,” said Jill Chatwood, design director of the Canada-based company, specialising in yoga-inspired clothing.

It’s this focus on design that is both original and commercial that drew lululemon to both sponsor Texprint and create the lululemon Texprint Internship Award, acknowledging creativity and the need for industry experience; it is also what drew Chatwood to become a judge for Texprint. “[Texprint] was always the area at Indigo/PV in Paris that had the most exciting stuff… the most exciting raw work unconstrained as yet by the garment industry”, she recalled of her first brush with Texprint.

Dennis “Chip” Wilson founded lululemon in 1998, amidst the yoga boom of the late 1990s and increasing female presence in sports. Starting from one shop in Vancouver, Canada, including a design and yoga studio as well as a retail store, the business expanded rapidly. It now has around 200 stores, mostly in North America, with a new store in Covent Garden among other locations.  In 2009, the company launched a subsidiary, Ivivva Athletica, a dance and gymnastics clothing line for young girls aged six to 12.

Each lululemon store is a small universe onto itself. Store managers are much more than just managers – they decide the store’s look, from layout to colour, and control what kind of events they hold. “It’s important for us to make sure that not only are we a big brand with multiple stores but that each store is its own little micro community,” said Chatwood, who joined lululemon as a store employee in 2003.

Nurturing young design talent is another passion lululemon shares with Texprint. This winter, the company is set to launch a line of specialist cycling jerseys designed by Texprint alumna Florence Colson, one of two designers to win the lululemon Texprint Award in 2013. We sat down with Chatwood to discuss innovations in athletic wear, her interest in artful yet functional design, and the brand’s future product focus.

Jill with lululemon Texprint Internship Award selected designers; Charlotte Beevor (left) and Federica Tedeschi (right)

What drew you to become involved with Texprint?

The more I learnt about Texprint, the more it connected with what we believed in from a design perspective. Three years ago we decided to get more involved and sponsor Texprint and now we benefit, as the quality of interns we get from Texprint is unparalleled.

What is great textile design, or great design in general?

Great design is design that brings together beauty (colour and print) and function. I think both qualities have to live together in harmony, particularly in the world of modern sportswear where a garment can’t be just beautiful or useful. Form too has always been as important as function, so we can’t have something that doesn’t function for the sake of form. I think that the combination of these elements is where great design exists.

Designer Ailis Dewar shows her work to Jill and colleague judges

When did you start your relationship with lululemon?

In 2003, straight from design school - they had just opened up a store in my neighbourhood in Toronto and it was maybe only the third or fourth store at that time. I went from working in the store when I was going to school, to immediately joining the design team. It was such a good foundation - I just worked hard and did everything, from quality checks to product design, fabric and trim development.

At that time we had a tiny team of designers. Our whole company was founded on young, entrepreneurial designers, all coming together for a common goal. And this is one of the things we love about Texprint - we really love to support and nurture the energy of young, up-and-coming designers because they are the future.

What made you identify so strongly with lululemon?

The lululemon company ethos was something very original that hadn’t been created before. A modern yoga company didn’t exist before lululemon, or such a female-focused athletic brand - that was the new thing - it was really nice to see a brand emerge that was active and focused towards women. Being able to marry fashion with the active lifestyle was something that really excited me and the more I learnt about technical fabrics, the more exciting it became. To me it had so much more substance than just designing another evening gown or something like that.

What is your key focus when designing for the brand?

What excites me the most is being able to bring new ideas to the market that make people’s lives easier and better, these are also the challenges. Take safety for example - we’ve used reflective ink, yarn and fabric, all in different ways so that we can make our guests safe but in a beautiful way. Most athletic companies just put a reflective stripe down the sleeves and say, “There you go – now you’re visible”, we’ve worked hard to integrate safety and function in a more beautiful, subtle way.

Looking forward one of our goals has been creating print that feels more handmade than computer-generated - designing prints with personality and feeling, made by human beings, with love. 

Article tags: champions of texprint (41), business (51), sponsors (26), collaboration (9), texprint 2014 (7), judges 2014 (6), internships (1)

Texprint London 2014: platform for new textile design talent

14 July 2014 by Roger Tredre

Texprint London: 24 selected designers with judges

We look back on a memorable three days in London this July, when 24 young designers – the best of a new generation educated in the UK – attended the Texprint preview presentation in London.

After the rigorous interviews and the methodical sifting through over 200 portfolios and CVs, just 24 designers are selected. They have come from all over the globe but they were all educated in the UK and recently graduated from BA and MA programmes at colleges across the country. Weavers, knitters, printers and embroiderers – brought together for three days in London to show their work to the textile design industry.

Entrance display by Texprint 2011 alumna Emma J Shipley

The London preview presentation (July 9–10) is an important part of the process that climaxes in Paris in September at Premiere Vision, where all 24 designers show – and sell – their work to industry visitors at Indigo, the creative textile and surface design show-within-a show at PV. The excitement of the young designers in London was infectious. "I can't believe I'm here!" said Frieda Peppercorn, a designer who studied at Winchester College and whose witty prints inspired by Mrs Beeton were quick to catch the eye.

In London, the judges gathered the day before the presentation (July 8) to deliberate over the shortlist for prizes (the winners are announced in Paris). While the judges deliberated, the designers were on standby for further questioning. In London they also received their first exposure to Texprint sponsors, the press and potential employers and were given practical mentoring to prepare them for the next step of their careers. "It's fantastically helpful," said Jessica Hymas, a knit designer who recently left the Royal College of Art. "We've learned a lot about sampling and how to charge for samples."

On the afternoon of July 8th, the five judges arrived at Chelsea for four hours of intensive viewing and discussion. They represented a broad spread of expertise from across the industry, including Sarah Campbell of legendary textile design partnership Collier Campbell; Eifion Griffiths, CEO of highly regarded Welsh wool products company Melin Tregwynt; Sue Roberts, Design Director Home at leading UK department store group House of Fraser; Henry Graham, Chief Creative Officer of innovative London retailer Wolf & Badger; and Jill Chatwood, Design Director at fast-growing Vancouver-based Lululemon Athletica.

Judge Sarah Campbell examines the work of Aline Nakagawa de Oliveira

For these judges, there was an instinctive reaction to the work on display, but also a more considered response to consider and review, both individually and collectively. Peter Ring-Lefevre, Texprint Creative Director, urged them not to overlook the supplementary work: "It's often in the sketchbook that you get to know the real person."

Judge Henry Graham reveiws the work of designer Federica Tedeschi

The designers were called into the room for thorough questioning and scrutiny. They were invited to leave again. Names were tossed back and forth across the table. Excellence was celebrated, but there was a recurring complaint: Why did so many of the designers obsess about fashion? Why didn't they realise the huge potential of the interiors sector? The judges went back to the stands to review, and review again, the work. Slowly but steadily, a shortlist emerged. Names were read out and read out again. A tweak here, a plea there, a reshuffle – and another reshuffle. The debate always driven by an urgent, passionate desire from all involved that the right names should make the shortlist.

But the real pleasure of Texprint London is that everyone is a winner – because everyone is on the Eurostar to Paris in September. Hilary Scarlett, a leading textile and fashion trends consultant who regularly visits Texprint, had no doubt the designers will be well received in Paris: "The quality of work this year is stunning, really diverse, with sophisticated thought processes." Anne Smith, Dean of Fashion at Central Saint Martins, agreed: "It's one of the best years in a long time."

Designers Jonny Wadland (left image) and Ailis Dewar show their work to visitors

The judges were full of praise too. Sue Roberts of House of Fraser noted: "There are so many boundaries and restrictions in retail. It's great to see work with no boundaries." Sarah Campbell said the process of judging had been "very intense" and urged the designers to think more broadly about their work, particularly about its potential for interiors.

Judges Eifion Griffiths and Sue Roberts reviewing portfolio work

Some of the big guns of the industry showed up bright and early the next day to emphasise their interest. Karen Peacock, Head of Design at Marks & Spencer, was an early arrival. "For us, it's about keeping abreast of the talent," she said. "I consider Texprint to offer the cream of the crop in textiles and print. Not only is the standard very high but the students are also very good about talking about their work."

Texprint sponsors, such as John Snowdon, Clerk of the Worshipful Company of Weavers, agreed: "Our aim is to find the best. We always find them at Texprint." Roll on Paris!

CLICK HERE for Press Release: Texprint special prizes: the shortlist of nominees announced

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short listed designers with the judges: from left; Tali Furman, Charlotte Beevor, Jane Han Zhang, Georgia Fisher, Kaila Cox, judge Jill Chatwood, judge Eifion Griffiths, judge Sue Roberts, Jonny Wadland, judge Sarah Campbell, judge Henry Graham, Federica Tedeschi, Jessica Hymas, Beth Humes

Article tags: general (50), champions of texprint (41), sponsors (26), texprint 2014 (7), judges 2014 (6)

Texprint 2014: Meet the Judges, Eifion Griffiths

03 July 2014 by Jainnie Cho

We talk to Eifion Griffiths, Chief Executive Officer of Melin Tregwynt, a century-old Welsh wool products company that’s all about family, quality textiles and keeping tradition alive.

For Eifion Griffiths, a love of high quality textiles runs in the blood. His wool mill business, based in a remote valley on the Pembrokeshire coast of Wales, is a family affair, started in 1912 when his grandfather, Henry Griffiths, bought the mill for £750 at an auction.

The 20th century’s tumult and challenges never broke Melin Tregwynt. The company survived the rationing system during World War II, the 1980s' recession and the 2008 global economic crisis. In fact, over the last five years, the company’s sales and production have more than doubled. Its unique range of wool blankets, throws and cushions – the majority of which is made through the traditional double-cloth weaving technique – has been the secret design ammunition for big name hotels, designers and retailers such as John Lewis, Heal’s, Margaret Howell and the Salthouse Harbour Hotel, among others.

A firm believer in maintaining traditional methods of producing textiles, Griffiths admits he is not a fan of digital print. “[Digital printing] replicates anything and everything, regardless of the process, seemingly without any additional effort from the designer/maker," he tells Texprint. However, he adds, “I am open to persuasion and would love to see a digital design that really explored the potential of the technology.”

Much as the slow food movement prizes local produce, Melin Tregwynt strives to use more British wool and labour. This year, the company plans to launch a range of fabrics using 100 per cent pure new wool sourced from British sheep and spun in the UK.

Talking to Texprint, Griffiths discusses the struggles faced by the British textile industry, the intricacies of creating top quality textiles and Melin Tregwynt’s rich history.

What are your thoughts on an organisation such as Texprint?

I feel very strongly that the industry needs to support its young designers. Texprint helps students negotiate the journey between higher education and the commercial world. It provides support, mentoring, some necessary signposts and maps to make that journey easier.

The textile industry has suffered as work has disappeared overseas. We are beginning to see an improvement as the market is learning to value home based and traceable production. However this is almost too late to halt the rapid disappearance of skills and an ageing workforce. There's a need to get design students and industry apprentices to learn the traditional skills associated with the textile industry and build on that knowledge before all that expertise is lost forever.

Our woollen industry in Wales is an example of an industry still based on family-owned companies and there is a succession issue for those companies whose family members may not be interested in continuing in the business. A demographic time bomb is ticking under what remains of the UK textile industry.

What is great textile in your opinion?

I like designs that have the maker's mark on them. You can see the imprint of the designer’s hand and the judgement of their eye in the finished design. I like it when the way that the fabrics are made/printed/woven partly determines the form of the design. They feel right and have an authentic quality that comes from the interplay of the designer and the process of making.

What differentiates Melin Tregwynt’s woollen products from others?

We work mainly in the Welsh weaving tradition of double cloth weaving. This has its disadvantages but it gives the products an authenticity and integrity that stems mainly from the fact that the design and structure are linked. You cannot alter the design without altering the weave set up, threading, number of shafts etc. It gives the product a depth that mere surface decoration would lack.

What did you do before getting involved in the family business?

Neither my wife nor I were trained in textiles. I was actually an architect before coming back to the family business. Sometimes a level of ignorance about what you can or cannot do is useful, as we have attempted and occasionally succeeded in achieving things that anybody with any sense would have probably left well alone.

How has Melin Tregwynt being a family-owned business for so long influenced the company?

Being a family company gives us a heightened awareness of our own history and tradition. We see the products as a continuation – and each generation has reinvented the tradition to suit its market.

My grandfather used local wool and sold through local markets. There was barter and exchange but the mills of Wales were part of a much larger supply chain where flannels were woven and sold to steelworks, coal mines and army. Seemingly quaint rural mills were actually part of a much larger industrial supply chain. That came to an end after the First World War. Mills struggled to survive but we were lucky and found customers. 

In the 1950s, my father discovered tourism and sold directly to visitors to the mill and to other retailers selling to tourists in Wales. When I came back to the business in 1979, I set out to find a market away from the mill that would be interested in our products. Today, we operate in a global economy and sell to a global market place. We are once again part of a large supply chain.

How do you see Melin Tregwynt evolving in future?

We see our future as primarily a retail/design company with limited production facilities whose main concerns are innovation, product design and development. Within this framework we seek to protect existing jobs at the mill and to create new jobs.

We are a native Welsh company and we are committed to manufacturing in Wales. We are actively working with other small manufacturers to create and market the best Welsh designed and manufactured products.

In a textile industry where most products are sourced overseas, we also see ourselves as a possible training resource – an opportunity for textile students to have practical experience of manufacture.

Article tags: weave (22), home & interiors (28), general (50), champions of texprint (41), business (51), texprint 2014 (7), judges 2014 (6)

Texprint 2014: Meet the Judges, Sue Roberts

30 June 2014 by Roger Tredre

UK department store group House of Fraser is an exciting company to work for, not least because the company is now poised for international expansion, including Russia, China and the Middle East. This follows the announcement in April that House of Fraser is being bought by Chinese conglomerate Sanpower, which wants to develop globally what it describes as an "iconic heritage brand".

The company, which has a 165-year history, has 60 stores across the UK and Ireland, including flagship stores in Buchanan Street, Glasgow, and Oxford Street, London.

On the creative front, a key member of the team at House of Fraser is Sue Roberts, Design Director Home, who has been with the company for a decade. Texprint is delighted to welcome her as a member of our judging panel for 2014.

We interviewed Sue Roberts to find out how her career has evolved and what her job involves.

How did you start out professionally?

After studying Textile and Surface Pattern at Cleveland College of Art & Design, I started my career freelancing as a textile designer specialising in embroidery. I then moved to London and worked for Marks & Spencer researching fabric trends for a few years before starting at House of Fraser where I worked my way up from Design Coordinator to Design Director. I have been there 10 years this year!

How important is it for you (and Texprint of course) to support the next generation of designers?

It is very important. I would have loved this opportunity. I didn't ever imagine that I would end up in the role I have. It is not directly related to my training but one wouldn't have come without the other. I think when you graduate you are not always aware of how your training and talent can apply to different industries. College nurtures and encourages talent and creativity, which provides you with the tools to go on to bring new perspectives to so many different areas, some of which you may not be aware of. The future of so many different things depends on it. Any experience of that industry you can get is invaluable.

What do you look for in great textile design?

There is never one thing. In my role I am constantly looking and buying textile design for very different end uses. It may be a print, an embroidery or weave, but if it looks new it is always refreshing. You always see lots of the same thing. I am looking for something that needs to be commercial but with an edge that makes it different to everyone else's. Something with a clear personality.

Why is the UK educational system so good at producing design talent?

I think we have some of the best art and design education in the world here in the UK.  There is so much culture in the UK to feed from too – and some of the best opportunities. 

Can you explain the parameters of your job?

I manage the Home Design Team at House of Fraser. I am responsible for creating all the seasonal colour and trend direction with my team. I also have created all the in-house Home Brand concepts and their DNA and work very closely with the buying teams to deliver these into stores. Once the trends are presented we go on sourcing trips to start the development process, 

What's a typical day like for you?

The great thing about my job is that every day can be very different. I may start the day reviewing artwork with my team for various product areas that we create in-house. I may meet with individual buying teams to ensure the products they are developing work with the initial design vision. This is an ongoing process throughout the season.

I then spend time on a weekly basis with the marketing team to update on the Home Brochure, which is our in-store seasonal brochure. I am normally heavily involved in the concept, through to the shoot, then following the process through to print. I may meet with print designers to look for new prints for our eight in-house brands. All products are reviewed in stages throughout the season so there are a lot of sign off meetings across all product areas, from Furniture to Home Fragrance.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I think inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. Travel plays a major part as well, from sourcing in deepest China, fabric stores in India, the colours of a fruit stall in Bangkok, to retail trips to New York or Berlin, flea markets, trade fairs, hotels, restaurants – everywhere.

Can you explain how you are seeking to evolve Home design at House of Fraser?

A few years ago I think you could walk down the high street and the Home offer was pretty limited as everyone housed the same brands. What has been so successful for House of Fraser is the launch of our in-house House Brands. By this Autumn we will have launched eight, which has given us the opportunity to design and develop exclusive products across a very diverse range of customer profiles from Biba to Shabby Chic.

Some we have created from scratch, such as Casa Couture, and for others we work closely with brand partners like Rachel Ashwell, the owner and founder of Shabby Chic. 

We have never been able to do as much in-house design until now. As we continue to grow the design team I think the product offer will naturally evolve, become more exclusive and inspirational.

Article tags: home & interiors (28), general (50), champions of texprint (41), business (51), texprint 2014 (7), judges 2014 (6)

Texprint 2014: Meet the Judges, Henry Graham

10 June 2014 by Jainnie Cho

We talk to Henry Graham, Chief Creative Officer of Wolf & Badger, a London-based retail concept that is specifically designed to support new talent.

For new designers, Wolf & Badger is a very exciting prospect indeed. Back in 2009, when the global financial crisis was still in full flow, the Wolf & Badger founders – brothers Henry and George Graham – did the last thing that many would have done at such a time and launched their business. With little more than a brilliant idea, they boldly decided to dive into fashion retail, a sector in which neither of them had experience.

Wolf & Badger, based in London, is described as a “serviced retail” business, promoting and supporting young brands that might otherwise struggle to get their businesses off the ground. Its boutiques give designers or brands the opportunity to feature their products in their stores and online in return for a small monthly license fee. There is no middleman. Wolf & Badger takes a small commission, allowing the designers to keep the majority of any sales.

The brothers seem to have a knack for spotting promising new talent: young designers featured in their boutiques often go on to greater things. One such designer is Texprint and Royal College of Art alumna Emma J Shipley, whose line of signature scarves was launched at Wolf & Badger in 2011. That makes Henry Graham a perfect addition to Texprint’s judging panel for 2014.

Alumna Emma J Shipley on her Texprint stand at Indigo Paris 2011

Wolf & Badger was named one of Britain’s best boutiques by Vogue in 2010 and received the Brand of Tomorrow award from Walpole in 2011, among other accolades. The success of the first boutique in Notting Hill and online sales led to the opening of a new flagship store on prestigious Dover Street, Mayfair, in 2012.

Texprint caught up with Henry Graham to discuss textile design, talent spotting and the story behind Wolf & Badger.

What are the elements of good textile design? What makes a great textile designer?

Good textile design must be able to work within a creative context and be easily understood from several angles. A great textile designer is an artist and an inventor that translates their inspiration from life into two dimensions, ready for another artisan to recreate it into something new.

What will you be looking for as a judge at Texprint?

I will be looking for originality in the design and placement of the prints as well as understanding how the textiles can be utilised across different mediums. The best quality for young designers to have is to be confident and trust their own judgment.

What was your background before launching Wolf & Badger? Why did you decide to go into fashion retail?

I had pretty much always worked for myself, although it was primarily in the retail property sector rather than retail on the operational side or in fashion specifically.

Having said that, I have always been very inspired by and interested in clothes and all things design-led as well as having a good visual memory. When the recession came about George and I realised there was an opportunity to create a serviced retail platform where independent brands could sell direct to the consumer and share their own boutique. Since launching we now have two London stores in Notting Hill and Mayfair and a successful e-commerce site. 

Wolf & Badger is often referred to as a "serviced retail" business - can you elaborate on your business model? 

In consideration for a modest monthly fee from the designers we work with, we provide a seal of approval since we are known to be extremely selective in choosing which brands we work with and provide creative advice. We also showcase a capsule collection of their products in our stores and online; lend key pieces to press, stylists and bloggers; allow the designers to host trunk shows and private events in store; and also introduce them to trade buyers from major department stores and boutiques worldwide.

When we sell items on their behalf we take a commission of only 18%, thus enabling them to cut out the middleman and sell direct to the consumer. We also provide monthly reporting about what customers are saying about their collections and which pieces are being well received thus helping inform their design process.

How do you see Britain’s fashion retail sector develop in the future?

The trend is for fewer but bigger large chains that will benefit from economies of scale, and a reduction in the number of independent boutiques.

What is it like working so closely with your brother? How are your personalities and work ethic similar or different?

It is generally good working with my brother, as we understand each other's personalities. Having said that, we do argue sometimes! I am not sure if that is because we are partners or brothers. I am quiet and he isn't, so at least we are not both talking at the same time, so I would say our personalities are quite complementary. In terms of work ethic we are similar in that we both tend to respond extremely well to pressure. When things get hard or there is a deadline, then we achieve the best results. 

As chief creative officer, what are the colours, textures and design themes that are inspiring you right now?  

I think there continues to be a movement away from fit and structure and toward relaxed shapes and easy fitting pieces. There has also been a resurgence of embellishment, texture and theatre in textile design. I guess I would say that there is a movement toward eclecticism.

What are some of your favourite London fashion shops?

I like Rake, which is a wonderful clothes store selling menswear. They are based on Duke Street. Their clothes are very well made and the designs are fabulous and well fitting. I also like ACNE, which is on Dover Street where we have a store. They have great staff and products.

Finally, do you have any plans for Wolf & Badger to go global?

Very much so, we are currently working hard on our international expansion plans. Watch this space!

Article tags: champions of texprint (41), business (51), texprint london (18), texprint 2014 (7), judges 2014 (6)

Texprint 2014: Meet the Judges, Sarah Campbell

28 May 2014 by Roger Tredre

We talk to Texprint judge and leading British textile designer Sarah Campbell, best known for her 50-year collaboration with her sister as part of the original Collier Campbell.

Sarah Campbell was one half of the influential textile design partnership Collier Campbell with her sister, Susan Collier. Their exceptional client list since the 1970s included everyone from Yves Saint Laurent to Habitat and Liberty. Fifty years of their work was celebrated in an exhibition at London's Royal National Theatre, 2011, which opened just after the shock of Susan’s early death from cancer. In 2012, a beautifully produced book, The Collier Campbell Archive, 50 years of Passion in Pattern, celebrated their achievements.

So now there's just Campbell, working independently under her own name, still doing what she loves best – working with gouache paint, drawing and painting directly onto paper to the scale of the finished design. Then she traces and paints the repeats herself. Painting by hand, she believes, has an energy and integrity that makes it compelling and special – and guarantees it an important role in textile creativity, even in the digital age.

Current clients include West Elm, the US homeware company. Now Texprint is honoured to welcome Sarah Campbell as a judge for the first time. We enjoyed speaking to her at her studio in Gipsy Hill, south-east London. She has an infectious chuckle, a stack of great memories and interesting thoughts on the creative process.

Are you excited about judging?

I'm always excited about new things but I'm always apprehensive. I love a challenge and welcome new ways of looking at things. I fear I will find it very difficult indeed because there'll be an immediate response with what I like that will be genuine and instinctive but, unfortunately, may not be entirely helpful. So then I will need a response which is to do with: where has this come from, what it's doing, what it's about, what are the designer's intentions, is it fulfilling a brief and does it succeed? I don't know that I'm going to be good at this – I hope so!

Have you done any teaching yourself?

I run workshops and give talks now and then and I very directly support the next generation by going into a local secondary school every week – I work with only a very few students on the BTech course, not necessarily ones who will end up as textile designers.

That gives me an insight into what ordinary young people are dealing with on a daily basis, which is a lot of stuff... As a designer it's very helpful for me to see what's going on. So It's as much for me as for them.

Like everyone, I have my own prejudices about everything so it's very helpful to have those knocked about a bit. And I think it's quite helpful for them to have attention from someone with a very different point of view, different experiences. 

How did you start out professionally?

The way I got into textile design at all is that I went to help my older sister Susan. I was always good at drawing, and I took all that for granted. See that painting over there of a mackerel? I did that when I was eight. My dad was saying, try and get those shiny scales. When I look at my nature book, also from around that time, I realise I've hardly changed – in some of my interests at least!

So I was definitely in the way of drawing but I wasn't planning to be an 'artist'. I thought I was on the way to Cambridge to study anthropology. But from helping Susan, I went to Chelsea School of Art in 1964 and did Fine Art painting. They said after the first year, 'You finish all your paintings too quickly. You should go and be a designer.' Clearly I wasn't wracked enough!... Actually, it was a great education. A good art school education is one of the best because - there's so much you can learn and experience. And I had great teachers – it was a tremendous time, a wonderful and expansive time. I expect I took it for granted then, but I see it now.

When I left college in 1969 I continued working with Susan. I had no textile design education so I didn't have any prejudices as to what a textile designer was. And I had the sort of mind that likes to think about how to make a repeat work. I was blessed because I loved the painting and I liked the nature of repeat. The way I learned about repeat was redrawing tiny scraps that Blair Pride [design producer at Liberty of London Prints in the 1960s] would give us, saying, we need that painting up in a new repeat. I loved it. I loved thinking about the ladies who had done those drawings in the first place. It was a very modest way of learning – we were jobbing designers.

We were protected at Liberty; they wanted the best cloth, the best print, the best colour and product. They weren't interested in the cheapest or the lowest common denominator. It was a commercial venture where standards really meant something. It was a wonderful opportunity. There were many battles of course – such as over our Cottage Garden print. The salesman didn't like it, and Susan bet him that it would sell more than the William Morris. And it did! It was a struggle to get them to do it because it was so completely different. It was in a new language – a full floral painted as a natural profusion without apparent structure.

To what extent do you draw on your own archive?

My nature is to do the next thing. That's the nature of a designer. We're there to have antennae and to feel what's coming in the air and to redraw it. I can't deny my history and the fact that I've done a thousand ikats or a thousand checks. And of course they are in my head and they come back out again, but they come out differently. It's fascinating that they do. That must be the passage of time. But I focus on what I'm looking at now, what I'm feeling now, what I'm thinking now, what my brief is now.

Do you find you've sub-consciously copied yourself?

It doesn't really matter. I do do things that are very familiar and I think I must have done something like that before. And I think I revisit my themes. I have themes that I'm very interested in, but I don't mind, it's all within me, it's not like I'm stealing from another person. For example, one of the themes I love is trying to represent a landscape on cloth. In other words, to make a thing that seems to have real depth on a two-dimensional surface. I love the experiments around that. I also love the theme of the free dot. And I like the challenge of making two colours do a surprising amount of work.

You once called the famous Collier Campbell Cote d'Azur print 'hardworking'. What did you mean by that?

Designs come out of me and I make them. They go off to be printed and then they have to go out into the world and they have to do their job. And if it's a good design and people like it, they buy it and it becomes what I call hardworking. I meet people who say they had this or that for years, and they love it. And I think great – it did the job. I don't know anything about the people but that design spoke to them and it spoke to them for a long time. That gives me enormous pleasure. Cote d'Azur must have been a very telling piece of work, although I often wonder why. I guess it was a narrative without being pedantic or claustrophobic – the story was clear and it had both atmosphere and space.

You have never designed digitally and that has been challenging for you in terms of meeting client demands in the past. But an appreciation of working by hand appears to be surging back, doesn't it?

It's been quite a difficult marriage. When there are two camps, it's always hard to see each other's value. I went to Clerkenwell [Design Week] recently to Design Factory and saw Benchmark: and Sean [Sutcliffe] was in heaven because people had responded so well to his new pieces - the bringing together of the hand-hewn and the computer aided. Marvellous!

There was quite a long time in our careers when hand-painting design was absolutely the end of the world and nobody wanted it. I was antedeluvian, a dinosaur. Coming after minimalism [in the 1990s], which wanted neither colour nor pattern, the attitude became, we can do it all online on the computer and we want 30,000 designs a day. There's still plenty of that – people do thousands of designs, I don't know what the hell for! That method and that amount can make design simply a disposable commodity.

When did the tide turn?

I think since my life, working and otherwise, changed so dramatically in 2011, I'm much more in touch with it. I've had to learn [to appreciate] for myself that I'm valuable. I used to take it all for granted. I do have an unusual skill and I'm very lucky to have it. And if I value it well enough, other people will.

 

Article tags: champions of texprint (41), texprint 2014 (7), judges 2014 (6)