FEATURES

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.


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