Overcoming the obstacles


Learning, networking and re-structuring production for local enterprises

The Design and Make Labs at the Textile Centre of Excellence have engaged with a significant number of local enterprises over the lifetime of the project. Almost all engagements have related in some way to capacity building, knowledge transfer, bringing small designers closer to manufacturers and, more widely, re-structuring production.

Overcoming barriers to the production of short runs is a particular feature of the examples below, carried out by Ruth Farrell and the team at the Textile Centre. Ruth brought to bear expertise from various colleagues to agree and construct an easy to understand process that identified the key stages in the route from idea to finished product. The result, mapped in 35 stages, has been used with various clients since.

As a specialist textile company, AW Hainsworth has been an unrivalled market leader for over 230 years. Abimelech William Hainsworth started manufacturing woollen cloth in Yorkshire in 1783. TCoE labs were involved in discussions with Adam Hainsworth and Leeds Becket University to advise them on their plan to start an onsite design hub. The hub invests in local designers and start-up brands in the area with other spaces offered through the local university. Candidates working within each space will be able to work autonomously as well as interact with likeminded creative people around them. Those entering the space are able to draw on the many years of experience and Industry knowledge of the Hainsworth family and their employees. There is also be the opportunity to work with the Hainsworth own skilled machine operators and technicians to develop and bring new ideas to fruition. The set-up has thus far proven to be successful, attracting local businesses, organisations and politicians to the space and initiating new ideas and potential business interactions. The Labs continue to be in touch with The Hub and have provided consultation time and guidance to its members.

Deep in the heart of picturesque Shelley, West Yorkshire lies the converted Barncliffe Mills, the home of Small World Beers. Run by a small team, the brewery is dedicated to creating the very best traditional beers and ales, fed from spring water. The brewery wished to further develop its own brand of clothing to sell to pubs and the public besides servicing its employees with work-wear. The Textile Centre’s Design Lab was able to work with them to source manufacturers and design the range as well as assisting with development, costing and short run production.

Prisca Vilsbol was one of the headline speakers at the TCBL_2017 conference, held in Athens, where she discussed sustainable design. A chance meeting afterwards set up a knowledge transfer proposal between Prisca and TCBL Lab manager Ruth Farrell. Both have extensive experience and expertise from concept through to finished garment and sales so they know all about the breadth of knowledge and skills required in the clothing design process. Critical self-analysis and an ability to understand one’s strengths and weaknesses are important factors towards running a business; so too is an ability to network and find answers to burning questions without reinventing the wheel and wasting time in doing so. Prisca thought she could improve her business further by an even greater understanding of costings as applied to the design and manufacturing process. Ruth’s own experience and teaching knowledge seemed like a great match-making opportunity! What followed was simple but effective. Ruth agreed that TCBL would provide a knowledge transfer session via skype once they had returned from Athens with Prisca then using her enhanced knowledge to pass on the information to some of her Scandinavian contacts in turn. Through the transfer of knowledge and examples Prisca knew that Danish colleagues would be able to jump stages of the process, be more confident in their business transactions and make fewer mistakes. Ruth felt it was interesting to discuss the issues Danish businesses were facing and great to be able to help Prisca. The conversation highlighted that the issues faced in the UK were just the same in Denmark and potentially other countries.

Claire runs her bag business Butterfly Tree from AW Hainsworth’s design hub in Leeds. In the first year she successfully gained an order with a store in Leeds. The initial contract was for 6 months for which she agreed a low price to gain the business. AW Hainsworth helped Claire by giving her access to a machinist 2 days per week for free and Ruth Farrell was able to offer TCBL support around negotiating with customers and buying departments. Negotiating well is a common problem for SMEs and start-up companies, large retailers can flex their buying muscles to pressure suppliers to commit to low selling prices because they know that small brands see the opportunity as promotion. When new orders increased in size Claire now needed more help to produce these orders. However she was currently making little profit and was fully reliant on the free labour that Hainsworth was providing with her as the middle section of the make process. This also meant that we could not help her as she needed to be on the same site as the other sections of production were passed to and fro. Ruth advised Claire that going forwards she should have a contract in place that stipulated the length of time that the price was fixed for. In this instance she suggested that Claire contact the retail buyer and give them her preferred price or a reduced quantity in order to enable her to reach a more palatable solution.

Who’s involved

Ruth Farrell, The Textile Centre of Excellence with AW Hainsworth, Small World Beers, Prisca Vilsbol & Claire Shakespeare.

Goals and Objectives

All of the Labs’ clients wanted to learn in order to take their business or business idea further forward. The range of services offered by Ruth Farrell, through the TCoE’s Make and Design Labs was extensive and, in many cases, went into great depth. Every case was different but Ruth’s knowledge and expertise identified many common issues and offered solutions that could help move clients forward.