BUDDING textile designers gathered in Bradford for the second year running to find out about career options and visit local mills.

The two-day Making it in Textiles event took place as UK textiles is enjoying booming demand and growing international sales.

According to the Campaign for Wool - which was launched by its patron Prince Charles in Bradford in November 2010 to boost use of the natural fibre - turnover within the UK wool industry has risen by more than two-thirds to around £270 million.

Demand is particularly strong across fashion with figures showing that the UK wool clothing market has risen across the board including menswear, womenswear, knitwear, active wear and workwear to a value of £1.2 billion.

It says 8,000 weavers are employed at 40 British mills - 25 per cent higher than a year ago as mills such as Abraham Moon in Guiseley continue to grow exports around the world.

The Campaign says 90 per cent of sales from British fashion brands and 50 per cent of sales from interiors brands are exports and the ‘made in the UK’ label continues to be a deciding factor in global purchasing decisions.

The biggest export markets for the British wool industry, including weavers, spinners, carpet manufacturers and fashion brands, are Japan, the United States and Germany with China quickly catching up.

The UK also has a large market in the export of contract upholstery for the transport sector with wool the chosen material for many new planes, trains and cars due to its strong safety record. The British market for wool in interiors and apparel is currently worth £3 billion.

James Sugden of The Weaver’s Company, who organised the Making it in Textiles event, said: “There is a vibrant industry out there with 100,000 people working in textiles in the UK. We’re opening a dialogue between industry and students, we’re trying to create pathways into the industry for graduates of textiles, both design students and technical students.”

Final year students from around 20 UK universities and art schools, including the University of Leeds and University of Huddersfield, attended the two day event at the Midland hotel, which featured interactive presentations, panel discussions and visits to local mills.

Students and their tutors met leading industry figures and learned more about opportunities in yarn and cloth design and production.

The event was attended by 130 students and tutors and funded by the Campaign for Wool and three City livery companies - The Clothworkers’ Company, The Drapers’ Company and The Weavers’ Company

Among the speakers was Gary Eastwood, managing director of Keighley-based woollen and worsted mill Pennine Weavers, whose fabrics are used by top fashion brands such as Burberry, Prada,and Armani, outlined the company’s commission weaving business model .

He said: “There’s a strong area of opportunity in textile production. We have a skilled workforce of 78 and we make continual investment in technology, systems and people. It’s not a nine to five job – it’s hard but well rewarded.

"Whilst being immensely proud of having one of the most highly invested weaving plants in Europe, we recognise the real success of the business is down to the unique skills and commitment of every one of our employees.

"Our policy of continued training and our drive for continued improvement ensure we are preparing the next generation of skilled operatives to help maintain our position as a world leader in our field."

Another contributor was James Laxton, managing director, of bespoke yarn company Laxtons at Guiseley.

He said: “These are exciting times. Home-produced products are really interesting retailers. We just have to hope the consumer comes on board. As a nation, we aren’t very good at shouting about the quality of British products. We need to do that more because when we make a premium product, we make it very well.”

The aim of the conference was to forge stronger links between university textiles courses and the UK textile manufacturing industry. It also aimed to educate students about the importance of understanding the skills required by the industry and how to apply what they have learnt in their studies to the workplace.-

The Campaign for Wool highlighted a the lack of resources available to students looking to pursue a career in textiles .

Among the speakers was Paul Johnson, managing director of Huddersfield-based WT Johnson & Sons who highlighted the vital and often overlooked last process in the production chain – fabric finishing.

He said: “Textiles manufacturing is advanced manufacturing. But we recognise we are working with a natural fabric and you can’t get consistency every time, you recognise that experience and expertise have an advantage. All our people are decision makers, they see what’s going on with a fabric and act accordingly. We have lots of opportunities for dye technicians, designers, all of them trying to make cloth special.”

Speakers also included independent weave designer Kirsty McDougall, co-founder of the Savile Row men’s suiting company Dashing Tweeds.

Patrick Grant, creative director of Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons and judge of BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee, spoke at the conference dinner.

They provided advice and information about employers’ expectations for those wanting to enter the industry.

Elaine Bremner, subject leader in weave at Glasgow School of Art, said: “For our students to come to Bradford and interact with students from other areas of the UK has broadened their horizons. They’re seeing the competition for jobs. And with 60 mills in the area, they also see the prospects for employment in other areas of the UK.”

The students gained first-hand experience of modern textile production methods through tours of five local textile manufacturers – all of which are world-leaders in their fields.

The participating companies were Bradford-based worsted weaver Stanley Mills.; historic felted wool specialist AW Hainsworth & Sons, in Pudsey; woollen weaver Abraham Moon & Sons, of Guiseley; interiors and transport fabric specialist Camira in Meltham, Huddersfield and Pennine Weavers .

Philippa Brock, senior lecturer at Central St Martins College, London, said: “It’s an amazing opportunity for students to network with industry and fellow students; to see production and to speak with both junior and senior members of the industry.

"It’s allowed them to see what industry is really like from a variety of perspectives and the chance to see other types of manufacturing in the UK. It’s also good for the information we give them at college to be reinforced by other industry voices, particularly from recent graduates to whom they can readily relate.”

Tamsyn Ainsworth, a textile design student at the University of Huddersfield, said: “I had visited some local mills before. But visiting Pennine Weavers was a completely new experience; the business plan of commission weavers was another approach to weaving that I hadn’t considered before.

"I also thought it was really interesting learning about how the other universities work. And I have been inspired by conversations with other students to develop new concepts for my own work.”

Over the two days delegates learned about the supply chain, textile manufacturing methods and potential career opportunities at every stage of production