DESIGN and technology students descended on Bradford to investigate career opportunities in the textile manufacturing sector.

Around 120 students from 23 universities gathered at the Midland Hotel for the third two-day Making It in Textiles conference, which included visits to several West Yorkshire mills.

Funded by The Clothworkers’ Company, The Drapers’ Company, The Weavers’ Company, The Campaign for Wool and The Woolmark Company, the conference brought together industry professionals, educators and undergraduates.

Delegates heard from people both new and experienced in the industry and learned about the supply chain, textile manufacturing methods and potential roles for textile design and technology graduates.

Students toured West Yorkshire mills, including Stanley Mills and Luxury Fabrics, Bradford; Pennine Weavers, Keighley; AW Hainsworth & Sons, Pudsey, Abraham Moon & Son, Guiseley; Camira Fabrics, Holmfirth; and W.T. Johnson & Sons , Huddersfield.

For many it was their first mill visit to see textile production on an industrial scale.

Adam Hainsworth, director of A.W Hainsworth & Sons, explained, how the seventh-generation family firm famous for its uniform cloths as far back as the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, has maintained its competitiveness in the global marketplace through product diversification.

He discussed the importance of digitalisation, sustainability and circularity and emphasised how sharing rather than ownership and collaboration are the ways forward for modern businesses.

Paul Johnson, managing director of fabric finisher W.T. Johnson & Sons, said: “It is programmes like Making It in Textiles that remind me what a diverse, creative and fascinating industry we belong to.

“We as manufacturers have to be driven by innovation, we have to be better every day.”

The conference included a session with five leading textile designers who shared their career stories and advice.

The panel included Andrew Stephenson, woven and printed fabric designer at fashion brand Paul Smith, and Cherica Haye, colour and material designer at Rolls-Royce.

Richard Humphries, who established a silk mill in Sudbury, Suffolk , after facing redundancy in his twenties and produces luxurious jacquard silks for interiors and gowns, said: “We need to inspire the next generation and show them that there is a future in British textiles. But also make them aware that you can’t just be a designer but you need to have business skills as well.”

As if to illustrate his point on an industrial level, A

These thoughts were shared by industry luminary Barbara Kennington, who was instrumental in establishing fashion industry news and trends website WGSN and is honorary chairman of Texprint, an organisation run by industry professionals offering textile graduate awards and industry exposure. She encouraged the new designers to “stay true to yourself and your ethos there is plenty of time to be commercial later. Be sophisticated in your approach and explore your discipline.”

During a group discussion, five textile designers shared their career stories and advice with the audience. Two of the panellists, Andrew Stephenson – woven and printed fabric designer at Paul Smith – and Cherica Haye - colour and material designer at Rolls-Royce - are both Texprint alumni. Haye encouraged the assembly to “find your niche. Find a place where you can grow and develop.”

Challenged by a member of the audience on what advice on getting ahead they could give to those who were not award-winning designers, Stephenson said: “Make contacts – Making It in Textiles is a great place to meet with industry and build good relationships with your peers.”

Two others on the panel discussed how being in the workplace had changed their views their career directions. Towera Ridley is working as a sales coordinator at Batley, West Yorkshire-based cashmere weaver Joshua Ellis. Her salary is part-funded by The Weavers’ Company. She explained: “I didn’t aim to be in sales, but I was open to do something different. I am not a designer in my current position but I am using my knowledge when liaising with production. There are other routes just as exciting as design that utilise your creative and textile knowledge.”

Panellist Grace Harrison, a final-year fashion student at Leeds University, had just finished a placement year in the buying department of fashion retailer Anthropologie. Through funding by The Drapers’ Company she was able to move to London to take up this internship. “Take up opportunities even if they are not what you expected, take a risk,” she advised. “You don’t have to follow the exact pathway [as your training] you can look into different areas. It is key to show your employer all of your skills and to grow within the company.”

While Nadia-Anne Ricketts, discussed the gritty reality of establishing tech-meets-craft textile design company BeatWoven following redundancy from a major high street fashion chain: “Business is about detail, starting up your own company can be challenging, you have to take on a variety of jobs and lose the illusion of it being glamorous. But it is worth it.” A sentiment shared by Emma Sewell, co-founder of hand weaving studio Wallace Sewell, who relayed her inspiring story of what it takes to set up a successful business, producing a range of commissioned woven textiles with business partner Harriet Wallace-Jones, including scarves for the Tate Gallery and seat covers for the London Underground.

Julia Skliarova, senior textiles editor at WGSN, wrapped up the conference by sharing the story of her dynamic career path during which time she has worked in the US, won prestigious awards, trained at two of the UK’s leading art schools and has worked in the design department of a major UK retailer before joining the fashion news and trends website. She advised the students to “seize any opportunity to learn about the commercial market that will give you industry skills which are useful and transferrable, and will enable you to move with the times and adapt to the ever changing industry. Challenge yourself and your tutor.”