Thank you for inviting us to participate in the Drapers and UKFT Save Our Skills (SOS) debate (Drapers, February 11).
It was inspiring and reassuring to see there are many people who share our concerns about the future of British manufacturing.
Having listened with interest to the many opinions as to where the industry should be helping our future manufacturers, I do think we have missed one fundamental point. Sector skills council Skillset has identified 850-plus fashion courses and about 5,000 design graduates coming onto the job market every year. These students have been put through some of the most highly respected design education in the world and yet how many leave with the knowledge or desire to understand the construction of the garments they design?
It seems the fashion industry has been put on this glamorous pedestal along with footballers, pop stars and the 15-minute celebrity culture. Yes, there are many designers who live within the A-list, but these designers have not succeeded because they can draw a pretty picture. Think of Alexander McQueen - Savile Row-trained, and how it showed.
At Sienna Couture we work with many of the new young designers and what they do have is a fundamental knowledge of how garments are constructed, how cloth works and the importance of quality not only on the outside of a garment, but within it as well. This has come from their passion for their craft.
We also see many students who come to us for help to make their final collection. They have knowledge of sewing but it seems from what they tell us that they are not encouraged to pursue the technical side of their courses. This translates into the patterns and toiles we are given by them - some are good, most are poor. The students don’t seem bothered by the fact and have the opinion that when they are ‘designers’ someone else will sort it out for them. We are left to re-cut patterns and correct their mistakes. When trying to explain the reasons why we’ve made changes, we are usually met with blank expressions.
Don’t misinterpret me - I love working with the students, they are the future of British design and we help and encourage them as much as we can - but they really do need to be taught the importance of understanding the craft of construction and the real pleasure of seeing perfectly constructed clothes.
When I was at school doing my sewing O-level, we had to go and buy a pattern, cloth and trim and make a garment following the instructions and pictures given. How basic, but it sparked a flame in me and taught me about process and technique. Why not give students the same thing - they would see how pattern pieces fit together and understand the basic processes involved and it would hopefully make them begin to enjoy and explore the possibilities of sewing. My own HND course had a technician who was there to help us, but we had to make all our own clothes. I understand that colleges offer students some technician time, but many are encouraged to outsource the sampling of their designs, and often the patterns and toiles. Colleges should be providing the proper training alongside the designing to open the students’ eyes to the whole process.
How many graduates this year will achieve the dream? Very few. And how many will falter under financial pressure and never fulfil their dream of working within this industry? These graduates, with all their flair and enthusiasm, should be shown that the technical side of fashion can be as rewarding as the design. The pleasure of seeing the dress you made looking fantastic on a magazine cover gives you a sense of self-respect that is priceless, and as we have all acknowledged, if you can sew you will always have work.
We don’t need to spend millions setting up a manufacturing academy. We already have the colleges and courses, we just need to fine-tune the courses to supply the real needs of the industry with properly qualified, employable graduates. They leave with enormous debt - they could also leave with a realistic career.
Rachael Bromley, co-director of womenswear brand and supplier Sienna Couture, London
I would like to thank Drapers and UKFT for last week’s seminar on ‘Made in Britain’. It was very well organised and extremely informative.
Anda Rowland, vice-chairman of Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, London
Thank you for having me at your event. There are a couple of further points I would like to make. Our approach at David Nieper is self-help and in doing so we seek to help our peers. We believe that good competitors grow markets. Our schools competition builds local awareness and we do pretty much all of our machine room training ourselves through the David Nieper Fashion Academy. We also have close relationships with a range of higher education institutes who work with us to promote the needs of the mature 50-plus market for womenswear and accredit our higher-level programmes. We are also keen for the industry to capitalise on digital and other emerging technologies and skills as well as more general business skills, which form the basis of our more advanced masterclasses.
We are a small company but have made things happen to meet our own needs as well as those of others.
Two further matters: first, De Montfort University. I was involved in the shutting down of the chemistry course at Exeter University and was able to help forge a deal whereby Bristol and Bath took over the critical parts of the programme that would have been lost. Perhaps I might suggest that in this case it would be worth brokering a conversation between us at David Nieper and Nottingham Trent to see how we might resolve this issue.
Juliet Williams, non-executive director at nightwear and lingerie brand David Nieper
I was SO impressed with the event - it has given me so much to think about. I was just really sorry that I could not spend longer, but it was really worthwhile.
Terry Mansfield CBE, chairman of Graduate Fashion Week
Ahead of your meeting with culture minister Ed Vaizey, I thought you might be interested to know about Manufactureandindustry.co.uk, a research blog I have been running since 2009. The purpose of it is to celebrate British-made brands.
While conducting my research one of the strangest things I have uncovered is how little communication occurs between manufacturers as to how they could help each other (for example with old machinery to sell on, etc). Also, the lack of government support to keep businesses going has come up time and again.
Adam Thompson, blogger, Manufacture & Industry
Euro-Rose Knitwear is based in Leicester and provides UK knitwear production to most of the high street. We would like to join your SOS campaign.
We have recently invested in the latest knitting machinery and are finding it almost impossible to get skilled mechanics and technicians for the machines. The agencies do what they can, but even they are overstretched.
Sat Sodhi, managing director of Euro-Rose Knitwear, Leicester
I write to offer my support for your campaign to Save Our Skills following the decision to axe the Fashion and Textile Technology course at De Montfort University.
We have offered industrial placements to students on this course for the past five years and feel it will be a real loss to the industry for the course to be discontinued.
Pat Harrison, senior technologist at TDP Textiles, Swadlincote, Derbyshire
To join the campaign, go to www.drapersonline.com/news/save-our-skills