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A day in the life of Rachel Webley

Speedo’s AquaLab innovation manager started with lingerie but is now the force behind its latest swimwear technology.

What does your typical week involve?
Each week is different, depending on the project I’m working on. My role involves travelling, which can mean going anywhere for product research internationally or within the UK. I also manage a team of three as part of Speedo’s research and development facility Aqualab. When I’m in the office I attend meetings about a variety of projects, some that I lead and others that I play a supporting role on working with our head of design and innovation Tim Walker. I find it’s a massive benefit to understand the engineering challenges and opportunities construction and manufacturing pose when designing a product, so having an in-depth knowledge in this area helps. My role is more weighted towards research and conceptual design, as we have an engineering team working with Speedo to produce ‘ready to manufacture’ products.

What task or meeting do you wish you could postpone?
I have to file my expenses for my travel today. I always try and put that off.

How did you get to where you are today?
I studied fashion at Barnfield College in Luton and initially only chose the course to be able to make my own clothes. However, during my time there I was entered into a local lingerie competition that I won. The prize was work experience in the design department at Luton lingerie boutique Berlei, and they encouraged me to apply for the Contour Design course at De Monfort University in Leicester. After leaving uni, I landed my first job as a junior underwear designer at Martin, a men’s underwear supplier for Marks & Spencer. I spent two years there before moving to Claremont, another M&S supplier, as a shapewear designer. They were really innovative and promoted forward thinking to create modern lingerie. When I left Claremont I got my first job in a more senior role as a senior bra designer for lingerie manufacturer Courtaulds. After two years there, I moved to the Fantasie department in Eveden as a senior designer. The opportunity to witness the entire process there, from trend forecasting to production, was fantastic. I joined Speedo in 2005. Initially I was a swimwear designer, which allowed me to meld my experience in underwear with Speedo’s technology. I joined the AquaLab team in 2007 as I had such a curiosity for engineering and wanted to be a part of the research and development process. I initially volunteered with AquaLab because I wanted to be involved with the team, so it was a gradual process to get to where I am today.

Who is your mentor?
I take inspiration from a variety of people, but at the moment my boss Tim Sharpe. I’ve learned so much from him. He knows where we need to go and how to get there.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Be confident and have passion, and don’t be afraid to show it.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Get as much experience in the field that you are interested in as you can. If it’s design, then be really proactive and understand your customer. Do your research - there are so many avenues available. For example, you can use the internet to instigate your own questionnaires, talk to people within the industry by ringing or emailing them, research papers that are already published, as well as blogs and Twitter and Facebook campaigns. It is important to use all of them, and fully understand who you are designing for.

If you could work in one other area of fashion, what would it be?
Footwear. I can see some similarities between shoes and lingerie, particularly in engineering, innovation and design.

  • Salaries for this position range from £50,000 to £60,000 (estimate provided by Vohs & Co)

If you want to be featured on the Drapers Jobs page, email james.knowles@emap.com

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