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Barbara Kennington

The new chairman of student support body Texprint tells Gemma Dunn about her career highs and why it’s a great time to be in fashion

Where did your fashion career begin?

After training in fashion design at the Royal College of Art (RCA), I set up my own fashion label Lumiere in 1978 with a friend at a time when society was quite cutting-edge. By the mid- to late 1980s I joined The Bureaux design consultancy. For five to six years I worked with a variety of companies and really got to know the industry. I was lucky to do my own thing early on as it gave me a very independent way of thinking.

Was the industry 20 years ago much different to today?

It was an exciting time. There were new and upcoming designers and challenges affecting fashion. It was a great time for experimenting; if you had ambition you could try. It’s not dissimilar now. If you are a young, ambitious designer and you are prepared to be adaptable and exploratory, there is no reason to not be optimistic. It’s a good time to be in the industry; it’s just tougher.

Was it difficult to make your transition into the commercial world?

When I left RCA, I couldn’t find a job I wanted within the industry. Starting my own label was a struggle, but I loved it, so my transition was to continue to enjoy design and immerse myself in it. It meant I got to know myself and what I really wanted to do, before going straight into the commercial world. I would encourage young designers to find an environment where they can explore themselves and their own creativity.

How does Texprint offer support to emerging designers?

Texprint offers an invaluable platform for textile design graduates starting out in their careers. It enforces introductions with industry leaders, while creating extraordinary connections with European and commercial markets. Sponsors are also fantastic - they don’t just provide the cost, but also support, critique and promote.

Do you plan to implement many changes in your new role at Texprint?

It would be sensible of me to observe the process first. Current chairman Julius Schofield is fantastic, but sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to think about what could work differently. I want to explore new aspects of communication online and offline, and find invaluable connections within a wider global industry.

What do you look for in an up and coming textile designer?

Standards today are high and we do have many fantastic designers. It’s about encouraging the best. For me a good designer has originality, fresh thinking and an upbeat attitude. The industry is so stimulating because it is a constantly moving framework with fresh and gorgeous designs to look at.

What has been your career highlight so far?

WGSN [Kennington was founding creative director of the trend forecasting site] has been my most enjoyable. I am extremely proud of what it has become and what it has achieved within the industry. Whatever you do in life, it is about quality. I expect people to try hard and this is what I have reflected throughout my life and career.

What do you like doing outside of the fashion world?

I love the theatre and contemporary art (Saatchi gallery pictured). I would also love to find more time to paint and be more creative.

Who are your fashion inspirations?

[1970s fashion designer] Bill Gibb for his textile focus (pictured), Prada was revolutionary for me and I loved Jil Sander’s early design.

What is your favourite city to shop in?

I love London and New York. Beijing (pictured) is also fantastic; they are extraordinarily creative over there.

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