‘The fashion industry can be very old-fashioned,’ says the London College of Fashion’s Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology, Sandy Black. ‘The problem is that fashion businesses don’t have much of a culture of carrying out Research & Development, and they don’t tend to go in for knowledge exchange with academics.’
You might think that the rag trade had a lot to gain from engaging with research. Fashion, after all, is inherently multi-disciplinary, touching as it does on design, materials, technology, culture, business, ethics and sustainability — all areas in which research can contribute.
Yet as the British Fashion Council has recently identified, there are key issues preventing the UK fashion industry from reaching its full potential. For all that it thrives on the new, the world of fashion is secretive, with a reluctance among businesses (most of them SMEs) to share new ideas. It is also very fast-moving, with very little time for in-depth research on some of the things that might provide a competitive advantage — concept innovation, process innovation or new materials, say.
Designed to do something about this is the Fashion, Innovation, Research and Enterprise (FIREup) project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and run by the University of the Arts London, which includes the London College of Fashion. FIREup aims to show what methods can best engage those in the fast-moving designer fashion sector, and encourage them to work with academics.
To begin with, the FIREup project has involved industry interviews and surveys, which have identified some of the barriers to academic/ industry collaboration — not least the industry’s lack of understanding of academic research. As Sandy Black says, ‘university research is viewed as being far removed from what the fashion industry does. Largely this is about perceptions that need to be changed — people in fashion houses just don’t understand what research or collaboration means, in relation to them.’
To make it clearer what possibilities exist in this area, FIREup has funded a number of exemplar projects, showing practically what can be achieved when fashion businesses work with researchers. One, for example, looks at how new accessories can be made through 3D printing, while another involves testing a new garment development process, designed to be more sustainable. Case studies describing these projects are now available via FIREup’s digital platform, at www.fireup.org.uk.
The FIREup website also harnesses social media as a means of bringing fashion businesses and researchers together. Once website visitors have signed-up, they can be contacted by other users who might be interested in similar things: the site also provides pointers to information on external funding, and other available resources.