Creativity and innovation – the tale in textiles

Written by Mark Briggs on . Posted in Current events, Events

How do we safeguard innovation and creativity at a time of tight economic budgets and increasing competition from outside the continent? A major European conference took place at the EUI, March 24-25 discussing these issues in the context of the textile industry.

The textile industry encompasses everything from the production of cheap socks to the glamour of the Pitti catwalk. Increasingly it is finding a new future in architecture and medical science while the future of fashion appears destined to resolve around wearable technology, everything from information carrying dyes, to lights and electrics.

European Textile conferenceMost of the added value from a garment comes from the surface; the design, the brand and the packaging, areas in which Europe is a global leader. Author Bradley Quinn highlighted the modern approaches to textiles design and the ways the industry is increasingly embracing technical innovation to drive the creative process.

“Up until now we haven’t been able to wash and move freely using wearable technology. This is changing,” said Quinn. As the integration of technology into our clothes becomes a viable reality the use of LED generated motifs and interactive designs are becoming increasingly important. As the tech giants battle it out over new smart watches the incorporation of the internet opens up new possibilities for our clothes to interact with their environments, and their owners.

There is a growing collaboration between textiles and science, with the advances shared by both fields. New fabrics used in medical science have the flexibility to allow them to react more naturally to the ebb and flow of muscles and blood. Such materials are also less likely to be rejected by the body than other materials.

Textiles adaptability is also making them increasingly useful in architecture, freeing the designer from the limitations of a particular substance and allowing them to design a structure and then create the material that best suits the purpose.

Innovation is one thing, but without cold hard economics it might not be enough.

The textile industry was not immune from the financial crisis. However it saw a big recovery in 2010, and since then the market has been stable, but with low level growth. While the industry does not represent a significant part of the European economy it is hugely significant in specific countries; including Italy.

Professor Bernard Hoekman“In textiles, if Italy smiles, Europe smiles,” said Francesco Marchi of the European Textile and Clothing Confederation.

While in tough economic times there is a temptation towards protectionism, Professor Bernard Hoekman, Programme Director at the EUI’s Global Governance Programme, says for long term growth, the opposite is required: “Instead of focusing on protecting a firm or an industry against imports, we need to lower imports tariffs and address things such as competitiveness.”

To foster competitiveness individuals and companies need to benefit from their ideas, keeping them in business and encouraging others into the field. “During the renaissance Venice benefited greatly from granting patents to encourage artists and craftsmen to come to the city,” said Professor Luca Mola, Professor of Early Modern History at the EUI. During the 1500s taking the plans for silk spinning machines out of Bologna was punishable by death as the town sought to maintain its competitive advantage.

More modern initiatives from the European Union are seeking stronger legal protections for intellectual property rights, while new technologies such as Micro Trace can be used to ensure each item carries a unique tag making it impossible to counterfeit.

However those in the creative sector of the industry can play their part in helping themselves and their industry.

Linda Loppa is Director of Polimoda, Florence’s leading fashion school. She called on the industry to “build bridges” recognising the expertise it has, and bring people in from outside to compensate for those it doesn’t. The creative textile industry is in a “transitional moment” she said, brought about by a combination of the economic climate, and the growth of internet services and its effect on the high street. “We need new ways of creating, new ways of writing and new research. We need to use our cities and spaces better because this is where we have the energy.”

“We shouldn’t be ashamed that we like luxury, but we should understand what it means to the different people of the world,” said Loppa. There needs to be debate and to embrace new ways to put “ideas on a platform” creating a dialogue and helping to generate new ideas.

This idea was backed up by Wendy Malem of the London School of Fashion who called on the industry to embrace skills from the outside and to “stimulate innovation by putting people together in a room who otherwise would never have met.”

The European Union is investing in the textile industry through the framework of its Horizon 2020 programme, which  through funding in the key areas of ‘Excellent Science’, ‘Industrial Leadership’ and ‘Societal Changes’ aids investment in new and socially responsible technologies. The initiative involves every stage of the industry from the materials used, to the method of production, to what happens at the end of an item’s life.

Companies themselves are also adapting to new economic realities. Innovations such as clustering have been used in Serbia to allow companies to purchase raw materials en masse for a cheaper price. The same tactic is allowing Small and Medium Enterprise companies to gain access to international markets and boost collective R&D.

The ideas and solutions showcased at the conference need not be isolated to the textile industry; the guiding principles are applicable to every sector. Summed up by the EUI’s Secretary General, Pasquale Ferrara: “Innovation and creativity is essential for not just this sector, but for the whole economy.”

Tags: , ,