A bright future for fashion

26th August 2011 at 01:00
Hawick High's employers' day helps shine the spotlight on Scotland's textiles industry. Raymond Ross reports

Textiles never go out of fashion," says the banner hanging from the front of Hawick High. Inside the school hall, senior Hawick pupils strut the catwalk showing the recent creations of Scottish textile companies such as Lochcarron, Johnstons of Elgin, Hawick Knitwear, Hawick Cashmere and House of Cheviot, while pupils from other Borders secondary schools wander among the stalls, picking up leaflets, watching craft demonstrations and asking about a future in the Scottish textile industry.

Is there a future? "Absolutely," says Lisa MacIntyre, a lecturer in textile technology at Heriot-Watt University, Galashiels. "These companies here today supply Chanel, Hermes, Prada and Ralph Lauren, not to mention Eskandar, Queene and Belle, Lucien Pellat-Finet and Christopher Kane," she says.

"Mass production may have moved to China and elsewhere, but the best- quality garments are made in Scotland, a lot in Hawick itself, and what we supply is a niche luxury market where there is an absolute trust in our quality."

So why, in Hawick, the traditional heart of the Scottish textile industry, do we need an "Employers' Day" like this to find the "Textile Industry's Next Generation"?

"Because there's a skills shortage and companies can't get young people who'd rather take a job in a supermarket, which is tragic," says Dr MacIntyre.

The problem, according to Owen Adams, HR manager with Hawick Knitwear, is one of perception.

"A lot of young people don't really understand what it is we do in the mill or factory and they maybe think it's some awful job," he says.

The baleful shade of Mr Bounderby and the melancholy mad elephants of Coketown in Dickens' Hard Times spring to mind.

"But we're here to counter that image, to show that we are investors in people and to let the pupils know we can offer that rare thing - a skilled job for life," he says.

The industry has now reached a stable point where the demand is enough to sustain present levels of employment, says Mr Adams. But the industry needs more young people coming into it to continue to meet the demand.

Jodi Brooks is one such. Jodi left Hawick High two years ago and now works for Hawick Knitwear. "I had thought the factory might be dull, but I was proved wrong. It's a bright, colourful place to work and I'm learning new skills all the time," she says.

"It's better than any supermarket because you're guaranteed full working hours and, once you're in, you're in for good if you're doing a good job.

"I'd say to any of the pupils here today, `Get yourself in,'" she says.

The Hawick High Textile Day is the brainchild of Clair Hood, principal teacher of art and design and ambition and enterprise at the school.

"The idea is to get the industry to showcase its work in order to replace the skilled workforce and bring our community forward together, to let people know what we are capable of," she says.

"How many people know, for example, that House of Cheviot knitted the socks, jumpers and scarves for the Harry Potter films? We need to celebrate, to shine a light on our textile heritage and on our textile future."

Dr MacIntyre agrees enthusiastically.

"Top designers know that Scotland provides its own quality control - so they don't have to worry - and they know that product provenance is guaranteed.

"You can trace every fibre of a Scottish textile and know that it's ethically sourced as well as quality.

"What we are about quite simply is perfection and we need the next generation to pursue that perfection. We need to increase our skills base. We can't lose this. We need to encourage young people to come into the industry," she says.

CLAIR HOOD, PT ART AND DESIGN

"There's a local saying: `A day oot o' Hawick's a day wasted' but not, I'd argue, if you're taking your pupils to New York.

Last year, we took the senior pupils from our Creative Fashion course to the Big Apple after they raised pound;6,000 themselves to pay for the trip.

We visited Holland and Sherry's New York showroom. They're a Peebles company who do interiors for the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Oprah Winfrey. And we spent a day in the Fashion Institute of Technology, one of the top fashion colleges in the world. We also went to Johnstons of Elgin's New York showroom, which was fun for the girls whose parents were actually working in Johnstons' Hawick factory, as we toured the showroom.

And it's true some of these girls had never been out of Hawick before.

The whole point behind the S56 creative fashion course, which we started eight years ago, is to broaden educational experience and give the girls - it's almost exclusively girls who take the course - what in Hawick we call a `can dae' attitude.

Over the years we've visited the Birmingham Clothes Show, as well as Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney's studios in London.

The Creative Fashion course brings together academic and non-academic pupils and we're now looking at Creative Industries Awards to accredit it.

It's about giving the pupils a broader education, a real-life experience.

The next step is to organise a Borders Fashion Week and to produce a digital brochure to show what's being done in the textile industry and what can be achieved.

It's about the school and the community pulling together to highlight the creative and employment opportunities on offer."

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