Designing Smarter Textiles

Recently I was asked about the integration of electronics into carpets and textiles and what my ideas are to bring this inevitable merger together.

That got me thinking… Is it inevitable?

“Should we be designing smart textiles or should we be designing textiles smarter?”

Yes the Internet of things sees us all being ever more connected, phones are now wearable, your shoes can now talk to your smartphone. There will certainly be a continuation of miniaturisation, automation and personalisation that will make our digital lives seamless. But does it necessarily follow that everything will become smart?

Perhaps the true value of soft furnishings is comfort and style and a release from all things technological?

Anthropology cannot be separated from your future trend mapping. We have to plan textiles that will enrich people’s lives. Textiles need to respond to basic human needs before they can change the TV channel, and lets not forget that good health is a human need. Do we really want to plan a society that is full of lazy, gadget-dependent couch potatoes?

Textiles need to be pure, recyclable, ethically produced and beautiful. Once we master that we can soften the digital world by wrapping it in our woolly luxury.

I’m all for better homes and workplaces and better technology. Safety is a brilliant place to innovate new textiles that will monitor people and their habitats. Ultimately textiles are about comfort; from bearskins in our caves to sheepskin rugs by our curved screen TV’s.

Yes there is a trend to digitise life, but its one trend that responds to a sub-set of human needs. There are many trends that ignore digitisation. I’m not saying we shouldn’t develop smarter fabrics, I’m just saying we should always ask why.

The favourite chair in my house is in a room with no TV.  The furnishings in this space are about escape, switching off, comfort and colour.  Its a space for real human interaction.

Perhaps the smart way to design textiles is to keep them dumb?


Desso phillips carpet

Desso use transparent carpet which allows LED’s to shine through.


The Case for Sustainability.

The business case for sustainability has been won, but somebody forgot to tell the generals and the troops.

Sustainability is not just about being green,  it is the difference between success and failure.

There are people with their eyes and ears open and their mouths shut. People who stopped trying to be alpha male and who started listening.  These people have figured out where the market is going.   The market, all markets are driven by consumer sentiment and by legislation.

The trend for ethics, responsibility, trust and perceived value is one way. It is only getting stronger and we are never going back to rubbish products made who knows where using who knows what by who knows who.

If you cannot see the future, if predicting trend and shaping the future is a mystery to you, then well, you stumbled into the wrong blog.

In the future we only buy from brands we trust, manufacturers compete on quality, ethics, transparency and price. Price is driven through efficiency not through cutting corners.

The race to the bottom that killed western textile mills is in the past. In the future we are not just clever, we are wise.   The mills are coming back, but they will never be the same, they will be awesome, efficient, quality organisations with highly motivated and educated teams.

 The future is now. Tell your boss, your CEO and your Chairman, your customer is already there.

New Zealand wool factory

Wool growing in New Zealand



We are all experts at something, and we all have something to say.  Recently I was listening, for a change, and actually learnt something.  Well, I was reminded of something.

When you talk, speak in the language of your audience.  Wool people talk in textile terminology, which is fine if you talk to a weaver, but really dumb when you talk to a retailer.

When an IT consultant talks in jargon, do we trust her or wonder if we are going to be ripped off?   When a mechanic sucks air through his teeth and talks about machine parts we prepare ourselves for a shock.

I was listening to Jim Hanna of Starbucks recently and he could not emphasize enough how talking Business language to business people had made the difference in the internal battle to sell sustainability within Starbucks.

Talking about saving trees does not make an accountant happy, but talking about making more profit by improving staff retention, reducing energy costs and streamlining value chains – that’s gets the bean counters on board and the HR department and the store designers…

Language is too important to trust to the linguists.  Lets keep it simple and build some trust.


image stolen form random internet site – sorry

CSR, Facial Hair and Wool

A very strong trend right now is CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and for a very small organisation of only 16 people, Wools of New Zealand does a lot in this area.   We put it all under the Wool for a Better World banner.

We do this stuff because it’s the right thing to do and because it gives our team of passionate people an element of pride to work for a socially minded company.

What I’m noticing is that everyone now has a CSR statement.  On the surface this is good, but I worry, jut slightly, that we are entering the next phase of green washing, or CSR-washing, as we may need to call it.

Are companies making a care statement because it is part of what they do, part of the culture of the organisation?  Or is the marketing department making a claim that has no real substance?

Green-washing became a marketing sin, and it looks like fake CSR claims might be next.

I’m really glad that quite a few of our partner companies are heavily into supporting their local communities and wider social and environmental issues.  A good cause often takes the focus away from business as usual and gets people working together, trusting each other and building partnerships that are good for business.

One of my friendly contacts reminded me about Movember so I decided to sacrifice my upper lip to help the campaign.  Now that I’m trotting about the UK sporting a fuzzy caterpillar on my face I’m getting a few sideways glances, but mostly I’m getting a pat on the back and smile from people who realise that its not an attempt to look like a Hawaiian private detective from the 80’s, its all for a good cause and a bit of fun.

Steven Parsons Movember

My hard to see Fuzzy Caterpillar

It is worth checking out Movember,  not only is it a fun way to raise awareness of men’s health issues, it a very well run digital marketing campaign and a brilliant example of the power of the internet to make things happen.

You can see my fuzzy caterpillar at my MoSpace here or click on my silly grin.

The Integrity of Fluffy Things

The UK retail sector is looking for UK manufactured textiles, both apparel and home textiles, that have integrity.  Big retail brands don’t like being associated with sweatshops and poor quality raw materials.  Consumers are demanding to know more about where things come from.  Retailers want speed, quality and service.  The government wants to create employment…

Currently only 20% of the textile home ware goods on sale in the UK are manufactured in the UK.

This all means that there is growing opportunity for UK textile mills.  And there lies the problem.   The UK is no longer the powerhouse of textiles that it once was.

Over recent decades two things happened.  UK business people sent manufacturing to Asia and Eastern Europe and synthetic fibres crept into people’s lives.

Short-term profitability undermined the integrity of the products themselves, which reduced the experience of the products and subsequently the value.  It seems short-term low cost ends up as long-term high-cost.

Now we have textile resurgence.  There are little green shoots appearing with the remaining mills reinventing themselves.  I know of several UK companies working on new luxury brands and filling their goods with natural fibres.

There is nothing wrong with imported goods, so long as those goods have integrity and you have the exported goods to make up the trade balance.  (80% imports is not balance)

The government, the retail sector and now the manufacturing sector are all gearing up to create textiles in the UK and to create jobs.  Great!   Will the people respect quality, service and pay a fair price, or will the people buy the cheapest sweat shop produced, or plastic filled jersey or carpet and continue to wonder where all their jobs went?

Of course unless a product has added value, innovation, a point of difference and fluffy integrity, why should they buy it?

dye house

Part of a new dye house helping to fill retail stores with lovely fluffy things.

How to Break Your Brand

Many brands promise a lot but then deliver less.
It is tempting when income streams dry up to cut a few corners, downgrade on the specification, buy cheaper parts, and hope the end user does not notice.

They notice and they leave!

If your product doesn’t do what it says on the tin.  If you promise one thing and deliver another, then you are probably going to get found out, and your customers will leave you.  But it gets worse…  they will go and tell ten friends, they will discuss it in the boardroom and at the water cooler.. You are basically stuffed.
The hard work you put in building your brand can be ruined far quicker than it took to make it in the first place.

How to ruin your brand in four easy steps…


 Woolblogs’s step by step guide to commercial suicide.









Step 1. – Create a great product.

You do this by listening to the market. Truly understanding consumer needs and desires and delivering a solution before anyone else.  Do not confuse this step with ‘create a product’ You have to be 1st and original, otherwise you are an alternative product! You could only compete on price so you will never be a great brand if you compromise during the design phase.

Step 2. – Build Sales and Brand Reputation.

This will be easy if you followed step 1.
Great products sell by word of mouth. People enjoy using them and enjoy telling their friends. This is an important point as it will aid in our mission to destroy our business.

Step 3. – Cheapen the blend.

Now you know what your customer needs and wants you are safe right?
You have the distribution and the reputation.   A small tweak to the blend of parts and services won’t hurt.

Maybe you have built sufficient volume that you can deliver more efficient products via an integrated pipeline. You pay less and deliver the same value. That won’t help us on our mission.

We need to substitute those well performing elements for lesser and cheaper bits and bobs.  In the long-term we want the consumer experience to be just a little less.

Step 4. – Ignore the competition

While we have been focusing on ripping off our suppliers and our customers some bright spark has copied our business model, but improved the features and the delivery time. They took our offering to the next level and are effectively stealing our market share. Don’t worry about this.. It’s going to help.  For goodness sake do not speak to your customers and ask how you can improve your own offering.

Step 4. – Sit back and wait.

That is all you have to do. More quickly than you built your brand you have destroyed it. Your products are breaking down, when they finally get delivered that is.
Your customers are blogging against you and spreading the word of what a remarkably pathetic company you have become.

Survival – A sustainabilty check list

In my previous post We are all DOOMED! ,I tried to send out a wake-up call for industry to actually accept that to exist in the near future companies need to acknowldege sustainability as a part of business and start innovating.

This post offers some suggestions, a call to action if you like, plus my ten steps of innovation for no extra cost.

What to do?

It’s not too late, but we are at the tipping point.

If we are going to save the planet, and our business’ in the process we do have to actually begin now. Talking about it has got us this far, but now is the time for action.

There are countless things we can all do that don’t have to cost the earth. Here is how to begin…

1. – Acknowledge that we all have to change. They are not planting any more dinosaurs so cheap oil has gone. We must start using renewable resources.

2. – Make a statement about sustainability – make it public, put your reputation on the line.

3. – Change the culture of your company. Put incentives in place to drive innovations that will deliver sustainable outcomes. People are essentially looking for some kind of pat on the back. Rewards do not have to be financial to motivate people who care.

4. – Set Milestones. No Child labour by 2014, Only renewable energy by 2016, remember wife’s birthday…etc.. Donate plastic clothes to charity and buy new wool suit!

5. – Start with the little things – reduce travel, or use trains. Switch off lights, recycle. Only procure from like minded businesses.

6. – Brag about your progress, tell people what you are doing, help your competitors do the same. You won’t cash-in on all your good work if nobody hears about it!

The spirit of competition is to strive for a better result. Being competitive does not mean banging your opponent on the head. Competition means creating opportunities for your industry to thrive.

Price wars and misinformation campaigns are not Sustainable. That type of strategy is dumb, short-sighted and doomed.

7. Start Innovating! That subject deserves a whole post of its own but the basic 10 steps of Innovation are here..

1. Observe (look for a problem and solve it, don’t reinvent the wheel)

2. Brainstorm (Gather ideas from your team)

2. Refine (Choose one or two ideas that seem plausable)

4. Prototype. (Build an idea into working model)

5. Test. (Show some customers and get an early market response)

6. Tune (Fix the gremlins, the ones your potential customers found)

7. Build it

8. Promote it.

9. Sell it

10. Repeat.. keep going the competiton are following your every move.