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A Day in the Life of a Textile Designer

By Jackie Mallon


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Often the runways are filled with creations that originate not in the renowned glamourous design studios of Paris, Milan and New York but can be traced back further, to humbler studios and one-room workshops. This work, namely prints, textiles or embroideries, often ends up featured in the glossy pages of magazines, on billboards and in store windows, but the textile craftsperson’s name is missing from the final garment. That’s because these creatives sell their ideas to established brands. Chris Judge is one such individual who describes his company as “a multi-media textile/swatch and inspiration enterprise.”

Here he describes his business and what a typical day looks like for him...

My success was part luck, part Paris

I started the company 20 years ago. I had trained in knitwear and worked both freelance and in the knitwear industry for several years before deciding to strike out on my own and establish my business. Initially I drew on my knitwear background by producing knitted swatches and inspirational pieces. My first collection was very small (but I like to think well-formed) and I took a chance by visiting Paris having made only a few appointments to meet with designers. My first clients were Paris couture companies and were a mixture of contacts I had made and recommendations between design houses that I’d visited with my collection. I think my success was part luck and partly due to the fact the designers liked what they saw and were therefore prepared to recommend me to others in what could be described as a very exclusive niche of the design market.

At that time, my collection was predominantly womenswear, but it also included some menswear. Clients across Europe now include Rykiel, Givenchy, Vuitton, Ungaro, Fendi, MaxMara, Missoni.

On to New York

After Paris I ventured further afield and made appointments in New York. I didn’t have much money, so slept on my friend’s floor during the visit. It was tough getting appointments, but, once again, I was recommended by design friends and other professionals I had met on appointments.

After New York I registered for a major trade shows including Pitti Filati (Florence), and, later, Premier Vision (Paris), Directions (New York) and Como Crea (Italy). As a result, my business has grown, as has my client contact list. Now my clients range from upper-end fashion houses ( e.g. Marc Jacobs, Donna Karen Collection, Philip Lim, DVF, Haute Hippie) through to mid-market and high street brands (e.g. Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters, Anthropology, Free People, Gap, Club Monaco, Top Shop and American Eagle).

Over time my collection has morphed from pure knitwear to include re-styled (woven) vintage pieces and embellishments. More recently it has incorporated new technologies such as laser cut fabrics. Today my collection is eclectic in that it reflects the market and cuts across knitted and woven fabrics, print design, vintage prints, embellishments, embroidery, hand painted prints, and laser cuts.

London expansion

When I started my company I was based in London and set up in a room in my house. Later, as business expanded, I leased a design studio and contracted with several freelance designers who would either work from home or visit me in-house for briefings re trends and the market. Today, my company is based in Brighton on the south coast, 50 miles from London.

Daily routine

My daily routine varies depending on the time of year/season. Activities will include: sourcing vintage textile pieces from antique fairs and markets across Europe; designing and making swatches and inspirational pieces (this will include re-styling vintage pieces and also creating new samples and swatches); making appointments (if a trade show is imminent); chasing invoices and payments; booking hotels and flights; briefing freelance designers; reviewing and editing my collection. If I’m exhibiting at a trade fair my day will involve: pre-show exclusive appointments and sales; meeting clients; advising on trends and directions; showing my work; making sales; ensuring my collection reflects current and future trends in relation to the client and the market. Trade fairs last two to three days and also offer an opportunity to get inspired and source new inspirational pieces for the next collection. When it comes to clients and sales, I would say I’m fortunate in that I’m successful equally across the US and Europe, including London.

Biggest achievement

To date, my biggest business achievement has been growing and sustaining my company and brand in what is a highly competitive environment. Over the years I have witnessed the demise of several companies that were established around the same time as mine. Another achievement, in business terms, is keeping contact with all my clients – very important for me if I am to continue to grow and succeed. On a personal level, my best achievement has been working in a field that I love and thoroughly enjoy. I never tire of sourcing ideas and creating new products or pieces and I am lucky that my work-life blends seamlessly into my home life.

During the month of August FashionUnited will focus on Work in Fashion. For all reads on on the theme, click here.

All imagery courtesy of Chris Judge.

chris judge