The Inner City Trust has ambitious plans to give one of Derry’s most historic buildings a 21st century twist.
The proposal to transform 31-33 Shipquay Street into a Fashion and Textile Design Centre is part of the Trust’s ongoing strategy to regenerate the physical, social and economic fabric of the Walled City.
According to managing director Helen Quigley, the benefits of the Trust’s innovative proposal for the Grade B listed building are threefold.
She says: “It will breathe new life into a vacant city centre building; it will help create sustainable employment opportunities by giving access to specialised equipment and a comprehensive business support service for existing and emerging fashion and textile designers; and the Centre will host fashion shows, workshops and exhibitions - all of which have the potential to attract visitors to the city centre.”
The Fashion and Textile Design Centre will be a phased development and it is envisaged that low cost working space units at 31-33 Shipquay Street will be operational early this summer.
The development plans for the ground floor will include a heritage gallery, exhibition area and a retail space for designers to showcase their work. Incubation units, work space for designers and a research and development facility will be located on the first floor. The third floor of the building will be given over to offices.
For generations, the textile industry formed the backbone of the North West’s economy. At the turn of the 20th century, 13,000 people were employed and shirts manufactured in the city were being exported around the world. The number employed peaked in the mid-1920s when upwards of 18,000 people - most of them women - were employed in 44 factories. However, as a result of globalisation and manufacturers outsourcing production to lower cost base locations, the textile industry went into steady decline. By the end of the 20th century, only a handful of factories were left.
However, there are signs that the decline may be halted as designers and manufacturers increasingly opt for high value quality garments and textiles. Some major UK retailers have embraced initiatives to ‘reshore’ textile manufacturing in the belief that customers will pay higher prices for quality products.
The success of Waterside-based company, Smyth and Gibson, which combines traditional craftsmanship with modern design in the manufacture of hand cut shirts, is testimony to this growing trend.
Helen Quigley explains how the Fashion and Textile Design Centre project was conceived with the aim of not just helping to sustain an important traditional industry but to develop and grow the fashion and textile sector for the future by creating sustainable employment opportunities locally for designers just cutting their teeth in the fashion industry.
Knitwear designer Deirdre Wild has just been appointed Business Development Manager for the Fashion and Textile Centre. An experienced knitwear designer, she knows from her own personal experience how challenging it can be to carve out a living as a designer in the north west of Ireland.
Originally from St Johnson in Co. Donegal, Deirdre studied Art and Design at NWRC before graduating from the University of Ulster with a degree in Textiles and Fashion. Like many of her contemporaries, Deirdre had to move away to find employment. She got a job as a designer with Dunnes in Dublin before working as a freelance designer for manufacturers including Regatta and C & A, a position which involved a weekly commute to Belgium.
She says the Fashion and Textile Design Centre will be an ideal platform for aspiring designers looking to get a foothold in this competitive sector and, once established, the ‘added value’ services provided by the Centre will act as a magnet to attract more experienced designers to work in the north west.
According to the findings of research commissioned by the Inner City Trust last year, barriers inhibiting the development and growth of the fashion and textile sector locally include: designer isolation; lack of boutique/concession retailing for individual designers/makers; lack of government/agency support for the promotion of the fashion and textile sector in the region; lack of business acumen; limited access to innovative research and development; limited finance to invest in growth; no access to specialised equipment; cost of supplies prohibitive for individual designers; loss of high technical skilled workforce due to migration and retirement; and the absence of representative body or agency dedicated to fashion and textile design.
While Deirdre is still settling into her new role as Business Development Manager, she already has clear ideas on how the Fashion and Textile Centre will overcome these barriers to maximise the economic development potential of the growing fashion and textile sector.
“On the one hand, we want to safeguard traditional skills like tailoring and shirt making and use traditional materials such as Irish linen, lace and Donegal tweed that have a strong regional brand. On the other hand, we need to embrace the latest technology, in all aspects of the production and sales process to produce top quality garments for export.
“By giving direct and practical support to local designers, garment makers and textile manufacturers in Northern Ireland and the cross-border region, the Centre will inspire business start ups, sustain and grow current practitioners leading to increased productivity and profitability.”
Oonagh McGillion, Director of Legacy for City of Culture, says the Centre is an opportune development and fits well with the City of Culture Legacy Plan.
“Derry City Council provided funding to ‘kickstart’ the initiative and the project is also receiving ongoing support through Derry City Council’s Business Opportunities Programme,” she says.
“The Centre will support the growth and development of local designers and have a significant impact on the complete production process, from sourcing raw materials, through design and manufacture, to wholesale and retail.
“It will also benefit from world renowned fashion designer Wayne Hemingway’s close affiliation with the city and our plans for the first Derry-Londonderry Fashion Week this autumn. This will provide an opportunity for local designers to preview their brand and promote the city as an exciting and unique destination, exemplifying the creative journey that is involved in producing exquisite garments and textiles.”