Weaving Future Concepts
Over the past 6 years Untapped has been busy building an incredible network of global freelance talent – from industrial designers, to futurists, to digital / data analysts & beyond. Our extended network of over 50 carefully chosen connections has played a vital role on our client projects and critically informing how we think and evolve as an innovation agency. Over the coming months we will feature guest blogs to share their talent with you. This blog introduces Steph Rolph, a leading textile designer & material futurist who specializes in the intersect between craft & digital. Enjoy!
Who Weaves In 2018?
When I introduce myself as a weaver the most common response is: “what do you make?” Unlike my ancestors who wove cloth to clothe or baskets to carry, I do not weave things as such. That isn’t to say I am not working in the physical. My primary studio practise is weaving. Be it cloth from runway shows at Marc Jacobs, to design development at Alexander McQueen or Lululemon Athletica my core business is using my loom to produce cutting edge fabrics and designs. On a day-to-day basis I am in the studio, on the loom, working with new yarn innovations, exploring new techniques and trends. However my usual outcome is a swatch of fabric, sized around A4, sometimes it isn’t even really a fabric, more of a surface. Instead of things or products I produce physical representations of ideas, the manifestations of current and future concepts that enable my clients to understand and imagine their futures.
One question I often contemplate is how the role of a weaver is dynamic, changing over time, and what role that plays in todays hyper digitalised world. Many people don’t realise it, but weaving is all around us. In the clothes we wear, in the buildings we live and work in, the cars we drive, the bags and products we buy- it’s everywhere. Its omnipresent, yet invisible, just one of the contradictions a contemporary weaver faces!
Outside of the studio I am: visiting client in New York, Paris, London and Milan; lecturing students across textiles and design disciplines; consulting for trend publications and working on bespoke projects such as consulting for clients like Untapped to provide inspiration as part of their creative processes. As a lecturer of textiles at Central Saint Martins and Loughborough University I am teaching a cross disciplinarily, future thinking, culturally and socially aware approach to equip the next generation of textile graduates. For me the term Weaver implies a breadth and depth of knowledge: Loom set up; yarn choices; dying and finishing are specific to my craft. However, Tactility, materiality, colour, composition, structure, form, trend, future building, concept development, ideation, research and problem solving are also essential parts of my work. These skills will see familiar to anyone working in commercial R&D.
From the outside it might look like there are few similarities between a tiny design start up and a corporate R&D department. Look a little closer though and I would argue both are built on similar foundations. And they have plenty to learn from each other.
Design As A Solution
To me the most obvious parallel is that both are solving a problem. I always approach any project as a question, where weave is the solution. In corporate terms you could be solving a consumer issue, gap in the market or an existing product. For me the problem inspires the solution. At every stage of the weave process I am looking for the answer. From initial warp planning, yarn choice, to weave structures and final product. Rather than treat the outcome as the answer I analyse on a micro scale the parts I need to build to solution. This allows for flexibility and gives me room to manoeuvre if client questions change.
Collections And Product Families
When a client approaches me about producing a fabric I always recommend that the best value for money comes from commissioning a collection not a one-off swatch. I use the term collection to describe a group of designs that work together. All the designs (or products) are stand-alone entities, but together they form a cohesive and persuasive family. In weaving terms offering 4 designs is only slightly more expensive than 1 because of the set up process. And the variety and exploration within a collection always leads to better client satisfaction. Even when we are looking for one outcome, physicalizing (or at the very least visualising) a few means the client can better understand their own ideas. They see them in context and also the potential for future development. In business often the end goal is the only focus. I would encourage R&D to always remain as broad as possible – remembering that the client doesn’t always realise what they should be asking for.
Tools To Describe
Another reason I encourage working in collections, even if the ultimate goal will be one fabric, is that so often customers don’t know what they want. Or perhaps more accurately they do not have the tools to effectively communicate it. So rather than assume your first interpretation is exactly what they mean, do some more research. Most of my clients do not have extensive knowledge of weave. They do not have the toolbox to imagine the possibilities or the language to convey their ideas. It can be tricky, but it is important to question the brief, to ensure that they get the best fabric, not the best fabric they could imagine.
I’ve mentioned some of my clients and the wide range of industries from fashion to architecture that I work within. The expansive range of people and places I work with means I don’t have an everyday. I don’t have an office or an even a day-to-day routine. Each project determines the work, often learning new skill as I go. Due to this I never think of anything as abnormal, or not the way it is done. In large companies this can be inefficient or unruly. Designing, with optimism, without preconceived ideas or notions produces unexpected & surprising results.