How Scots tradition has become template for cutting edge design

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By Barry McDonald
Tucked away among the lush rolling hills of the Scottish Borders, the historic town of Galashiels has long served as the epicentre of the Scottish textile trade. From traditional kiltmakers to cutting edge 21st century fashion designers serving the world’s leading fashion houses, they’ve all served their apprenticeships in the School of Textiles and Design. Part housed in a former weaving mill, the campus is home to students learning everything from traditional weaving methods to the application of textiles in leading scientific developments.

Only an hour from Edinburgh, the School of Textiles and Design is one of six academic schools and institutes at Heriot-Watt University. The Scottish Borders Campus is set in beautiful countryside, at the heart of the worldrenowned Scottish textile industry. The School boasts unrivalled specialist facilities which, combined with a £31.4 million re-development of the campus, offer an inspirational, creative, high-quality educational and research environment.

P12_Professor Fiona Waldrom
Professor Fiona Waldron

But it’s not the scenery or the access to the capital that is the main draw for overseas students to the Galashiels’ campus, it’s the unrivalled expertise, passion and heritage of textile design the campus offers. For Professor Fiona Waldron, Head of School, the heritage of the school sets it apart from rivals. “The School of Textiles and Design was set up by the textile industry in the 1860s,” she says. “It was developed as a mechanism for technical and managerial training within the industry locally and across Scotland. The school has grown over a significant number of years and we have continued to maintain our links with industry and feel it is imperative we underpin all our student training with that industrial collaboration.

“We continue to do that across all the programmes we deliver across the school. We’ve maintained that heritage all the way through.”

The school is actively engaged with internationally leading research projects in fashion, textiles, design, clothing and colour science, reinforcing their international reputation and contributing to teaching excellence. Their close links with industry, and excellent reputation for providing professionally orientated programmes ensure our graduates are successful in securing employment in the dynamic fashion, textile and design sectors.

Undergraduate programmes range from designing textile for weave, print and knit, through to fashion, fashion marketing, retail, communications and the study of the technology behind textiles. Masters programmes boast specialisms in knitwear, fashion, management and retailing. “We also take a lot of that onto Phd level,” adds Professor Waldron, “where we have a significant number of students doing very innovative things within both the design, science and technology of textiles. That can be applied to a number of sectors, including medicine and car manufacturing. It’s not restricted to the fashion sector.”

It’s easy to see why the school attracts overseas students from around the world who come to study on a variety of programmes. “It’s an interesting place for an international student to come because we’re not in the heart of a big city, but we are a very short train journey from Edinburgh,” explains Professor Waldron. “And because we’re in a rural location in the heart of the Scottish textile industry, it means we have greater collaboration with our industrial partners.

“It also means it’s a very safe environment for students to come. We’re a small school and give lots of individual attention to people which leads to a strong community feel here. Our International students actually love the experience because they get to know all the staff and all their fellow students and feel very much that sense of community. What they also love is the fact that they can specialise in the area they are truly interested in. That can be at undergraduate, postgraduate or at the research level.”

Engagement with industry is an integral part of the Heriot-Watt experience. It harnesses the creativity of students and helps accelerate the development of ideas, research and businesses through collaboration and consultancy. There is a range of opportunities to forge close links with industry, depending on what programme is being studied. “We try to ensure it’s underpinned by that industrial relevance,” says Professor Waldron. “We work very closely with a lot of our industrial links. They’re not just local to this area of Scotland, we also have international links where we engage in collaborative projects. Our students are working on projects for industry where the industry is setting the brief and the students are working to that brief, and the industry partners come in and review the student work.

“In a lot of instances that work is taken on to manufacture by those partners. That’s a great thing for students to build on for the future. Not only are they learning in an educational environment they are actually learning about industrial practise and what they need to do to make a product come to fruition in an industrial setting. That’s included in our programmes at all levels.

“We also arrange a series of visits to local or national industry partners and the students can, in some instances, work on having internships with various companies. At the end of their studies we invite all the industrial partners to our degree show and often that leads to immediate employment for some of the students. All that experience helps enhance the students’ career prospects.”

There are many reasons students from across the globe are drawn to Galashiels and the world class facilities at the School of Textiles and Design. First and foremost, however, is the dazzling quality and range of facilities, equipment and support they offer to support studies.

“We have everything here, from the design concept through to the final product,” adds Professor Waldron. “We have a whole range of different equipment that enables a student to see a product the whole way through. We have been described by some very eminent international designers as having the best facilities they have ever seen in an educational institution.

“The facilities here are fantastic and we are constantly adding to them with new technologies. It’s imperative for us that the students can practise what they are designing. That makes us unique and allows the students a very enriched experience if they come here.”