Unlocking Ambition interview with Joan Johnston

Joan Johnston is delighted to be selected as one of the 20 entrepreneurs across Scotland to join the first Unlocking Ambition programme, launched in June 2018 by Scottish Government. Bespoke Fabrics have been developing a new sustainable cashmere product which will be launched to the market later this year. We can’t say too much just now, but look forward to telling you all about it soon. In the meantime here is the interview with Joan Johnston.


And learn more about the other purpose driven businesses on the programme at http://https://unlockingambition.scot/se/



Joan Johnston talking Innovation with Ivan Mc Kee MSP Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, hosted by the IOD, Inverness

Delighted to give feedback to Ivan McKee MSP Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, on support for Innovation in Scotland by HIE, ECCI, Climate-KIC and UnlockingAmbition


Graduate Fashion Week 2018

After an inspirational day at Graduate Fashion Week I reflected on the sheer number of students who are embracing their future dreams of joining the fashion industry. With well known Brands and High Street retailers present promoting job opportunities, it all seemed like a perfect mix.

Having spoken to a number of hopeful graduates, the reality of what lies ahead for them has not hit home.

Fantastic opportunities for the lucky few, however for many several years of unpaid work lies ahead before a job is secured. This is the reality of the fashion industry and yet there are opportunities in the wider textile fashion world particularly for graduates who have developed their technical skills.

My advice continues to be:-

For those who wish to be designers, you must think broadly and seek out opportunities in manufacturing and not merely at the front end of design. Seek roles which help build your portfolio of skills. Be prepared to start at the bottom and with a strong work ethic, show your commitment and potential to grow. Look to the future, fully embrace sustainably. Design with a conscience, making best use of our natural resources keeping longevity in mind.


We are delighted to have been selected for the Climate Change Accelerator 1 programme at ECCI with our new business idea, to develop a textile based product, made here in Scotland. More on this to follow. In the meantime, please read the article.


This week in Bradford three of the oldest Livery companies invited a select number of students from 21 different weave courses across the UK to join them at the Midland Hotel along with representatives from the British weaving industry including yarn spinners, weavers and finishers. With 24 hours packed with informative talks both from industry leaders and successful textile designers ( Margo Selby & Dashing Tweeds ) working in the textile industry, along with trips to the mills, the aim was to reach out and connect with the next generation of textile graduates to inform and engage them on the broad opportunities within the textile industry. With over 1000 graduates in textiles a year just from the UK art schools and universities alone, it is quite clear that only a select few will end up in design positions.

Seen as a traditional industry which struggles to recruit and retain skilled workers, this was a perfect example of how through connecting with the students, industry can engage and inform them of the many opportunities open in the broader areas of textiles. So many institutions focus on design and yet there are many avenues to build a career in textiles around colour, science, engineering, yarn creation and innovation. The owners of these mills personally took the time to speak with the students and guided them around their facilities. For many of the students this was the first time they had stepped into a mill.

What a great opportunity for both parties to connect. This is the fourth year the “Making It In Textiles” Conference has taken place and with much work behind the scenes to connect talented weave designers with organisations, let’s hope this continues for many years to come.

Thank you to the mills ( Pennine Weavers, Stanley Mills, Marton Mills, Roberts Dyers& Finishers, Antich & Sons, W T Johnston, A W Hainsworth, Alfred Brown, Abraham Moon, Laxtons Specialist Yarns) for opening their doors and to the Worshipful Company of Weavers, The Drapers Company, The Clothworkers Company and Campaign for Wool for making this conference happen. #textilefutures

#RoyalBankBoost Inverness – Made in Scotland

Joan Johnston recently shared her research for “Made in Scotland” and how to emotionally connect with the consumer with over 100 attendees in Inverness #RoyalBankBoost. Excellent content was also delivered by Dave Ray of Google Digital Garage and Sebastian Burnside RBS Senior Economist.

Climate Change Launchpad at Edinburgh Carbon Centre for Innovation

Bespoke Fabrics is so excited to be supported by the Climate Change Launchpad at the Edinburgh Carbon Centre for Innovation (part of Edinburgh University). The textile based product under development, is relatively simple. Working through the process has really helped us focus on the key aspects of what we are offering, who the customer is and what the benefits are.

Now we’ve been moved onto the Accelerator scheme, we can’t wait to take our product to market in the coming months.

Catherine MacGruer at London Design Fair

We were delighted to see our mentee, Catherine MacGruer’s new collection launched at the London Design Fair on 22nd September ’17. This year Catherine has introduced rugs into her knitted collection for the home. Catherine’s range of products can be found on https://www.catherinemacgruer.com



Attending the recent Etail Europe conference in London, some of the Heads of Digital for major retailers presented on how they developed their digital busines and innovated across the board from customer experience and acquisition, through the digital touchpoints to engage with the consumer. I found the whole thing enlightening.

Having listened to Andy Gibbs of Graze and hearing the success of this business model in a relatively short space of time, brings on reflection on a number of levels. Graze started out knowing that there was a gap in the market for accessible healthy snacks which they were going to fill. With a clear focus they set up a vertical manufacturing system and were quick to test the market with new products, build brand recognition and were nimble enough to adapt when needed.

In contrast to this Neal Johnson of House of Fraser spoke of the challenges he faced in bringing an established business up to date in terms of technology, customer experience linked with employee engagement. With a business that had lacked investment, many technologies and systems were incongruent with where they needed to be. Brave steps were needed supported by a solid business case to gain board support for investment and change.

Emma Mead, Digital Director of Holland and Barrett summed it up “You have to be brave and sometimes you need to make mistakes… be clear about your goal and move forward”.

Leadership and culture are key in all businesses whether young or old as it is the people working within organisations that ultimately lead to success or failure. Having the right team in place is fundamental, whether working with an established team or starting from scratch. Either way clear vision and leadership are required and tough decisions must be taken on when to change the status quo as necessary.

People are the fundamental building blocks of business and working with both large and small organisations from nimble to the traditional “we have always done it this way” it highlights how important it is to develop the right mix. The reality is that to bring in change, bringing in new people is sometimes the only option.

Transparency In The Supply Chain

Pouring a glass of clean drinkable water from our taps is something many of us take for granted, yet few contemplate that this simple commodity is not readily available to all.

In many countries there is little control on effluent material entering water courses, rivers and the water table all of which directly supply communities who rely on it for drinking, supporting their animals and crops, affecting human health both at source and through the food chain.

The continual drive for cheaper manufacture and low cost production has created jobs for many, but at what cost?

There is something terribly wrong if we support the unregulated use and production of chemicals during a process that sees cheap clothing and goods on our shelves, whilst ironically putting both the workforce and wider population at risk of using their meagre wages to pay for health care.

Transparency through the manufacturing chain has started to take root and is used by ethical companies who feel the responsibility of the business they run.

What is difficult for the consumer to comprehend is that every item in a garment used in its manufacture can come from all corners of the globe and have passed through many hands, before it hits the high street or luxury store. Tracking all aspects of the supply chain and ensuring that the stringent and transparent processes are adhered to, must become the responsibility of all from producer, to retailer and consumer.

Education is indeed key, if the consumer is willing to listen. Much work is already being done on this behind the scenes and I expect there are not many who can categorically say all their suppliers are fully compliant.

Linking the parts to make a product can be compared to a chain and as a consumer I want to know how many links there are and where they all come from.

Those brands who successfully manufacture all their products and can trace the ingredients back are in a strong position. Documenting the journey of the product manufacture and being able to tell it’s story has already become a regular selling tool and has huge potential for the future as consumers become more conscious of the products they purchase and use.