Fashion management students visit R A Irwins and Bedeck
By Clifford Cathcart, Belfast Metropolitan College
R.A Irwins “manufactures creative, innovative and design-led fabrics for the window fashion and mattress ticking markets”. This was an opportunity for the students to observe some of the manufacturing and design process common to both homewear and apparel fashion.
The tour commenced with the woven fabric manufacturing. The plant featured sectional warping where the warp beams were assembled from hundreds of individual cones of yarn and the rapier looms, which use metal rods to pass the weft across the width of the warp shed to form the fabric. The warp shed and therefore the pattern of the fabric is controlled by a complex Jacquard device. The fabric patterns are woven into the cloth and although the yarns are largely polyester the technique is the same for weaving Damask Linen… so RA Irwin continue a tradition of textile manufacturing in Ulster to serve a niche market (mattress tickings).
Polyester fabrics for blinds are printed on two types of digital printing ink technologies: disperse dyes and pigment/binder combinations.
The newer pigment/binder combinations can be printed and cured on the printer (ie a single stage process) while the older disperse dyes required separate processes to fix the dye.
Making sure the customer gets the correct colour on a consistent basis is a deal breaker for repeat orders with customers. Traditional visual matching of new batches against a master sample has proven to be unreliable and is now replaced with an automated process. The human eye is replaced by the X-Rite spectrophotometer which digitally captures the full characteristics of the colour to be matched. The data generated is number crunched by a computer to generate expressions of difference between the colours ie the Delta-E value. A commercial decision is then made to accept the colour (DE < 1.8) or to make adjustments to the colour values (RGB) sent to the printer. The latter is visualised using specialist Ned Graphics software.
In the design studios, sample room and showroom the students were given an overview of the creative process, from design to viewing by potential customers. Because of the immediacy of the direct to fabric printing technologies used, sample swatches of designs could be rapidly produced for approval. This is particularly important since the gamut of colours produced by the printer is more restricted than what can be generated on a monitor so the selection of design specifications must reference an actual printed swatch. Bedeck produce bedlinens, decorative accessories, co-ordinating curtains and bath ware. As well as the Bedeck brand they also offer collections from famous brand names including Sanderson, Harlequin, Scion & Joules.
The Design Studio has a team of 12 working in a two season cycle (spring/summer, autumn/winter) a year or more in advance. The development routes for in-house (Bedeck 1951) products and those made under licence (eg Sanderson, Harlequin) are managed differently. For the former the designers start with a blank sheet and initiate their own research, idea selection and design development. For the latter the designers “riff” on the designs of the licensee’s products (eg wallpaper) and only sign off designs with the approval of the licensee.
One of the example collections shown on the visit was based on Strawberry Thief by William Morris. Another was based on simple shapes with a defined bold colour palette.
The designers work their designs on software produced by AVA which facilitates the management of colours and the production of colour separates necessary for the screen printing process. All colour approval decisions are based on the visual assessment in the design studio in Northern Ireland. Since all production takes place off shore (eg China, India, Portugal, Turkey) it can take weeks before approval (in Northern Ireland) is given for full production to commence.
Stocks of finished goods are normally returned to Northern Ireland for distribution. The relationship with manufacturing partners is supervised by a separate logistics team, members of which visit the suppliers overseas to ensure conformance to Bedeck requirements. This includes safeguarding the intellectual rights inherent in the designs that the manufacturers are given access to. It is the suppliers’ responsibility to assess the fabrics for specified quality standards (colour fastness to washing and light etc) and sign off that the standards are being met.
With thanks to Paul Santokhi for organising the visits, to R A Irwins and Bedeck for hosting them, and to Clifford Cathcart for writing this report. For information about future events, please visit the website, and for information about membership of SDC please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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