World of Fabric

Helen Webb-Carter (Ch, 1996)

I am one of those lucky people who really enjoy their job and who wakes up in the morning looking forward to my day’s work. I spend my working hours travelling the world looking for beautiful fabrics, or on home turf amongst inspiring and creative people developing great products worn by thousands. What’s not to love!

My career path into the fabric world was an unusual one. It was not via a degree in textiles as I went to UCL to read History of Art. It was through work experience at Paul Smith, which arose as a result of my mother sitting next to Sir Paul at a dinner party. This was a wonderful opportunity that led to a permanent position as a design assistant. I cannot tell you how valuable work experience is. It’s an opportunity for you to put yourself out there – sell your character, be indispensable, useful, keen and have a spring in your step. I often give full time positions to students who have worked for me as interns and have proved their worth.

After Paul Smith I then gravitated into work as a fabric buyer at the high street brand Oasis, where I learned the ‘rag trade’ in greater depth by negotiating large fabric quantities and servicing a much wider and commercial customer base. After a couple of years there I moved to Jigsaw to do a very similar role, which involved more international travel as Jigsaw had an office in Hong Kong.

(Image above caption: At a factory in Erode in Southern India)

My role as a fabric developer and buyer is to create and source fabrics for the designers to use in their products and keep them up to date with the season’s trends. This is done through visiting the trade shows, fabric mills and factories, finding vintage fabrics at markets to develop, or trading existing styles for sales growth. After Jigsaw I spent time working at Reiss and Pringle, as well as spending time as a part time consultant (working with brands such as Alexander McQueen and Monsoon) whilst starting a family.

My most recent role is Head of Fabric and Sustainability at Boden which encompasses all the skills I have learned during my career. The thing I love most about my job is that I work for a world-class brand in which every day is different.

(Images above caption: Boden fabric designs)

I could be travelling the world seeking out artisans for a new collection promoting block printing or developing a sustainable recycled linen in North China. I have been very fortunate in my career to date and it’s important to remember that we all need that bit of luck, blended of course with determination and hard work!