Technical Textiles Designer

The Job and What's Involved

As a technical textiles designer, you would be involved in the design and development of fibres and fabrics produced mainly for their technical performance and functional properties, rather than characteristics such as colour or style.

You could work with fibres and fabrics for a wide range of uses, for example:

  • Clothing textiles, such as waterproof, flame-retardant, heat-resistant or bullet-proof fabrics.
  • Medical textiles like allergy-free bedding and artificial ligaments used in prosthetics.
  • Woven fabric structures used in the manufacture of motor vehicles and aircraft.
  • Construction textiles, such as carbon fibre 'skins' used to wrap buildings to protect against environmental damage, for example from high winds or earthquakes.

You would work alongside research and development and production teams, either to a customer brief or to develop in-house ideas. Your tasks would typically include:

  • Devising products to meet performance specifications.
  • Developing product prototypes.
  • Using specialist computer aided design (CAD) software to produce a range of designs.
  • Assessing technical performance specifications and carrying out rigorous testing.
  • Recording test results.
  • Researching new techniques and technologies.
  • Identifying the suitability and availability of materials.
  • Writing technical reports and cost estimates.

You would need to keep up to date with health and safety issues in all aspects of your work.

You would normally work around 37 hours a week, but may need to do more hours to meet business needs, such as deadlines.

You would be mainly based in an office and laboratory environment, but would also spend time on the factory floor, and travel to attend conferences and exhibitions.

Salaries typically start at around £16,000 a year. With experience this can rise to between £25,000 and £35,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The technical textiles sector covers the following types of textiles:

- Agricultural
- Automotive
- Aerospace
- Clothing
- Construction
- Defence
- Medical

Some of the world's leading technical textiles companies are based in the UK, producing, for example, clothing for NASA technicians and airbags for the major car manufacturers.

Education and Training

Most companies would expect you to have a relevant degree. It is important to research the content of degree courses – not all textile design courses will give you the technical skills and knowledge that employers are looking for. Some courses concentrate heavily on skills and knowledge for the fashion industry or on surface design disciplines.

The following institutions are among those with a strong tradition in the textiles field and are generally well-regarded by employers:

- University of Leeds
- Manchester Metropolitan University
- University of Manchester
- Heriot-Watt University
- De Montfort University

You could also use a textiles technology course as an entry route into technical textiles design. Relevant courses include the following at the University of Manchester:

  • BSc (Hons) Textile Technology (Business Management).
  • BSc (Hons) Textile Science and Technology.

You may be able to start in the textiles industry as a technician, but you would need a degree or professional qualification to progress your career. A foundation degree would give you the opportunity for developing your career whilst working.

To find out how a successful technical textiles designer developed her career, check the case study on the Technical Textiles website.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

On-the-job learning is a crucial part of developing your technical knowledge and skills – once you are working as a technical textiles designer you will develop your existing skills and learn many new ones.

You could add to your on-the-job learning in a variety of ways, including:

  • Training in more general skills, such as management, leadership, presentation skills, languages and IT skills.
  • Completing qualifications offered by the Textile Institute (TI), including its Fellowship, Associateship and Licentiateship.
  • Attending courses such as those offered by the Textile Centre of Excellence in Huddersfield.

Visit the TI and Textile Centre of Excellence websites to find out more about their training.

You may also find it useful to study specialist subjects such as intellectual property law.

You can keep up to date with the latest developments and challenges faced by the textiles sectors by reading the academic journals published by the TI, and attending TI events that bring together professionals, practitioners and academics working in the textiles industry all over the world.

You could also join local societies, including the Bradford Textile Society and Huddersfield Textile Society.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A technical textiles designer needs:

  • A detailed understanding of textile structures.
  • In-depth knowledge of the textile industry, including markets, processes, materials and textiles chemistry.
  • Design skills.
  • Technical and fabric construction skills.
  • Good concentration levels.
  • Laboratory skills.
  • Good communication skills.
  • IT skills, for example graphics software.
  • Project management skills.
  • Research and development skills.
  • Good writing and record-keeping skills.
  • Problem solving skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

You may have the opportunity to carry out research in association with universities that have a textiles specialism.

Progression can be more limited within smaller organisations. Relocating or moving employers may be necessary to progress further.

Experienced technical textile designers can find job opportunities overseas in countries where textile development and manufacturing is increasingly taking place, such as India and China.

Get Further Information

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