They say that good things come to those who wait, and for most visitors to 'Clothing the Workplace', the joint ASBCI/director-e conference that ran on 24 October, that maxim proved to be very true indeed.
It had taken a full year of preparation to bring together 17 authoritative speakers from every corner of the industry, including PPE, corporate clothing and testing; a year to put together a day packed full of useful and important information; a year to make sure that everything was perfect.
But when the doors opened at beautiful Mottram Hall in Cheshire on a misty October morning, all of that effort was vindicated: 130 delegates came from clothing manufacturers, PPE suppliers, end users and public services to take part in the first UK conference of its kind.
From global sourcing to the end user
The day began with an introduction by Dr Ian Holme, formerly of Leeds University, who acted as the conference's chairman. After welcoming the audience and commenting on the high standard of the speakers, he started the day's events.
The first item on the agenda was a look at global sourcing by Adrian Wilkinson, the managing director of corporatewear company RTG International.
Pulling together reams of information on various countries' political stabilities, major risks and average wages, Adrian provided a detailed and fascinating look at the world's current sourcing hotspots.
Perhaps the most interesting part was his examination of China, which used birth rates and census information to provide some tantalising hints about China's potential to grow even further.
He was followed by Susan Tucker, business dress manager at chain store John Lewis Plc, who explored the methods she employed to reinvigorate the clothing schemes used throughout the John Lewis chain.
By identifying long-standing problems - out-of-fashion uniforms, lack of consistency between male and female employees, and a lack of ethnically diverse clothing being just some examples - she helped improve the comfort and happiness of the company's employees.
This was backed up by hiring suppliers who could provide better account management and ensuring a continual evolvement of styles. In the end, she proved that by knowing where to look and what to look for, a buyer can completely turn around major aspects of its business.
The fire, the switch and the wardrobe
From department stores to public services: Keith Newnes and Martin Fraser, of Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and Firebuy's Integrated Clothing Project (ICP) respectively, arrived to discuss the ICP.
This is the project that aims to switch Britain's various different firefighting uniforms for a single, unified style, and Keith and Martin looked at where it is now and how it is expected to develop.
The highlight of their talk was a video showing the garment wearer trials in action, with clothing testers being made to jog on treadmills to test moisture transport and climb through three-dimensional mazes to test flexibility.
Slightly less strenuous, though no less complicated, is the world of wardrobe management systems. Thankfully David Littler, corporate sales manager of software specialist Syscom, was on hand to explain just how they work and how they can be used to make corporate wardrobe managing easier.
He explained how wardrobe management programs can fit into all companies and how to approach a software company with a request for a wardrobe management solution.
He suggested looking at the business to see what is needed; creating a realistic list of requirements, always maintaining control of the solution's development and making sure that any offers made by the companies are put on paper first.
The difficulty of dealing with Europe
David was followed by a well-known face in the textile industry: John Morris, a recently-retired testing expert formerly of Technicare Services Ltd and Bureau Veritas CPS, had arrived to give that day's talk on safety and legality in product development.
One of the points that he stressed was 'legal' is not necessarily the same as 'safe', and that to improve the quality of EN standards, companies with expertise in relevant fields should join up to trade organisations and make their voices heard.
Even more vociferous was David Brook of the University of Leeds' Performance Clothing Group. He looked at certain EN standards that he felt did not allow for proper test methods. He was joined by Len Woods of Ardtornish Consultants, who claimed that EN471/2003 has restrictive test methods that unfairly exclude certain fabrics.
As lunchtime approached, Eugene Macaleese of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) stepped up to the podium to deliver one of the day's best-received talks, an exploration of Chinese quotas.
He warned against assuming that the quotas would definitely be dropped at the end of 2007 and added that one should never "underestimate the ability of the EU to interfere with your business".
Developments in the world of fibres
The afternoon session began with a double presentation from Malcolm Campbell of The Woolmark Company and Neil Saville of Saville Associates. Malcolm caught everyone's attention with a lively and funny account of the growing interest in wool for heavy industry and the properties that many people do not know it has.
Neil then followed up with an examination of the important of using fibres properly. By the application of simple principles of design and weaving, he explained, many technical fibres can enjoy massively improved performance. Likewise, non-technical fibres can be made hardier through careful use.
He was followed by Dr Russ Tebay of the University of Leeds, who took the audience on a spin through the latest smart and interactive textiles and clothing. He revealed that smart clothing is still some way behind the ideal imagined some years ago, but that nanotech, plasma treatments and bi-component fibres and fabrics are becoming more practical by the day.
Elaina Harvey, marketing representative from DuPont, was up next with a fascinating - and occasionally gruesome - look at the importance of protecting workers from danger of burning. Not just from direct contact with flames, but also radiant heat and cases of sweat in uniforms turning to steam.
Examining form and function
As the day drew to a close, Malcolm Ball of independent colour management consultancy Malcolm Ball Associates took a detailed look at the difficulties and dangers of relying on people to maintain colour consistency.
Since perception of colour changes from person to person and environment to environment, he said, colour shift is inevitable unless one uses modern technology such as spectrophotometers to provide an objective, digital analysis of a fabric's colour.
Roger Bellfield followed with a look at innovation in textiles that including phase change technology, different methods of moisture management and self-cleaning clothes.
Finally, the day finished with James F Findlay of WL Gore & Associates and Robert Moyle of Simon Jersey looking at 'design for function'.
James looked at methods of providing comfort for firefighters and people in foul weather using special 'comfort mapping' technology, while Robert looked at corporatewear and workwear, and how to maximise the benefits of corporate clothing.
The fire talks: hot stuff
So what did the delegates think of the conference? Stuart Jukes, UK sales director for protective wear company Praybourne, said: "It was very informative and extremely well organised, with a good mix of product knowledge.
"The talk by the fire services was very useful; I picked up on a couple of things that were relevant to new projects that we started and it just confirmed that we're going in the right direction based on choice of fabrics in the fire retardant industry."
Theresa Fitzgerald of Cosalt:Ballyclare agreed. She said: "There was a good mix of talks for various areas of the industry but from Cosalt:Ballyclare's point of view, it was particularly good for the PPE subjects. I found the ICP presentation of special interest because we are involved in that ourselves."
Keri Futter, uniform services technical strategic manager at London Metropolitan Police, was also impressed by Keith Newnes and Martin Fraser. "I was very interested in the fire brigade talks," she said.
"The Metropolitan Police have done some work on heat stress for police motorcyclists and we are currently discussing studies of public order equipment, so what they were discussing was very interesting; I made some useful contacts there."
Woolmark makes its mark
Another popular speaker was Malcolm Campbell of the Woolmark Company, whose witty presentation garnered a great deal of enthusiasm.
Jan Pasfall, sales director for Mascot International, said: "I think it was very informative - it gave a good cross-section of the industry and there was a little bit for everybody. Malcolm Campbell was especially good at catching the crowd's attention; he's a funny guy."
Another admirer was Helen Robinson, uniforms standards and development executive of Virgin Atlantic Airlines, who said: "I especially liked Malcolm Campbell's talk, not just for the way he delivered it, but also for the information it contained. We will certainly consider using wool in our uniforms in the future."
For Lisa Kerbey of Incorporatewear, however, it was the DTI's representative that won the day. "Eugene Macaleese was fantastic," she said. "You hear a lot about how the China quota is going to be abolished at the end of 2007, so it was good to get another person's perspective and to hear someone say that this might not necessarily be the case.
But some people were happy with the day as a whole. Richard Hunter, Klopman International's marketing manager for UK and Ireland, said: "I was very impressed.
"There were some parts that were more relevant to our part of the market than others, but we were very impressed by the individual talks. I have no criticisms at all, really."
Alison Ashby of Quantum Clothing was also happy: "I thoroughly enjoyed the conference," she said. "A lot was covered in one day and I found many aspects very beneficial."
Even the people giving the talks were pleased; Elaina Harvey of DuPont said: "I thought the conference was a very worthwhile event and a much needed one for the industry. I would be delighted to take part in any future events."
Malcolm Campbell of Woolmark added: "It was a very enjoyable day and I made many good commercial contacts."
A packed event
Not everyone thought it was perfect, however. When planning the conference, both the ASBCI and director-e decided to try to fit in as much information as possible to provide value for money. But for some, a little less information would have been even better.
Keri from the London Metropolitan Police explained: "The day could have done with more breaks - it would have been nice to have a bit more of an opportunity to network."
Theresa of Cosalt:Ballyclare agreed. "A morning break gives you time to recuperate and it gives you extra networking opportunities as well," she said.
Others felt that the choice of talks - although designed to cover as wide a range of topics as possible - could have done with more balance.
"It would be nice if we had some more uniform talks," said Helen from Virgin. "It would have been nice to hear from uniforms departments in different companies, for example, and to hear from the design side as well.
"I did like the talk from Susan Tucker of John Lewis, though. It was interesting to hear how another end user buys its uniforms."
Lisa from Incorporatwear added: "It was very heavy on the technical side; we could have done with more corporate clothing companies."
A day for celebration
But on the whole, the conference was exceptionally well received - especially by John and Pam Morris. They were invited up to the podium at the end of the day, where director-e's director, Yvette Ashby, presented them with a beautiful crystal award for lifetime achievement, along with a huge bunch of flowers.
It was a delightful end to a fulfilling - and tiring - day.
(click pictures to enlarge)