Fiona Armstrong-Gibbs is an author, lecturer and initiator in the fashion and footwear industry, with a particular interest in new and better ways to do business. She is also a director of Baltic Creative CIC, a social enterprise property company established in 2009 to support the creative and digital ecosystem in Liverpool.
Fiona led the Liverbird ShoeProject in July 2017, collaborating with Fab Lab Liverpool at the School of Art and Design in LJMU, and with artist and honorary visiting fellow Emma Rodgers. The project originated from an exploration of different approaches to shoes, sculpture and technology, highlighting challenges in the fashion industry around over-production, and developing innovative ways to mix traditional types of making and 3D printing technologies.
‘I have limited practical skills and hope this project will help me develop the basics that I have, particularly in 3D printing software,’ she says, pinpointing 3D printing, wearable technology, women in tech and large scale 3D printing as areas she would like to learn more about.
‘Throughout my career in the footwear industry I have worked closely with designers to realise commercial collections. My most recent commercial collaboration was with Joanne Stoker, a British footwear designer and Oka-B, a US-based injection moulded flip flop manufacturer, to create a limited edition pool slide that was launched at London Fashion Week in 2015.’
Fiona says that manufacturing is integral to understanding how footwear and fashion is made, and always insists on seeing facilities. ‘Unfortunately the past 20 years have seen a focus on satisfying what the consumer wants and not what is necessarily the best, most ethical or safest way to make and manufacture fashion products. This is part of the problem in a very opaque supply chain,’ she says.
Fiona’s project is designed to look at ways to solve some of these issues, and bridge the gap between the designer, maker, producer and consumer. As a director of Baltic Creative, she is well aware of people, businesses and organisation collaborating. ‘That network and support system gives everyone the confidence to keep innovating, testing and trying,’ she says.
‘The culture in commercial companies is usually driven by their own management objectives and not necessarily creative individual relationships, so it is important for the maker to keep in touch and not expect to be at the forefront of a company’s mind,’ says Fiona. ‘As a maker, you need to build good relationships with key people in the company and keep delivering something interesting/ bring something to the table.Know how to stand up for yourself – but be gracious at the same time!’
Many of Fiona’s targets for her project are around sustainability and ethical trade, establishing a business that can profitably and fairly help all makers to commercialise their creations. ‘Creations that can satisfy a customer’s desire for something that is fashionable and beautiful, but has not been created through abuses in the supply chain and is manufactured well,’ she says.
Fiona will use four criteria to assess the success of the OpenMaker programme, including:
Have we been able to create several footwear designs?
Are any of them actually wearable? A fit test will be carried out…
Is there a potential business model where I can provide a service to makers to transform their work into a commercial product that is well made, and that people want to buy?
How much interest have we created, press and potential sales orders?
‘The fashion industry has little choice but to embrace 4.0,’ says Fiona. ‘The rate that people buy, consume and dispose of fashion is totally unsustainable. Finding new ways to manufacture that reduces waste and creates affordable bespoke items is essential – OpenMaker has the power and resources to get people to try to find solutions through new relationships. How can we use 4.0 for good and to challenge some of the current issues in the fashion industry such as overproduction and waste? It’s a no brainer!’
Ten semi finalists from the UK have been selected for the OpenMaker programme.
The programme has been facilitated in the UK by the Beautiful Ideas Company, alongside fellow teams in Spain, Italy and Slovakia. The UK judging panel included Liverpool deputy mayor Cllr Nick Small, local entrepreneur Gemma McGowan, Paul Dickson from LJMU and Anthony Walker, project manager of the LCR4.0 project at LJMU, acting as a technical advisor.
Seven of the semi-finalists are from the Liverpool City Region, including Wirral and North Liverpool, with a further three from Salford. Each of the semi-finalists is active in an area that the Beautiful Ideas Company has worked over the last two years, as it builds clusters in the grassroots creative economy.
Judge Gemma McGowan says: ‘I was really surprised by the standard of the applications and the immense knowledge and creativity we have within the maker/manufacturer sectors. When the Beautiful Ideas Co started delivering OpenMaker I didn’t think I was techy or creative. What I now realise is that technology affects almost every part of our economy and the applicants and their ideas are an exciting force for social change, driven by social values.
‘It’s good to see links created between makers and manufacturer communities, and was an honour to be involved in hearing their ideas. It was also very impressive to see a balanced 50-50 gender split of semi-finalists. While women might not traditionally have been seen as natural manufacturers, the ideas are strong, focused and exciting.’
The ten semi-finalists are:
Small Scale Manufacturing of Fashion Footwear
3D printing is used to develop a process for designers, artists and makers, creating footwear prototypes to be commercialised. The ability to create small scale production runs allows new designers and small businesses to avoid the expensive start-up costs, high levels of financial investment and failures seen by many makers and manufacturers in this sector.
Both designers and labourers are often exploited for excessive commercial profits with long supply chains, in which components are transported globally. First demonstrated at the British Style Collective (formerly The Clothes Show) 2017, the opportunity to produce short runs places the process in the hands of designers – and ultimately customers – in what is otherwise a highly exclusive and unsustainable sector.
Maker: Shoe Bird Ltd and manufacturer: LJMU Fablab
3D scanners to link creative industries
Objocopiers are professional, self-contained 3D scanners which will be used to connect Liverpool’s diverse creative community. The easy-to-use open-source scanners will allow the city’s scattered and siloed creative communities to share prototypes, and encourage companies to work together in new ways to realise existing assets through new distribution channels.
The 3D scanners will operate by putting a person or object on a rotating plinth, which will take hundreds of photographs, via six high tech cameras on a rotary arm. The data will then be processed automatically by a photogrammetry app on the scanner and shared to a specialised local place in the cloud, which all collaborators will have access to.
Maker: Maiku Ltd, Real Space Ltd and manufacturer: LJMU Art and Design School
The Aquafarm is an off-grid aquaculture centre in Liverpool’s Clarence Graving Dock. Utilising a currently disused space, the farm will produce food locally in urban locations, including fresh fish, seaweed and shellfish on a pilot scale, whilst also carrying out research and development.
Addressing the challenges of scaling up for a commercial operation, the Aquafarm will use existing off-grid services and modularity for flexible scalability, allowing it to be replicated in any location. Future phases of the Aquafarm will see it used as a focus for an SME cluster and visitor destination, promoting innovation whilst raising awareness of the sustainability agenda.
Maker: Seaweed Alchemy Ltd and manufacturer: WhiteCircle Ltd
Microhome is a home and workspace, which is available in a range of custom-built design prototypes. It’s a response to the UK’s housing crisis which has seen homelessness double in the past four years, and creative producers – who are essential to sustainable urban economies – being forced out. There has also been a further wave of 21 to 35 year olds becoming homeless and/ or leaving urban areas, as housing assistance is withdrawn from this age group.
Delivered fully assembled, Microhome is ‘plugged in’ to services on temporary, permanent, small and infill sites, and can be used on sites too small for commercial value, in difficult locations, and assets awaiting long term value or site assembly. The units cost between £25,000-35,000 and allow for rents of £40 to £100 per week.
Microhome will be built and tested with a live residential community, and exhibited at the National Housing Federation showcase, on land donated for five years by Salford City Council.
Maker: Salford Makers with manufacturer: Salix Homes Developments and Islington Mill Arts Club
Physical Innovation Platform
The Physical Innovation Platform brings together designers, makers and manufacturers, to form a network which will produce an open source ‘blueprint’ style archive of commissions, to be used throughout the creative community. Often, makers and designers are asked to compete to win commissions, and usually only those with access to the relevant resources can take them up. The Physical Innovation Platform creates the opportunity for the creative community through a ‘how we did it’ style blueprint, which can be shared and replicated across the community.
Manufacturer, Finsa, will use the platform to challenge the conventional use of its products whilst testing limits and producing content to market them. An innovative display stand, which has been designed by designers and made by makers, will be at the Surface and Design Show in London during the project, and will be testing materials for the manufacturer.
The Physical Innovation Platform creates an opportunity for designers, makers and manufacturers to work together on live projects, engage in research and development, and develop a blueprint for how this approach can be applied in other places.
Maker: Make Liverpool, WMB Studio and manufacturer: Finsa
FUEd 1.0 Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
FUEd is a powerful, responsive and integrated educational tool, designed to keep pace with the fourth Industrial Revolution – industry 4.0. There are three key components to FUEd: a real world scientific problem; a physical piece of cutting-edge technology; and accompanying responsive, dynamic, digital content. FUEd 1.0 will deliver the prototype of an educational tool, incorporating a piece of fourth Industrial Revolution technology – Zipgrow, a vertical food growing system – enabling high school students to explore real world problems through up-to-date technology.
This creative approach places curiosity and self-directed problem-solving at the heart of learning, allowing students to participate in collaborative research and citizen science experiments based around industry 4.0 technology whilst equipping them with the skills they will need in the new world of work.
Maker: FarmUrbanLtd, IGOO and manufacturer: REFARMERS
Aqua Running creates unique bodysuits to allow anyone of any age, ability or disability to exercise comfortably in deep water with no impact on bones, joints or muscles.
The buoyancy suit contains 19 strategically placed buoyancy pads, which keep a person’s head above water and activates core muscles to help correct running and jogging position in the water. Its lack of impact allows people to exercise safely – with no risk of injury – very early in recovery from surgery, illness or injury, and is fully CE certified to the highest European Safety Standards.
As well as also acting as an excellent learn to swim aid for children, the buoyancy suit is in its next stage of development, which will include sensors to retrieve physiological data about the patient’s recovery, monitoring exercise and fitness levels during exercise. The first suit with integrated sensors will be launched in 2018 at Real Madrid FC, and the National Children’s Clinic for Cerebral Palsy and Brain Paralysis in Spain.
Maker: Terence Nelson with manufacturer: Sensor City
Smart Print will pilot a digital database, designed to transform the consumer into a digital artisan, and deconstructing the mass-market fashion machine. Using a historical archive of over 50,000 wallpapers and textiles dating from the early 18th century, it will create a large digital database of antique motifs. These are in high demand as inspiration for designers in high street brands including M&S and John Lewis. This large digital mix-and-match pattern database will not only preserve and immortalise the beautiful timeless motifs, but provide a pioneering resource for the second stage of the project, creating unique mix-and-match designs, exploring possibilities and refining the digital design process.
The third stage involves our collaboration with a manufacturer to produce a range of wallpapers showcasing this unique design process, to be launched at a high-profile European interiors trade-show. This database will form a globally-accessible digital platform that can be used by the design-novice consumer to create and personalise print to express their identity and to create personal products in smart factories.
Who: Maker Cheryl O’Meara and manufacturer Digitex
Temporary Custodians Platform
Temporary Custodians Platform is an interactive website, which will host an innovative and accessible public database of artworks – an important new cultural resource for the region. It will provide a platform for private collections, including the collections of a sample of small to medium sized collectors, plus ‘Temporary Custodians of Islington Mill’, a collectively owned artwork created by Maurice Carlin and currently held by 80 individuals.
This project aims to disrupt the current art market and collecting system, which limits notions of success for artists; concentrates wealth and opportunity in large urban international centres such as London, and excludes all but the wealthiest tiers of society. This project will prototype an alternative collaborative model, by bringing together the burgeoning collector community in the North West.
Maker: Res and manufacturer Origens Medialab
Origami Pulse will produce a unique range of origami paper, printed with original art work and crystalline forms of happiness-producing chemicals. Each sheet of Origami paper contains serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins – meaning that people will literally be able to fold happiness.
It has been created to combat the current mental health challenges facing the UK, which cause over £26.1 billion of lost earnings every year in the UK. Origami Pulse paper, alongside a combination of workshops, a website, cards designed specifically for mental health and a library with quotes and inspirations, will revolutionise the communication of emotional states in modern society.
The fusion of the ancient art form of origami with modern manufacturing and communication processes, will result in bespoke workshops cards and kits, creating solutions for the mental health challenges experienced by one in four people in the UK.
Maker: Mobile Craft 4 U and manufacturer: Re-wrapped
The OpenMaker finalists are due to be announced later this month, and will collectively share a funding pot of more than €100,000.
Sound engineer John Lancaster co-runs Birdshit Records. As a maker and a manufacturer, he makes his own equipment, from amplifiers to studio equipment, and is currently working on a project to cut vinyl records.
John’s project idea revolves around the manufacture of vinyl records. Normally, vinyl involves a minimum pressing quantity, with an order of at least a few hundred discs for recording artists and creatives to distribute vinyl records of their work. His plan is to use his own lathe to cut individual copies and to accept a minimum order of one copy.
Typical, his clients are hip-hop artists who need single copies of 12 inch records to use in scratching; creatives who need them to use as promotional tools; and musicians and artists who aren’t able to – or simply don’t want to – record in such large batches.
John feels that ‘there’s a certain mystique’ to the world of vinyl, and insists he’s not a ‘vinyl fetishist’. He enjoys being part of a process that he has created and developed himself, that allows an artist to be part of the journey from composition through to the production of the sound object. He likes the ‘hands on’ process of cutting individual discs and working the lathe. He says: ‘people are more likely to listen to something you’ve made if you put a record – putting a tangible object into their hands is more powerful than, say, sending a link to Sound Cloud.’
John aims to offer artists and creatives a bespoke service that gives them access to vinyl production, which they can scale up if they want to. He wants to de-mystify a production process which, although complicated, has several elements that anyone could try.
John’s current lathe has been designed and built by a German jukebox engineer. For a range of reasons, this has led to the production of these lathes being something of a ‘closed shop’.
In the US particularly, there is growing interest in restoring old disc cutting lathes, some of which date back to the 1930s. They remain popular on ebay and are in short supply, which John suggests could be linked to the rise of World Record Store Day. John’s dream is to have a roomful of these very specialist lathes and train up artists and creatives, giving them complete control over the means of production of their creativity.
John’s links with musicians across Salford and Manchester – and work with Band on the Wall and Islington Mill – led him to the OpenMaker project. Longer term, he would like to collaborate with fellow creative producers and look at coming up with a portable prototype that could fit in a flight case and be used anywhere. His ideal prototype would also include a digital element to combine old and new technology, and he’s in the process of identifying creatives who would be interested in working with him on this long term project.
Johns plans include:
• developing and building an open-source, digitally-controlled lathe (or at least one of the key lathe components)
• create a training and development programme so creatives can make their own records
• producing individual records
• developing a touring ‘pop-up’ record shop, where records are recorded and manufactured in situ…
• developing sustainable, alternative materials for the discs themselves.