Project supports innovation at luxury textile archive

  • Date

    Thu 2 Mar 23

Historians are helping an internationally significant Essex textile archive maximise and streamline the commercial opportunities of its collection thanks to a new type of knowledge transfer award.

The partnership, between the University of Essex and the Warner Textile Archive, which is owned by Braintree District Museum Trust, is being funded by Innovate UK through a new accelerated knowledge transfer pilot scheme.

Researchers working with the Trust will explore and review existing commercial opportunities with historical designs and records in the Archive Collection to help develop a sustainable commercialisation strategy for the future led by its trading subsidiary Warner Textile Archive Trading Limited.

The Warner Textile Archive is the largest publicly owned collection from a luxury textile manufacturer in the UK. It comprises over 100,000 items, including fabric designs on paper, hand woven textiles, printed textiles, business records, photographs and manufacturing equipment.

Designs from the collection have been used on fabric, wallpaper, clothing, jewellery and stationery by companies including Claremont Furnishing Fabrics Ltd, George Spencer Designs, House of Hackney, the National Trust, Stockwell Ceramics and Surface View.

The project aims to help the Archive attract new commercial partners, streamline its design and research services, and explore the range and potential of different business models.

History PhD student Sam Woodward will work with Museums Manager Robert Rose, Archivist Sophie Jemma and Dr Alix Green from Essex’s Department of History to review how items from the collection have been used commercially to create case studies that can be used as business models for future clients.

Robert welcomed the partnership with Essex and Innovate UK: “Income diversification has never been more important for the heritage sector and maximising the commercial opportunities of our Archive Collection is very important in generating funds to support the care and awareness of our beautiful designs.”

“This project will help us to respond to potential clients more quickly within our existing resources. It will also remove any barriers, diversify our client base, strengthen our brand, and help us to think more innovatively and entrepreneurially,” he added.

The project has been developed in response to a previous partnership between the Archive and Essex historians, led by Dr Green, to develop a research and digital engagement strategy.

Sam, whose PhD research focuses on the John Lewis Partnership co-ownership model, said: “Working with the Archive previously was really enlightening. The Archive holds many beautiful and interesting items including some that capture moments in history such as fabric designs by Eddie Squires that commemorate the lunar landing in 1969.

“Items from the Archive Collection are already being used commercially and this opportunity to critically review them, as well as previous ones, is really exciting as it’ll help create real benefit for the Archive that will ensure it has a sustainable future.”

Dr Green said: “At Essex, our historians are committed to active engagement with a range of partners and communities. Historians have much to offer when it comes to mobilising business archives to achieve organisational aims, both for the public good and commercial benefits.

“Our ongoing partnership with the Warner Textile Archive and Braintree District Museum Trust is a great example of what can be achieved in collaboration and its fantastic that Innovate UK has recognised our track record and the potential of this project.”

Funding for the project was awarded through Innovate UK’s Accelerated Knowledge Transfer to Innovate Pilot Scheme which has distributed £3million to partnerships that deliver rapid and targeted intervention to accelerate projects that have significant impact for the business partner.