It’s Heimtextil in January, an event that gets those involved in textiles all excited. But you don’t have to go Frankfurt to do that crucial job of networking - you can go online to TexIntel, Never heard of it? Well perhaps you should because it was founded by Debbie McKeegan, a designer with more than 25 years experience in textile design, buying, sales and manufacturing - including an in-depth knowledge of digital print. Her aim is to bring creatives and PSPs together. Sound useful? I met her to talk about the project, and how she thinks the relationship between creatives and printers can be improved.
By Lesley Simpson
Debbie, people may know you from the conference circuit where you speak as an authority on digital design and print, but TexIntel is perhaps under their radar. It’s a fab idea - a portal that acts as a conduit between all parties involved in textile design and print production. For those that don’t know it, can you tell us what you want it to achieve?
It is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time. Having been both designer and manufacturer in my career it’s so obvious that there’s a huge disconnect between the various players in the textile industry. I decided that, in order to fulfil my own creativity, I needed to help all parties across the textile supply chain to better understand techniques, expectations, problems etc.
Digital technology has given designers the capability to generate low-volumes, and with that, the marketplace for fashion has changed dramatically. Now that is all about customised orders - the days of warehouses full of stock are long gone. Everything is being created on demand - whether it’s a one metre or 10,000m order.
The developments in both hardware and software digital technologies are allowing any more entrants into the textile print space, including wide-format print companies as well as the designers themselves.
When you look at what’s going on at the entry-level, the price of technology has come down massively over the last five-years - I’d say 50% cheaper - and it’s much easier to use. This technology in the hands of creatives really pushes the boundaries and starts to open up the marketplace, which is great - but it also means there are lots of people with lots of questions about technology, sourcing materials, finding production partners etc., and helping with that is what TexIntel is all about.
One of the problems the print sector has in educating potential new customers about digital textile print possibilities, is knowing how best to reach them. What’s your take on that, and how does TexIntel reflect your thinking?
I was once asked to write an article titled ‘Translating the Conversation of Print’ because, as you’re aware, there’s such a huge difference in terminology between the designer and the printer. Designers know what they want to create but they’re not used to the confines of production, especially new, young designers who haven’t yet perhaps had commercial experience. They don’t understand file formats etc., so printers get jobs that cause them a huge headache. So, there’s a responsibility I believe, for all parties to be more informed and informative.
With TexIntel my intention is to deliver information in a way that the various people involved will understand. It’s about deconstructing boundaries really, and I think that with my background I can translate for parties from all sides. The website is a mix of things - I’m a naturally curious person, so I’m constantly looking at what opportunities new technologies are opening up, such as UV inkjet for instance, and blog about what I’ve come across. There are articles that go quite deep and there’s lots of pictoral content, so whether people have two minutes or two hours there’s something to educate and inspire them.
Also, I build connections by featuring people and products that grab my attention, whether that be a young designer doing something unusual, or a piece of software that will have an impact on production.
How do you know if you’re getting it right or not?
Our analysis shows we get a mixture of people to the site, which was only launched this year, so it is still very new. What’s interesting is that we’re seeing that creatives are reading some of the deeper dive, analytical stuff on the development of digital.
We also do a weekly edit - we take blogs or stories that have had the most reactions and send them out to our newsletter base, which is again a mixture of everyone in the textile industry.
I love it that within your directories you have one of digital printers. Have you specifically curated that list, and how do other PSPs get onto it?
Yes, it is curated by me, through my knowledge of the industry. Those that are on there have all been invited by me to provide information, and I’m being very careful actually to make sure it doesn’t just become a list.
It’s early days, so the functionality of the directories will grow. At the moment you can search by tags in the system, but it will become more involved in terms of searchability though the key is for it to remain simple to actually use.
There is definitely scope for PSPs not already in the directory to apply to be included - there’s a button on the page that enables them to contact me then I’ll check them out. Everyone is short of time, so I don’t want to build something that is full of waste! The important thing is that everyone in these online ‘communities’ adds value to the chain.
It may mean that companies are sharing IP information they wouldn’t normally share organically, but if this market is to grow as it potentially can, we need to share. I have found that all of the really great things I‘ve been involved with have happened through collaboration.
TexIntel offers a wide range of services, including consultancy via experts. Who are the experts and where does print fit in?
I drive all of the projects and bring in people as I need them. So for example, I had an interior designer who needed to find a fabric for a London restaurant, but he also needed to source a design. I asked what kind of thing he was looking for, and he said ‘tropical’ and ‘I need it within the next three weeks’, so using the directories I helped pull that together.
Now, some creatives will know more about print than others, so that will impact the PSP they need to work with. Some will need lots of hand-holding, so I can help steer them if necessary to someone who will take a design, turn it into a format that can be printed, who can source suitable materials for them etc. The consultancy is about connecting people with the right skillsets so everyone fulfills their creative and commercial objectives.
You have a ‘sustainability’ section on your site, with ‘resources’. How big an issue is environmental sustainability to the creative community in terms of print?
It is an issue. It’s a Millennials issue. The generation of ‘print buyers’ coming through now have a sustainable conscience, and if you ignore that you’re going to lose out longer term. And that’s whatever area you’re in, be it fashion, decor, events - it has to be part of your agenda.
What has been holding things back as far as I can see, is the availability of consumables - which is again where TexIntel connects in. We already have lots of sustainable suppliers in the sustainability section, but as with the printers directory, it will gradually build. Creatives can use it, but so can printers, and indeed they are using it! Why wouldn’t they - you can spend weeks trawling around looking for suitable materials - this will take you straight through to workable options. The same goes for sourcing inks etc. Whether you are volume producer, small design studio, print company - the idea is that this is a quick reference tool for everybody.
I’m frequently editorialising about the need for PSPs to do better in engaging with creatives, but it can be difficult to reach them. Do you think designers need to do more too to open themselves up to what must be useful information?
Perhaps it’s because I’m a designer myself, rather than a printer, and have my own brand etc., but I find creatives are happy to have a conversation about digital print possibilities. I have been talking with them my whole life so perhaps it is all about speaking their language as we keep saying, and also maybe about perception - that as a designer I’m not going to bamboozle them with terminology they just won’t understand.
So do we need some sort of ‘ambassador for digital print’ - people like yourself - to put in front of creatives?
Absolutely, and that’s why I work with Fespa along those lines. I did it for the Berlin show and I’ll be doing it again for the Munich show in 2019. It sounds a bit corny, but my role will be to translate that conversation on print into a format that engages and inspires visually. So, using the technologies and substrates that the manufacturers provide to create live on the show floor products that capture the imagination.
Everybody wants a USP. In dye-sub we’re right at the start of what could be an explosion of opportunity, but it needs people to play with kit and materials and inks to push boundaries. TexIntel is a sort of melting pot of information that should help people do that.