30 November, 2015

Innovation is in the very fabric of our business

The success of today’s M&S owes a great debt of gratitude to a long and rich track record of innovation. These are the foundations on which our business has been built and the points of difference that have set us apart on the high street for generations. Giving our customers something new, something appealing, something that stands out from the crowd has meant our business had continued to evolve. Whether it’s a big idea that meets our customers’ needs or focusing in on the smallest detail, innovation has been the product of our unceasing drive to do things differently and make things better. Here are just a few examples that illustrate the point.

Feel-good factor

From the ashes of WW2 rose an accelerated scientific and technological progress across the textile and clothing industry. Wartime restrictions meant clothes were produced with utility and practicality in mind, rather than fashion aesthetics. But even in those straightened times, M&S began to develop new print technologies to embellish the bland and beat the drab and the dull clothing that constituted the majority of customer choice.

After the war, as the make-do-and-mend mentality cautiously gave way to a return to relative prosperity, M&S seized on the growing feel-good factor by establishing a Print Design Department. This offered support to buying departments and their suppliers on the types, patterns and colours of prints for their growing garment range. The creative and original designs this key department conceived played a vital role in reinvigorating our fashion ranges. So rich was it in diversity and imagination that, even today, our buyers and designers plunder the archives in search of inspiration for their own product ranges.

Eye-catching motifs

As the sixties gave way to the seventies, it was the skills and artistry of Margaret Nash’s embroidery motifs that were causing a stir. Her art background in St Albans and Goldsmiths inspired her designs for everything from ladies’ blouses, skirts, dresses, lingerie and swimwear to menswear and childrenswear. It was this last range for which she reserved a special fondness, with clothes featuring cheeky animated animals or pretty stitching for girls’ dresses. Margaret, herself, said, "I always felt when you designed for children that there should be a little bit of humour attached."

Knitwear revolution

It was perhaps Ismar Glasman that left the greatest impression on our business. Our Senior Executive of Yarn & Colour Technology from 1950 to the mid-80s, Glasman was responsible for revolutionising British Knitwear. Improvements to textile quality control, such as colour fastness, colour matching and colour printing was just the start of the story. His impressive legacy also includes making knitwear machine-washable, increasing its wearability and value, as well as the introduction of colour transfer-printing. This not only revolutionised textile design but also gave rise to a successful British industry to produce the specialist transfer paper.

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