Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Jane Wood is a senior lecturer and PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is involved with all things techie, including being part of the university wearable research group which cuts across the wide range of disciplines within the institution. Her PhD studies are investigating the role of bio fabrics as a technical textile, with particular focus on how these will impact the wearable technology sector. She has written chapters in several books in the field of wearable tech and technical textiles, has presented at several conferences and authored guest articles in magazines. Jane is involved with the Textile Institute and was part of the organising committee for the first Manchester and Cheshire section student conference, Textiles and Life. She is also part of the European Commission Horizon 2020 assessors panel for the current round of wearable tech funding. Jane is a proud Manchester girl at heart (of course she’s a Manchester City fan!) and the even prouder mum of identical twin boys who are nearly as tall as she is.
Jane, what does your current job role entail?
I am a part time senior lecturer in textile technology at Manchester Metropolitan University. I am also studying part time for my PhD in biomaterials.
Has it been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?
The textile industry is difficult for women in senior roles – particularly technical textiles which is still a male dominated environment. In academia I am based at Manchester Fashion Institute, which is a predominantly female environment both from a student and staff perspective. However, technology in general at the university still sees male dominance.
How long did it take you to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
I’ve worked at the university for over 10 years in an academic role, starting as an associate lecturer. I was employed as I had a wealth of industrial expertise, spanning more years than I care to admit to! I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world with my work and have been involved in all sorts of interesting global projects – from the development of airbag fabrics for cars, hot air balloon and parachute fabrics, all the way through to branded childrenswear clothing and everything in between. I’ve been involved in technical development, testing and sourcing of both garments and fabrics in my time.
I guess the biggest challenge was being taken seriously as a young female in an offshore factory. I don’t have patience as a virtue, so I’ve had to dig deep at times to get the job done!
What are your biggest achievements to date?
In industry – upping sticks and moving lock, stock and barrel to Morocco to help with the running of a large manufacturing unit - on my own!
Personally – my wonderful twin boys who are my inspiration to make the world a better place.
What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you? What are the challenges of being a woman in wearable tech / fashion tech?
I think it’s great that there is such a movement – it’s such a supportive and informative environment will so many innovative, talented women involved. In wearable tech we still have the male dominance in the ‘science’ bit, i.e. the componentry, whilst there is still an opinion in some circles that women are there to ‘make it all look pretty’. Watch your backs – times are changing!
But on a serious note, I think it’s a little sad that we still have a gender divide – whether that is perceived or real. We are all human, we are all talented, just think what we could achieve if we all pull together!
How does education help young people in realising their potential and opportunities in the fashion tech industry, having in mind that world of technology and fashion is changing rapidly and that sometimes educational curriculums cannot keep up the pace with that change?
Within our curriculum we accept that yes, often technology changes so rapidly that it is difficult to keep pace. We are lucky to be in an institution that values research and we are sometimes those that are responsible for those rapid changes. Whilst that does inform our teaching, we teach our students to have questioning minds – never accept anything at face value. We can give them the tools to work with in terms of basic fashion tech, but as we all know, the real innovation has always come from what we do with those tools. We encourage them to be the innovators, the questioners, the game changers. We instil in them that they are the future – they are the ones that will change the world.
We are also lucky to be such a diverse institution, so there is always the opportunity to work with students from another area of expertise with whom to develop ideas. Too often wearable tech is seen as either highly functional or highly fashionable. Our students have the opportunity to create product that is both – clothing with tech that is useful, people want to wear – and that actually fits them!
What are the projects (focus groups, meetups, initiatives, etc.) you run as part of your role within Manchester Metropolitan University and Manchester Fashion Institute that can help young people and students expand their horizons when it comes to opportunities in the fashion tech space?
As I’ve already mentioned, we have a fabulous cross section of disciplines, so there’s always collaboration opportunities. We have areas such as Innospace which supports startups and gives a city centre locations to new businesses alongside practical business support (such as finance advice, business mentors and HR).
In the Fashion Institute particularly we pride ourselves on industry links and run many live, industry sponsored projects across all academic levels throughout the year. Whilst this gives students research skills and the opportunity to work on a live project, it also builds their confidence on presenting their findings to a real business.
The Fashion Institute have also pioneered a ‘sponsored masters’ initiative. This is where disciplines from across the whole university partner with the Fashion Institute to collaborate on a research project. The projects bring fashion students together with another discipline to work to find a workable solution – and there is a prize for the best. It’s a great way of bringing disciplines together. It’s been a fabulous initiative and whilst I have been closely involved in the wearable tech project from the point of view of writing the brief, it is my super talented colleagues (and students) that have brought it to life and made it happen. Projects have just this week been handed in and I’m very excited to see the results.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the wearable tech and fashion industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
One of my responsibilities as an academic is to be aware of current trends and research projects in the field. I still feel we have a massive hurdle to jump over – too often wearable tech is seen as purely aesthetic, or as an add on after a garment has been made. I would really like to see more complete product development happening. What I mean by this is considering ALL the needs of the wearer at the same time – not just adding tech in after a garment has been made. It’s my belief that until this happens we will never see the massive breakthroughs we are hoping for. Thankfully, I have just read about some research discussing wearable tech from a textile point of view – how a textile behaves and what the considerations need to be – and therefore why traditional hard wired circuitry is not the answer. There is hope!
From my own research point of view, we are seeing microbiology have more of an impact on the textile industry. Microbes are certainly more than capable of taking the electronic tech world by storm – watch this space!
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and fashion tech?
Suzanne Lee – for sparking my interest in bio fabrics.
Dr Lieva Van Langenhove – for her writing in the field of wearable tech and being such a source of knowledge whilst I was studying for my masters.
Jane McCann – for her inspirational writing, being so clever – and being totally lovely with it!
LinkedIn: Jane Wood
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.