Made In Italy | Designed in Britain
About the Project
Innovation lies at the very heart of what both NJAL and Alcantara do. NJAL seeks to innovate through its championing of young designers, its critical editorial eye and its consistent dedication to disseminating knowledge through projects and events. Alcantara have taken a behind-the-scenes approach to innovation, pioneering materials that are used by the most prestigious international companies in a number of fields of application.
”From the discovery of the strength of silk to the industrialisation of cotton in the eighteenth century or the creation of Alcantara® in the 1970s, fashion has been at the epicentre of generational change," Sadie Clayton, an NJAL designer involved in the project, points out. Striving for innovation, whether through the development of design techniques such as pattern cutting or the application of undiscovered materials is essential to the future of fashion.
The use of unique, cutting-edge materials can facilitate the discovery of new techniques, give designers an edge over their counterparts and ultimately push the boundaries and limitations of fashion design. Alcantara® material offers an extraordinary combination of sensory, aesthetic and functional values, while maintaining an ethical responsibility. The full potential of the Alcantara® material is yet to be fully realised by the fashion industry, making the project a groundbreaking one both for the designers and indeed for fashion.
Strikingly, despite manufacturing the material used in the most state of the art electronics and automobiles and aircraft, Alcantara’s manufacturing base, including a plant and research centre is located in the quaint region of Nera Montoro, Umbria. Alcantara operates on a global scale, providing material for application in the products of multiple industries but its potential for avant-garde fashion has yet to be untapped. Through creative collaboration, Alcantara and NJAL endeavour to unite emerging designers with the Italian manufacturer in a bid to increase the exposure of Alcantara® material and unleash its pioneering potential within the fashion industry.
The remarkable journey started with Miyoshi Okamoto, a Japanese research scientist who invented and patented the Alcantara® material in 1972. Alcantara is a one-of-a-kind high-tech luxury material obtained by a combination of advanced textile, chemical and mechanical processes which interact with each other in a completely unique way. Its invention constitutes a technological landmark. It has now become a product category in its own right and has opened up endless new expressive possibilities for the design world.
Alcantara explains its ethos, "Alcantara means excellence with no exceptions: in the products we design, in the way we think and produce them, in the partners we choose and in how we work with them. And if being excellent represents an ambitious goal, staying excellent is an even tougher challenge."
Alcantara as a company has a net balance of greenhouse gas emissions equal to zero. Beyond its exceptional properties in terms of tactility and aesthetics, Alcantara material also provides a sustainable alternative to the industry’s currently predominant luxury materials. As NJAL designer, Thomas Sels elucidates, “The green credentials are becoming ever more important. Material that doesn’t cost the earth really will be the way forward."
Proving that innovation and artisanship are not mutually exclusive, Alcantara is among the strongest advocates and ambassadors of the authentic Made in Italy signature worldwide. Since its inception, Alcantara has worked with esteemed fashion brands and designers to realise the creative potential of their eponymous material and encourage designers, across all industries to challenge the limitations of design. Alcantara has for many years been the main partner of the fashion scouting initiative promoted by AltaRoma in collaboration with Vogue Italia to give visibility to young talents in Italian fashion. Now, with the partnership of NJAL, they are extending their mission in offering ten NJAL designers the chance to discover and harness the use of pioneering materials in their designs.
Sadie Clayton, who has experimented extensively with the application of unusual materials in fashion, sees that today’s designers are keen not only to “harness technology but make it relevant and applicable to everyday luxury." She continues, “Luxury, whilst still firmly linked to materials such as leather, cashmere, silk etc is now also demonstrated through the essence of more - lighter, stronger, softer - and this is only achievable through pushing the boundaries of technology. Using these next generation materials de facto enables me, as a designer, to create more precise shapes and patterns which are truer to the images I initially see only in my mind’s eye. As my work is strongly inspired by the shapes of crystals and expressed in 3D shapes and cut outs, new materials enable me to achieve my goals and at the same time achieve the finishes that are demanded by ever more sophisticated consumers."
It is no secret that the fashion industry has been slow on the uptake when it comes to incorporating innovation within its business models. Whether through connecting young designers with manufacturers, taking a newfangled approach to the tradeshow model or organising educational events, NJAL is passionately committed to equipping our young designers with the skills and expertise to work outside the enshrined structures, to take their brands to the next level and to ultimately push the boundaries of fashion design. Made In Italy | Designed In Britain is an embodiment of that mission, serving to lay a stepping stone towards innovation for fashion's future.