A clothing/textile technologist works on the design and production of fibres, yarns and textiles. They carry out a range of technical, investigative and quality-control work to make sure the end product performs to specifications.

They work on the development of products, improving production efficiency and quality, while liaising with those involved in the production process.

The textile and clothing industries are closely linked and end products range widely from clothing to household and industrial textiles.

Responsibilities

Technologists in smaller organisations are usually responsible for both garments and textiles, but in some large companies, these functions are split.

Tasks likely to be carried out by a clothing/textile technologist include:

  • developing manmade fibres and quality assessing natural fibres;
  • spinning fibres into yarn, and knitting or weaving yarn into fabrics;
  • producing non-woven materials;
  • identifying the latest fabric trends, developments and innovations;
  • overseeing the dyeing, printing and finishing processes;
  • ensuring quality in areas such as strength, durability, colourfastness, and water and chemical resistance;
  • advising commercial colleagues on technical aspects of the business;
  • liaising with designers, and adapting designs to suit production methods;
  • making and sizing pre-production garments;
  • sourcing fabrics and accessories;
  • undertaking quality evaluations of materials and checking the quality of the final product;
  • responding to product queries, including complaints, from wholesalers and customers.

Some technologists specialise in research and product development and may:

  • undertake research to find new ways of using yarns;
  • develop chemicals that may be added to fabrics to make them more waterproof, flame-resistant or shrink-resistant;
  • experiment with textiles to improve their look, feel, texture and durability.

Salary

  • Assistant textile technologists may start on salaries in the region of £14,000 to £18,000. Fully qualified technologists or those on graduate training schemes with large companies may earn £20,000 to £23,000.
  • With a few years' experience salaries of £25,000 to £35,000 can be achieved.
  • Those with substantial experience working in senior roles or with management research development responsibilities may earn £40,000 to £55,000.

Additional benefits may include a company car, pension and health insurance.

Demand for specialist technologists in recent times has seen salary increases. Larger retailers usually pay the most, but there are fewer opportunities in head-office functions.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Contracted working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, although it is usually necessary to work late when there are deadlines to be met. Technologists working in a production environment may be required to work shifts and weekends.

Career breaks and part-time work may be possible, but employers' attitudes and policies vary widely.

What to expect

  • Work may be based in a laboratory, factory or office, but there is generally considerable involvement in the production process.
  • Jobs are available in most areas, although there are usually more in regions with a history of manufacturing, such as London, the North West, West Yorkshire, the Midlands, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Self-employment and freelance work is rare, except perhaps for occasional consultancy work once you have built up significant experience.
  • Travel within a working day is frequent to meet with customers, manufacturers and suppliers. Business trips may involve overnight stays.
  • There is an increasingly international dimension to the work. Overseas travel is becoming common as a great deal of manufacturing takes place abroad. Typical destinations are Southern Europe and East Asia.

Qualifications

You will typically need a degree or HND in a relevant subject such as physical, mathematical and applied sciences or engineering to become a clothing/textile technologist.

In particular, employers look for candidates with a qualification in one of the following subjects:

  • textile technology or textile science;
  • clothing technology or garment technology;
  • polymer science or technology;
  • chemical and physical sciences;
  • computing and mathematics;
  • fashion studies;
  • total quality management;
  • production or manufacturing engineering;
  • materials science or technology.

Entry without a degree or HND is sometimes possible, although it is likely that this will be at a lower technician level. You can then progress to the role of clothing/textile technologist once you have gained experience and further qualifications.

A related postgraduate qualification is not essential but may be useful, especially for graduates who do not have a relevant first degree.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • a high level of technical knowledge and strong practical skills;
  • the ability to work as part of a team and to liaise with colleagues in other functions;
  • strong negotiating skills;
  • the ability to prioritise and to switch between different tasks as required;
  • problem-solving skills and decision-making ability;
  • organisational skills, to ensure time schedules are adhered to and deadlines are met;
  • an interest in, and understanding of, computer technology.

As this is an international industry, graduates often have the chance to work and travel abroad. Increasingly, the overseas supply chain is controlled and managed in the UK by experienced technologists. Visits to suppliers are becoming an important part of the work. For these reasons, language skills can be useful.

Work experience

Experience in the textile and clothing industry will greatly improve your chances of getting a job. Completing a placement as part of your course or setting up your own work experience will be useful.

Contact companies that produce the type of textiles you are interested in working with and ask about work experience and placement opportunities. Other part-time work that is relevant to the textile industry can also be useful.

It can be useful to join a professional body - as a student member while at university - such as the Textile Institute. Keep up to date with industry developments by reading publications such as Drapers.

It is essential to research potential employers thoroughly and to be prepared to make speculative applications early in your final year. Many first positions are gained through networking.

It may be necessary to take a short-term contract or undertake some work experience at first to gain some knowledge of the role. Some large employers offer graduate training schemes.

Employers

Textile technologists are commonly employed by manufacturing companies in retail and the clothing industry. However, there are many other potential employers, in a variety of sectors.

For example, in the field of industrial textiles, there are specialist employers in:

  • geotextiles;
  • medical textiles;
  • industrial clothing, furnishings and ropes.

The main growth sector within the industry is technical textiles. This involves the development of technologies for performance fabrics and nonwovens for industries such as:

  • aerospace;
  • agriculture;
  • automotive;
  • construction;
  • defence;
  • detergent;
  • healthcare;
  • IT;
  • paper;
  • transportation.

Some small and medium-sized firms specialise in particular areas of production, such as spinning, weaving or dyeing.

The interior textiles sector mainly converts imported materials and is a major employer in the UK.

Positions in research and development may arise within companies in industry. In universities, such roles are often combined with lecturing.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specific directories are available, which are useful for speculative applications, including:

Specialist recruitment agencies are active within the industry and handle technologist vacancies. These include:

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

The training available to clothing/textile technologists varies depending on the sector and size of employer. It is typical that new technologists learn on the job from more experienced colleagues.

Some of the larger retailers and manufacturers offer more formal and structured graduate training programmes. The emphasis is on building up a graduate's academic and technical knowledge by completing specific assignments.

This is supplemented by broad-based, company-specific training on production processes, together with the development of the skills needed for management responsibility.

Courses may cover areas such as company quality assurance procedures and standards, as well as supplier site familiarisation involving periods spent overseas.

Through these training programmes, graduate entrants will gain an insight into the company's production, quality control processes and cost structures, as well as the importance of effective communication between suppliers, manufacturers and retailers.

External training courses are also available. The Textile Institute offers a range of professional qualifications at Fellowship, Associateship and Licentiateship level. They cover a range of disciplines relating to fibres and fabric, clothing and footwear, and interior and technical textiles.

In general you will need a degree or higher diploma relevant to textiles and between two to five years' experience depending on the level of qualification that you want to obtain. For more information see Textile Institute: Professional Qualifications.

IT skills have become increasingly important and some companies fund IT training. Language skills can be useful given the international nature of the business and staff may be supported to learn these.

Career prospects

In the early stages of your career you will generally be responsible for a particular area within the production or development process.

Career progression could take one of several routes:

  • moving away from technical management into managing a whole department and possibly progressing up the management ladder;
  • becoming a technical specialist in an area such as ethical trading standards, or in a technical service area, such as colour management or quality management systems.

Once you have reached the role of senior technologist, opportunities in purely technical roles are limited. Moving into other management functions or related areas may offer the best prospects for promotion.

Opportunities exist for career moves into buying, selling and marketing, and some technologists apply their technical knowledge indirectly in general management functions or quality control.

Once experienced, other options for technologists include freelance consultancy roles where terms and conditions are agreed between the technologist and the client.

Some graduates become owner-managers of their own textile companies.