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Fashion. Innovation. Research. Evolution (F.I.R.E)

F.I.R.E was a series of network building and practical projects bringing academic research closer to the designer fashion sector, with a focus on micro fashion enterprises.

FIREup workshop visualised by an illustrator

Between 2013 and 2016 a series of projects investigated the knowledge landscape and ecosystem of UK fashion and textiles designers. The FIREup project explored new models of knowledge exchange through practical collaborations between designer fashion businesses and researchers at University of the Arts London (UAL), aiming to bring research closer to the designer fashion sector, foster more open innovation, and support longer-term research and development beyond the pressures of the next season. A prototype online platform was developed through the FIRE.Digital project to trial different means of engaging and developing a fashion research community. A physical workshop and report What’s Digital about Fashion Design? introduced a range of technologies appropriate to aspects of the fashion design cycle to the designer fashion community to enable understanding of technologies for new economic models in the digital economy. 

Projects and activities

The FIREup and FIRE.Digital projects, funded by AHRC Creative Economy Knowledge Exchange scheme, created both physical and online spaces for exploration of interactions and interdependencies within the UK fashion ecosystem whilst also exploring new models of knowledge exchange (KE) for the industry, aiming to foster more ‘open’ innovation activities. Further research into mapping collaborations and connections in the ecosystem of a small sample of designers, funded by the Creativeworks London Hub, emphasised the global reach of the networks of even sole traders in the fashion and textiles sector. 


The majority of the UK designer fashion sector comprises micro and small businesses, many based in the London area, and building on UAL alumni and existing CSF networks enabled a new trusted academic/industry community to be created. A series of collaborative workshops introduced research opportunities and methodologies to fashion SMEs and learnt about their current research and innovation practices, processes, and needs, with a view to fostering greater academic-to-business research collaboration and knowledge exchange. 


Via an open competition, FIREup catalysed and funded four KE projects that were delivered over six months, based around key themes: A) sustainable new product development, B) sustainable business models and C) innovation in communication and digital strategies.


The four KE projects were: 

  1. Laserline 2D – mono-material production technology for closed-loop clothing (Themes A & B) – Partners: SME Worn Again closed-loop development organization; academic lead Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Textile Futures Research Centre, UAL. 

  2. The Textile Collective – supporting the hidden designers of fashion  (Theme B) – Partners: SME Kirsty McDougall of Dashing Tweeds; academic lead Alex McIntosh, UAL  

  3. Digitally crafted accessories, utilizing 3D printing  (Theme A) – Partners: SME Michelle Lowe-Holder; academic leads Dr Thomas Makryniotis and Prof Sandy Black, London College of Fashion (LCF) and CSF, UAL  

  4. Accessing Brand Value – the digital archive for e-commerce  (Theme C) – Partners: SME Christopher Raeburn; academic lead Alex McIntosh, UAL 


As well as new products, processes and initiatives, these catalyst projects generated valuable insights into the needs of the designer fashion sector and developed successful collaborative working methods across the fashion industry and academia.  

From these activities, it was clear that designers required more targeted information and insights into technologies and tools in relation to fashion practices and the rapidly developing digital economy. A workshop presenting a range of tools mapped across the fashion design cycle was delivered to fashion SMEs and professionals, funded by the Research Councils initiative NEMODE NETWORK+ (New Economic Models in the Digital Economy), in collaboration with AAM Associates, an independent research consultancy working with digital innovation in the social sector and creative industries. The resulting report What’s Digital About Fashion Design? presents an overview of the opportunities and barriers to the adoption of digital technologies for new business models in the designer fashion SME sector.

Project Outcomes

FIREup was designated by the AHRC as a pilot project of 15 months, testing ways of engaging research with the fashion designer sector, and consultation was maintained throughout, with AHRC representatives attending the final dissemination event. The project opened a new space (both offline and online) for collaboration between designer fashion businesses and academic researchers to catalyse innovation, bring research closer to the industry and stimulate sustainable business development through brokering new research relationships and mentoring. The academic/industry community that was established has continued and developed within further research projects.


The FIREup project was targeted at SMEs in the designer fashion sector, a high proportion of which are micro fashion enterprises with less than 10 employees (some sole traders), under £250,000 turnover and 3-5 years trading record. This was the community that most readily engaged with the FIREup workshop activities and funding call. Via an industry survey and targeted interviews, insights were clearly defined into the needs of this sector, which has the agility and capacity for high levels of innovation, but is time- and resource-poor. 

The FIREup project researched the needs and interests of micro fashion businesses, and developed typologies and ontologies that underpinned the creation of a prototype online platform for knowledge exchange dedicated to the designer fashion sector. Based on identified topics, the content of interest to this community was taken directly to its members via a unique Twitter engine, developed specifically for the project, to deliver a curated feed of research information and potential opportunities. 


  • To document the FIREup catalyst projects and their collaborative processes, five films were created, publicly available on the FIREup Vimeo site and FIRE website. The films are a valuable tool for communicating the nature of the FIREup project and provide insights into the under-researched designer fashion sector to both industry and academic communities. Communication was also facilitated via short animations to engage designers with the project. 

  • The practical results of the FIREup project were presented at the AHRC Creative Economy Showcase event held in London in March 2014, and a detailed report was provided to AHRC to inform the development of future policy on the funding of fashion research. 

  • A conference paper was presented by Sandy Black at the 2016 Global Fashion Conference at Stockholm University, entitled “Reconciling innovation with environmental and economic sustainability: collaborative research with design-led fashion enterprise.”

  • The insights from the FIRE project research fed directly into the development of the following AHRC-funded project Rethinking Fashion Design Entrepreneurship: Fostering Sustainable Practices, based at CSF, with partners from Middlesex University and the Open University.

  • The RCUK NEMODE (New Economic Models in the Digital Economy) funded workshop “What’s Digital about Fashion Design: Fashion Technology and the Digital Economy” was designed to help fashion designers to understand technologies for new economic models in the digital economy. It took place in Oct 2015 and a report What’s Digital About Fashion Design? was produced for the councils’ initiative NEMODE NETWORK+. This gave an overview of relevant technologies and the opportunities and barriers to the adoption of digital technologies for new business models specifically in the designer fashion SME sector.

F.I.R.EUp Project Team

  • Sandy Black Principal Investigator – Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology.  

  • Adam Thorpe, Co-Investigator – Professor of Socially Responsive Design and Co-Director Design Against Crime Research Centre, UAL, CSM  

  • Rebecca Earley,  Co-Investigator – Professor and Co-Director of Centre for Circular Design at UAL, Chelsea 

  • Alex McIntosh, Researcher 

  • Emily Huggard Research Assistant  

  • Gabrielle Miller,  Research Assistant 

  • Duska Zagorac, Project Manager  

  • Morris Baker, Filmmaker 

F.I.R.E Digital Project Team

  • Sandy Black Principal Investigator, Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology.  

  • Adam Thorpe, Co-Investigator.  Professor of Socially Responsive Design and Co-Director Design Against Crime Research Centre, UAL, CSM  

  • Mark Simkins, Co-Investigator, CSM, UAL 

  • Gabrielle Miller, Research Assistant   

  • Laura Harrison, Research Assistant   

  • Duska Zagorac, Project Manager

NEMODE Workshop Project Team

  • Sandy Black Principal Investigator – Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology.  

  • Mary Jane Edwards and Andy Hamflett, AAM Associates Consultancy 

  • Gabrielle Miller, Research assistant 

Creativeworks London  Project Team 

Networks and Knowledge Landscape Project Team

  • Sandy Black Principal Investigator, Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology.  

  • Gabrielle Miller,  Research assistant 

  • Basil Safwat, Developer and consultant 

  • Morris Baker, Filmmaker 

Contact for the project 

Sandy Black, Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology, Principal Investigator. 



  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 

  • Research Councils UK – NEMODE Network+   

  • CreativeWorks London AHRC-funded Creative Hub Voucher 

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