Scot, Indian textile schools weave ties

Scotland and India have many long and lasting links. Each shares a rich culture, heritage, and passion for innovation. To build on these strong ties, two textile designers from India were recently hosted by Heriot-Watt University’s School of Textiles and Design in Scotland, as part of a successful residency exchange programme, called reSIde. The reSIde project is a fantastic example of how we are sharing our creative talent on a world stage.

Swati Unakar and Murji Vankar, from Bangalore in the south of India and Bhujodi in Kutch, worked at our Scottish Borders campus in Galashiels to help promote Scotland and India as two of the world’s most creative nations.

Their visit was funded by Creative Scotland and Scottish Borders Council as part of the reSIde exchange programme, launched by The Scottish Goverment’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, at the Scottish Borders Campus in September 2012. 

The reSIde programme also saw two Scottish designers, Lindsay Roberts and Jeni Allison, spend two months in India.

As well as the exchange programme of visits, the reSIde programme also has a strong research core, allowing designers in both countries to investigate the links between traditional craft skills and 21st Century design thinking.

There is no doubt that cultural collaborations are helping us forge new alliances between our two countries and to learn from each other.

We are able to share our working practices and culture through staff and student exchange with our partner institutions in India, amongst them NID, IICD in Jaipur and Pearl, with further links with NIFT and Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore planned for the near future. We have welcomed many of our exchange students back into postgraduate education at Heriot-Watt, with some world class research developing, e.g. in the field of knowledge management between crafts and design.

India is one of the world’s fastest expanding economies and is an important investor in Scotland; some 5,000 Scottish jobs depend on links with India. Our nation’s strengths in technological innovation and cutting edge research and development mean that Scottish fashion and textile companies are ideally placed to engage with the growing markets in India and Asia.

Scotland has a long and distinguished history of producing quality textiles, maintained through a continued focus in design. The industry consists mainly of quality manufacturers of luxury niche products, including knitwear and accessories, woven apparel, interiors fabrics, accessories, and technical textiles.

It creates ranges for the world's elite luxury brands and couture houses some of which can be found only a few miles from the School of Textiles and Design, which is the second oldest textile institution in the world, dating back to 1883. Our portfolio continues to evolve and reflect current and future developments in textiles, fashion and design. Today the School has a reputation as one of the world’s leading education and research institutions with specialist resources which are among the best in the world.

In Scotland, contemporary crafts are very much alive and there is a burgeoning interest in traditional skills and origins of crafts, while in India an amazing range of traditional craft skills are keen to position themselves well for a 21st century market. That’s where India’s and Scotland’s interests in the project meet.

While the heavy embroideries and vibrant colours of India are outwardly quite different from the more sombre cloth which Scotland is famed for, we’ve discovered a shared enthusiasm for craft skills and narratives. The community spirit which is still central to the production of textiles in India is something we aim to replicate amongst our highly talented students in Galashiels.

On a day-to-day basis our students were benefiting tremendously from engaging with our ReSide residents' on different national working practices and cultures. The visits brought opportunities to share skills and discuss crafts with the School of Textiles and Design (SoTD) staff and students as well as the wider community. The Scottish designers Jeni Allison and Lindsay Roberts were glad to engage with projects at the craft NGOs Khamir and Kala Raksha while in India.

The School has extensive links to the textiles and fashion industry which allow students to take part in live projects and benefit from visiting professionals such as Jasper Conran.
This experience has led to former students creating their own successful fashion labels including William Chambers, Judy R Clark, Obscure Couture and Samantha McEwen of Isolated Heroes.

School of Textiles and Design is part of Heriot-Watt University, which specialises in design, science, technology, engineering and business, with a particular focus on developing solutions to critical global issues, such as climate change and energy.

Heriot-Watt has a long tradition of welcoming students from all over the world and has the largest international student cohort of any of other Scottish University. It also has campuses in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, and in Orkney and overseas campuses in Dubai and Malysia, where a £35 million new campus is under construction. Thousands of students from more than 150 countries choose to study at all through Heriot-Watt.
For further information about Heriot-Watt University and its courses please email

(The writer is Programme Director Masters School of Textiles and Design of  Heriot Watt  University.)

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