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City's rich textile history inspires competition win

PUBLISHED: 18:09 24 March 2011

Sue Foster, winner of the NUCA Brainchild competition; photo by Adrian Judd

Sue Foster, winner of the NUCA Brainchild competition; photo by Adrian Judd

Archant Norfolk 2011

Norwich's vibrant textile history has inspired a mum-of-two to create a competition-winning collection of soft furnishings and accessories.

2010 Brainchild winner

Laura Garrow, 24, who won last year, says the competition is one of the best things to have happened to her.

She is in talks with some of London’s luxury department stores about selling her handmade wall art lightboxes.

She said: “Most of the last year I have been developing the technology and the electronics behind my idea. I don’t think I had anticipated how long it would take, because the technology didn’t exist before and it’s a brand new and unique concept to be drawing with light.” She said: “The judges have been brilliant. They have so much knowledge and give so much of their time. Winning, or coming second or third, can change your life. Without this competition I would not have had the belief to do this.”

Sue Foster now hopes to go into business with her cushions and fabrics inspired by the historical textiles of Norwich’s ‘Strangers’.

The Brainchild competition, which is organised by Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA) and in its third year, encourages students and recent graduates to take a business idea, develop it and then present it to a ‘Dragons Den’ style panel.

Mrs Foster, from Thorpe St Andrew, impressed this year’s judges with her range of brightly-coloured fabrics which celebrates the diverse textile and cultural history of Norwich, and her aspirations to use some of the profits from selling the fabrics to help preserve the city’s historical pattern books.

The MA textile culture graduate first had the idea to produce textiles based on the pattern books of the ‘Strangers’ – textile workers who came to Norwich from the Low Countries – when she studied for a foundation degree in Norwich in 1983. But it was not until she returned to Norwich after living in Australia for 20 years, that she decided to take her idea further.

Pictured are some of Sue's designs; photo by Adrian Judd

She said: “I spent three years working on it and building up a relationship with the museums service, working with them to keep the designs true to the original fabrics and making sure it reflects Norwich.

“The pattern books are from around 1790 and were used by manufacturers to list different designs and the workers who made them.”

The prize is an investment pot of £1,000, plus free mentoring worth £4,500 from the competition sponsors – chartered accountants Lovewell Blake, solicitors Steeles Law, creative design agency Farrows, website design agency Selesti, business support community Norfolk Network and Barclays Bank. Norfolk Network founder Bev Hurley said the judges were impressed by Mrs Foster’s passion for the project.

Do you have a story about a new business? Call Kim Briscoe on 01603 772419 or email kim.briscoe@archant.co.uk

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