The role of design in the Lancashire cotton industry, 1900-1939

Launert, Frederika (2002) The role of design in the Lancashire cotton industry, 1900-1939. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis is concerned with the influence of the merchant converter on design practice in the Lancashire cotton industry in the period 1900-1939. The thesis aims to supplement the existing design histories of the industry by focusing, firstly, upon
the role of design in the context of the industrial and commercial organisation of the industry, and secondly, by examining the practice of design in relation to the export trade in cotton goods.
The Lancashire cotton industry had a unique structure that facilitated the production of a wide variety of cotton piece goods that serviced the needs of consumers in markets across the globe. Despite the enormous decline of the inter-war years, in
which the major markets of China and India were dramatically reduced, the industry was able to maintain a significant export trade in cotton piece goods. The successful sale of these goods depended in part upon the successful interpretation of consumer preferences by their designers. Lancashire employed a large number of designers who worked either in the employ of manufacturers or on a freelance basis. The thesis examines the different categories of designer who supplied designs to the Lancashire industry, including their education and working practices. It also investigates the relationship between the designer and the agents who employed them.
Lancashire's ability to respond appropriately to consumer demands played a significant part in establishing and maintaining exports to markets such as West Africa. A case study of the West African market illustrates the mechanisms that made this response possible. It also emphasises the importance of established merchant organisations that provided the links between consumer, manufacturer and designer. The case study underlines the key relationship between the communication of market information and the production of commercially successful designs.
The thesis also addresses the issue of government intervention into an industry that was faced with increasing economic hardship as a result of the loss of markets worldwide. Design was not at the forefront of government policy in respect to the
Lancashire cotton industry. Nonetheless, design issues were increasingly associated with government attempts to improve the trade in manufactured goods during the inter-war period, and this is particularly evident in the activities of the Board of
Trade. The thesis evaluates the activities of two government organisations, the Council for Art and Industry and the Department of Overseas Trade, their reception by merchants and manufacturers of the day, and assesses the strengths and
weaknesses of the contribution they made to the industry.

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