Borders Design Incubator


Yichong Mao

Xiaoshan Su


This project focuses on expanding Galashiels’s designer community and builds a Scotland’s pioneering fashion related small business incubator. The incubator is going to provide business and academic opportunities for both the Textile and Design students at Heriot Watt University as well as the designers around the Scottish border, even around the world. It will be a project to connect designers to innovation and investment.


The incubator for designers could affect the design and business environment from Scotland and northern England to the world wide range.

The issue

The School of Textiles and Design is the second oldest textile institution in the world, dating back to 1883. The school focuses on internationally leading research projects in fashion, textiles, design, clothing and colour science, which reinforced the school’s international reputation and attracted students from all over the world. However, the lack of fashion related job opportunities around might undervalue the future of both the university and the Scottish border area.

According to the university’s website, Fashion Technology students at the university have the opportunity to undertake industrial experience at the end of Year 2 by opting for an additional year working in the fashion industry. However, according to the Department for Education in UK that 80% of the gap year takers work in Britain at some point during their gap year. Other activities include travelling, volunteering in Britain or abroad, training, retaking exams and working abroad (GOV.UK, 2012). A study conducted by foreign currency specialist Caxton FX revealed that the average gap year costs between £3,000-£4,000. Parents in this country spend as much as £995 million each year to fund their children’s gap year (The Telegraph, 2012). The high cost means that 22% of young people simply cannot afford to take a year off (The Telegraph, 2012). Although the School of Textile and Design has excellent international links with academic and professional textile organisations, and also providing opportunities for study abroad (School of Textiles & Design, 2016). It is still unavoidable that around 20% of the students will not be able to undertake the fashion industrial experience due to lack of jobs. Under today’s high competitive marketplace, losing the opportunity to gain industrial experience, will influence the future career of these students.

Employment rate for ages 16 to 64 in Scotland is 74.8% (Office for National Statistics, 2016), which means more than 25% of the young generation could not find jobs. The employment rate of art and design graduates is 88.2% (The Guardian, 2011), which is even below the average employment rate of all subjects 90.4% (The Guardian, 2011). The figures have shown for fashion related graduates, it might be much harder for them to find a job or start-up their business than other graduates.

  • Employment by occupation in Scotland between Oct 2014-Sep 2015

Fashion related designers belong to the category under (3.Associare Professional & Technical). The above chart states that the employment rate of this category in Scottish border is only 11.5%. Considering the unique textile industry history in the Scottish border, the employment rate is surprisingly low. The lack of fashion related facilities and job opportunities around the Scottish border might become a burden for the graduates from the School of Textiles and Design.

The proposal

The School of Textile has the best design and production facilities for textiles and fashion in the UK. It is the home to some of the fashion industry’s brightest design talents such as Vivienne Westwood, Zandra Rhodes and other leading fashion designers and experts (School of Textiles & Design, 2016). The proposal of our project is to develop an incubator for the university students and also designers around the Scottish border. The project will have impact over academic, economic and social development in not only Galashiels, but also the Scottish border. It will provide business and academic opportunities for young designers or graduates. This project will become a footstone for designers to unlock creativity and business potential, allowing them to gain an international foothold.


The Tweedbank Incubator provide different kinds of people around the world a proper place to conduct their interested business. At the same time, it promotes the local economy which increase the life quality of local residence.


‘These new places have helped universities rethink their place in preparing the next generation, creating entrepreneurial environments that facilitate connections and speed innovative ideas from concept to reality’ (The Rise of Academic Incubators, Gensler).

As a designer, book knowledge is only the foundation, leading to good designs. However, industrial experience is more vital for making outstanding designs. By introducing job opportunities in Galashiels and the Scottish border, the incubator will encourage students to take part in out of class activities and enhance their work experiences. Moreover, we are eventually hoping for an increase in employment rate in this industry around the Scottish border.


‘Heriot-Watt University has a strong track record in commercialisation of intellectual property through creation of technology companies. Our first spin-out was formed in 1971. In the last forty years Edinburgh Instruments Ltd has grown into a multimillion business employing over 60 people and based in a purpose build facility just outside Edinburgh. Since then Heriot-Watt has created 35 spin-out companies, 70% of which are either trading or have successfully exited’ (Heriot-Watt University, 2016).

This project will work along with the existing spin-out project that university has been working on since 1971. We will offer studio spaces with very low rents for both students studying at the university and graduates from the university to help them develop their own micro to small businesses. The university enterprise creation team will also support and enhance the students’ creation of new companies. They will provide support to new and existing spin out companies so they can grow and become sustainable by providing mentoring and helping them access personnel, funding and networking.

Also, a visitor center is going to be installed right off the Tweedband Train Station, where the production from the students and small businesses could be sold and exhibited.


As mentioned, a visitor center is going be built off the train station. It allows visitors to browse and learn the history of Scottish border’s textile industry history and also allows them to meet the young designers around. It will also attract people from the community to join in for activities, such as after school activities for young children, seminar session from traditional skilled workers, exhibition rooms for designers around the Scottish border and also runway space for designers to showcase their productions.

With the low-rent studio spaces, we are hoping to attract some existing small business from outside Galashiels. They will bring more job opportunities for the students at the university and also create a better diversity of the designer’s community around.

The location

There are a couple of great points raised during the workshop session with the local residents, such as turning the industrial estate into a more active and communal space for the community. Our purposed project will include the following features:

proposed plan.jpg

The proposed site located at the area of industry park now.

1. Scottish border designer forum: a place where designers could share their innovations and set up their businesses.

2. Visitor center: It will have great link with the Great Tapestry of Scotland and the Tweedbank train station.

3. Studio space: Turning the old warehouse at the industrial estate into studios for designers.

4. Production center: Turning the roundabout corner (old Barbour store area) into production center where is it going to be a good place for showcasing the production link to the traffic.

5. Related retail space: The proposed site is going to link with the retail space as we proposed for the Task 1 Picture Prediction.

6. Retrofit and regeneration:  Retrofit old warehouse buildings and turned them into better use.


Office for National Statistics, Regional labour market. (2016). [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016].

Gap year takers: uptake, trends and long term outcomes. (2012). [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016].

Gensler, (2016). The Rise of Academic Incubators | In Focus | Design Thinking | Gensler. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016]., (2016). Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh | Undergraduate, Postgraduate, Study, International. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016]., (2016). Textiles & Design. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016].

ltd, m. (2016). News. [online] Centre for Fashion Enterprise. Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016]., (2016). The National Glass Centre. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016]., (2016). Labour Market Profile – Nomis – Official Labour Market Statistics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016].

One in 10 British parents contribute up to £5,000 towards their child’s gap year. (2016). [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016].

Sedghi, A. (2011). How likely are you to be employed? By university and course. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016].

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