Falmouth University Interviews Alumni Apparel Designer Helen Campbell

Rob Moss, Lecturer of BA (Hons) Sportswear Design at Falmouth University takes over the Futures section to catch up with Sportswear Design Graduate Helen Campbell. Helen is now Apparel Designer-Innovation for Pentland Brands.

Diane Richardson

By Diane Richardson, Playtime & Futures Editor (diane@ssachs.co)

Helen Campbell, Apparel Designer

RM: Since studying your BA Sportswear Design at Falmouth, tell us about your career path so far?

I joined Pentland Brands last year as the Apparel Designer in the Innovation Team.  I’ve worked across most of Pentland’s brands including Speedo, Berghaus, Ellesse and Canterbury. Currently my work is focusing on elite performance which includes Rugby World Cup for Canterbury and Fastskin for Speedo. It keeps me on my toes but I love it and would quite happily say it’s my dream job.

Fourth Element

Currently my work is focusing on elite performance which includes Rugby World Cup for Canterbury and Fastskin for Speedo.

Helen Campbell, Apparel Designer

I studied Performance Sportswear Design BA(hons). My graduate collection featured conductive thread with LED lights and a jacket that converted into a blanket.  I won a competition with Polartec so they supplied some of my fabrics and displayed my work on their stand at ISPO.  

After Dawn French gave me my degree I moved back home to Cambridgeshire whilst looking for a graduate job. It can be quite a tough time because during school and university there was always the plan with what to do next, then leaving university there is no guarantee or direct plan. I took on some part-time work in a sportswear retail store.It was there I met a customer who mentioned he was working for Adidas.  It turns out he worked for a product design agency in Cambridge called Special Agent who do work for Adidas. 

I worked with Special Agent for about a year freelance and absolutely loved it. When the project I was working on was coming to an end my partner finished his Masters degree and started work in Nottingham.   At that point I decided to use the skills I had learnt working in an agency to step into the world of freelance design and moved to Nottingham.  

Starting out freelance on your own can be really tough, particularly when moving to a new location.  I took on a job working in the Nottingham Sweaty Betty store one day a week to meet some new people and stay in touch with the market, this really helped. I also continued my learning to keep my skills fresh by taking a Post Graduate Certificate in Creative Pattern Cutting at Nottingham Trent University. This gave me have a better understanding of garment design which I developed within my freelance work.

I worked with many clients digitally from all over the world. I had clients in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the US. One of my personal favourite projects was working on the start-up of Hong Kong based brand Moody Tiger, a kidswear athlesiure brand. A lot of the work I had was either through online platforms such as Upwork or through word of mouth. 

Moody Tiger
Moody Tiger

RM: How does it feel working for such a large organisation such as Pentland Brands? 

Whilst Pentland has a number of brands, I still feel that each one has a real individual presence and character. Not only do I feel that I work for the Pentland, I also feel that I work for each of the brands. There is still a sense of belonging within such a large organisation, and this is one of the reasons I was drawn to Pentland Brands in the first place. It has been run by the same family for four generations.

Aside from that, it is a great place to work with lovely people, lots of cutting edge design and research taking place. A significant part of my role is working with some of the world’s top athletes- luckily I don’t really get star struck!

There is still a sense of belonging within such a large organisation, and this is one of the reasons I was drawn to Pentland Brands in the first place.

RM: What was your path in getting there and what skills were you employed on? How do you apply these skills on a daily basis?

While I was freelancing I was keeping up to date on a few key brands I that were near me and I was particularly interested in. I had actually applied to a couple of other roles at the Brand at earlier stages in my journey and had no success. I took this as a push to re-evaluate my CV and Portfolio.  I added to my skills by taking a Creative Pattern Cutting Post Graduate Certificate. I asked friends and family for an external perspective on my work and took on their feedback to improve the way I presented myself digitally and to employers. Having a non-designer view can be really useful, as often the people looking at your application are not designers. It has to be said that once I had redesigned my CV and Portfolio I got a call offering an interview for a better job than the one I applied for! 

RM: What do Pentland look for in graduates, what industry knowledge is assumed? And what sorts of opportunities are open to them on entry to the organisation? 

Pentland Brands run Design Pool and a Grad Scheme, it’s a really great way to kick start your career. The graduates I have met are all really switched on. A useful source of information for graduates on job interview tips is on our website from last year here: https://pentlandbrands.com/job-interview-tips-with-creative-talent-manager-laura-allcott/

RM: Are applicants aware of Pentland Brands?

Personally, I find it crucial to remain up to date and in touch with the industry you are working or applying for. Keeping relevant and researching every company you apply for should be on everyone’s agenda. I found myself researching places I interviewed for so in depth I practically knew what the founder eats for breakfast.

RM: What skills would you like to see coming through for your Innovation department?

A new skill I’m really seeing coming through in the apparel design industry is 3D design (Browzewear, CLO3D, Optitex etc.). This is still being adopted by brands so graduates that have skills in that area should really use that to their advantage. Brands who have not implemented this software will most likely be looking to adopt it. That being said, Illustrator is still an essential skill and has been industry standard for a long time.

I think ‘out of the box thinking’ is so important for anyone working in innovation. We are not only thinking about  what is coming up seasonally, we are looking at where the world will be in 5, 10, 15+ years’ time. 

This will be so important in a post Covid 19 world. I write this as we are in lockdown and don’t know what the future holds but now is the time for different ways of thinking. We have to change the way we do things.  It is a tough time for everyone, but we will heal and the chance to step back and reassess will hopefully lead us to more sustainable and compassionate ways of thinking and doing. 

I think graduates leaving university now will face an unusual job market, but this generation has had to learn to work differently and remotely. This will stand them in good stead for being resilient and adaptable in the future.  

RM: Do you carry out industry work with Universities? If so, what projects have you covered in the past?

Pentland does a lot of work with universities. Whilst I do not currently deal directly with much of this, I think it is a great way to begin building relationships in the industry. A strong network can really help with finding the right job post university. 

For more information about the BA (Hons) Sportswear Design at Falmouth University, click HERE

Contact details:

Helen Skinner

Senior Lecturer Sportswear Design


Rob Moss

Lecturer Sportswear Design


*SSACHS FUTURES is an initiative to support our future champions of the sportswear industry from ‘design to finish line’. Get involved; hello@ssachs.co