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Alasdair Leighton-Crawford - The future of high tech apparel


Former professional rower Alasdair Leighton-Crawford is a London-based trained tailor and sportswear designer/maker. As founder of CIMORO, he’s a self-styled ‘future master craftsman’ producing luxury high-performance sportswear apparel and accessories. With his Dyneema® powered backpacks hitting the market in early 2017, he now plans to apply the material to the world of nanotech and ‘wearables’.

You’ve seemingly followed a seemingly quirky career path – from rowing for Great Britain, to an apprenticeship on Savile Row to working as a high-tech designer… So how did it all begin?
AL: My obsession with rowing began at an early age while watching Oxford and Cambridge race on the river Thames in London. But it wasn’t until I left university, that I realized I had a shot at making crew for Great Britain. I was working full-time in sports marketing, and the job was conveniently near my home and the river, allowing me an opportunity to train two to three times per day. In 2005, I became the National Champion in the Single Scull 2005.

The following season, I was invited to train full-time with the National Rowing team. However, I herniated a disk in my back that put me out and on crutches. As soon I could walk, I began training again and was able to claw back lost-ground by training intensively. This focus got me a shot at the World Championships. Having been out of the game, I was hungry and fresh and managed to win my seat for Eton Dorney – in 2006 at the London Olympics venue!

But the injury did get you thinking about a life outside of professional sports…
AL: I really wanted to find a career to fill that void. The first thing that became apparent was that I loved working with my hands and was a maker. So, I connected with clothing as it linked 3-D making skills to a tangible craft.

So you had to take on a new type of training…
AL: I bought a second-hand sewing machine and some books, and started learning “the art”. I used all my spare hours to develop some rudimentary skills. As I improved, I became proficient at shirt-making. This naturally led to tailoring and hand-sewing, and at that point, it dawned on me that fulfilling an apprenticeship position to a traditional tailor – to become a master craftsmen – was the perfect substitute for rowing.

Enter Savile Row…
AL: Yes. After much research and having sewed a men’s suit jacket completely by hand, I approached one of the tailors on Savile Row to gain professional experience. The only hitch was that since I am naturally left-handed, I had to re-learn everything with my other hand.

"The way Dyneema® creases and takes on personality and shape with time and use — it reflects that of its environment and the user's experience"

But why did you have to relearn everything?
AL: Two reasons. So you don’t clash with the other craftsmen working side-by-side in a very tight workspace. And so you maintain fabrication consistency – by all of you sewing in one direction, it reduces garment fabrication anomalies. Just visualise two people in a sushi restaurant left- and right-handed, sitting together. If they sit the wrong way round, things get messy!

So how did the high tech enter the mix?
AL: As I began to develop as a tailor, I realized that the tradition had many creative restrictions. While the fabrics, the making and the finish were artisanal; they were not 21st Century in any ways. Where Savile Row and tailoring had once played a part in making “high-tech” sporting attire, using the latest and greatest fabrics and technologies available for the elite, it was obviously not that anymore.

Enter the ‘future master craftsman’...
AL: I enrolled on a recently created sportswear degree at the London College of Fashion, to learn more about tailoring, making and sportswear design. During this time, I was fortunate to win a number of competitions that gained me exposure and experience with Sony, Nike and others. Upon graduating I worked freelance on a number of “high-tech” projects for UK Sport, Imperial College and McLaren. All these experiences just worked to found CIMORO with the aim of merging technology with craftsmanship.

"The light refraction makes Dyneema®, which is hi-tech, look hi-tech"

What’s your design process – particularly in the context of the bags and backpacks?
AL: In each case, our products represent a unique angle/concept that underpins CIMORO – which can be broken down by activity, design and features. All our products fall into the three representative categories: CI-ty, MO-untain and RO-ad – CIMORO, hence the name.   For each piece a theme is developed associated with needs and requirements, relevant to each product category. Within CIMORO’s backpack design, the alpine style had to be “fast-light, super technical, minimalist, high-function/low-weight and watertight”.

While the city commuter pack had to be “ultra functional, durable, fast-access, flexible load-carrying and the perfect choice for the creatively minded active urbanite”.   Meanwhile, the road model was styled for the global minimalist traveller – for whom less is more. So its qualities had to include the best design available, a minimal footprint/packsize (fits into a pocket), a high function-to-weight ratio, and is watertight. This bag ended up weighing less than an apple, yet is capable of comfortably carrying loads of up to 10 kilograms.

Each of these models were then extensively tested in all conditions and environments over three years.

What led you to seek out Dyneema® Composite Fabric to use in your products?
AL: High-tech materials are an obsession. Dyneema® is hands-down a leader in strength to weight. And Dyneema® Composite Fabric simply ticked all the boxes. Its unique qualities – ability to distort light, futuristic texture, zero stretch, its extreme lightness and strength – just amazed me. So I started playing and experimenting.

What are the tactile and visual qualities of Dyneema® that you admire?
AL: I really love the paper quality of Dyneema®’s laminates and non-wovens: the way they crease and take on personality and shape with time and use – reflecting that of its environment and the user’s experience. The light refraction between the fibers and laminated structures also gives it a futuristic visual quality. All of this makes Dyneema®, which is hi-tech, look hi-tech.

Were there any challenges when working with a material as strong as Dyneema®?
AL: Cutting was taxing. Using a scalpel during prototyping helped, but at the end of the day you need heat or micro-serrated cutting tools to get the job done.

Are you currently developing any new products using Dyneema®? Can you tell us anything about them?
AL: Yes, we’re developing clothing using Dyneema®. Over the next five years, I’d like to take this to the next level by building a definitive niche in apparel and accessories with nanotech and “wearables”. It’s an expanding field that is still wide open. Nike, Apple and many have been pushing, but really it comes down in my mind to unobtrusive, adaptive solutions, such as micro-sensory measurements of an athlete’s biorhythms that can provide feedback to assist their target goals and wellbeing.

And how does Dyneema® fit into this world of nanotech and wearables?
AL: As far as the wovens go – for example, using raw Dyneema® yarn in high performance knitwear – there is a continuing accelerated pace to advancements, where at this point it is possible for electrical components to be woven directly into fabrics. And with new fusing and laminating processes, it’s now possible to “sandwich” intricate and complicated electronics into fabrics, so that you can literally wear computers. These innovations are leading to lightweight and unobtrusive intelligent clothing built upon the idea that “simple ideas using sophisticated technology.”

And finally, can you share with us which innovations outside of your immediate professional field you're most excited about at the moment?
AL: I’m stoked about electric cars. Not only will it clean cities by lowering air pollution, it will increase the potential for electric flight. Also as the technology progresses, batteries will get smaller and more powerful – and can then be applied to smart clothing in the not too distant future. Oh sorry, I ended up returning things to my professional field…

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