08-03-2017 • Article

Textiles are for Girls, Materials are for Boys

Seetal Solanki is founder of material research consultancy Ma-tt-er, where she works on design projects of all kinds, bringing expertise in materials, where she aims to “bridge the gap between all industries”. Here Seetal talks about the terminology used and the gender-biased associations different words have in her field, and how a refreshed approach could provide more opportunities for everyone. 

Written for It’s Nice That’s International Women’s Day 2017.

“Materials” and “textiles” are two words that are loaded with questions, gender biases. They play a defining role in shaping someone’s identity and their role in the world.

“Textiles” brings up so many images; many of us instantly think of a woman sat behind a sewing machine making curtains or clothing. However, for most of us that work as textile designers, this isn’t the case. In fact it is a satisfying and rewarding job to do, which requires a huge amount of handiwork, maths and a hint of physics.

The frustrating part is the perception of textiles and how the term always brings you back to the gendered notions of yesteryear that dictated school subjects like Design Technology, where boys were expected to take up woodwork and graphics, and girls assigned to dressmaking and textiles, and food technology. Even in the hidden curriculum, research by the Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET) found last year that toys with a science, technology, engineering and maths focus were three times as likely to be targeted at boys than girls.

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