What madness is this? Wait, though, there's a clue, way off there in the distance. Time to do a CSI-style zoom and enhance...
Aha, now that makes a bit more sense. Guru Ian dragged me and Pier Mascot Ali along to Printwear Live. It's the one point of contact in the year for the clothes customisation industry to meet, network and maybe do a little business. All the big distributors and brands are here, so it's important for Pier32 to get in and touch base.
Hall 20 at the NEC (for yes, readers, we were on the outskirts of Birmingham, the Midland's shining jewel) is stuffed to the gunwales with huge stalls and marquees, offering a ton of new clothing ranges and customisation technology. We were all pleased to see that organics made a strong showing this year. Well, we would be. It's how we roll.
So a visit to Stanley Stella would always be first on the agenda. A new kid on the block, they've gone all out for organic and sustainable fabrics. But they also have a keen eye on modern trends and designs.
I was especially taken with the tops made from Modal–a silky, luxurious fabric that's made from birch. It holds colour for longer than cotton and keeps that colour more intensely.
Ian also pointed out a clever design detail on a lot of clothes designed for the customisation market. Size tabs are offset from the centre of the collar or area designed to rip out, allowing you to put your own branding on the item. Neat thinking.
Another must-stop on the tour was Continental, who while independent are still able to make a big noise against the conglomos at the front of the hall. Their commitment to ethical and sustainable ranges has always made them a favourite here at The Pier. Their Salvage (made from recycled fibre) and Fair Share (paying above market price to the workers that make the clothes) ranges are tremendously popular with our clients. It helps that they've been pals of ours for years, of course!
It's always fun to wander a show and just soak up the weird and wonderful sights. If, like me, this is your first time at a particular show, there can be some real surprises. Take, for example, the guys at Oku, who had an honest-to-Betsy eagle on their stand...
Or the full-on, properly choreographed street-dance fashion shows that featured clothes from brands like Regatta and Trespass - you know, the mid-range brands you'd normally see halfway round the Snake Pass or in a tea shop somewhere in the Dales...
(OK, and AWDI, who do know their street wear).
A real eye-opener for me were the robot embroidery machines. Feed art in one end, and they'll kick into life and stitch that design onto pretty much anything. The end results can be insanely complex.
It was, to be honest, a pretty overwhelming day with lots to see and do. Guru Ian was in his element and walked away carrying his own body weight in brochures and giveaways. New trends for the coming season? Look out for retro styles that harken back to the 80s, with contrast-colours on sleeves and collars.
But the real big thing will be hexoflage–camo styles overlaid with a hexagonal grid in hot colours. Imagine future military livery. Blend in? No chance. This is the sort of colourway you slather over your Titanfall custom loadout before you stomp off to frag alien hordes.
A madcap day, then, but I walked away with a few treats (including a bottle of prosecco in a raffle–thank you, Pencarrie!) and a renewed respect for the complexity of the industry into which I dangle my writerly toes.
There are worse ways to spend a Sunday, that's for sure.