When Lena-Marie Jensen was three years old, she cut her dress into pieces. The intention was good; her mother was going to make it into a skirt, and Lena-Marie only wanted to help.
Even though her assistance did not result in exactly what her mother had in mind, it was perhaps in that moment that a seed was planted, which eventually blossomed into a life-long love of textiles – and an interest in and aptitude for recycling. These two things are still very important to Lena-Marie today, in her role as Coordinator of Smart Textiles Business Innovation.
– This is the world’s most rewarding job, and it often results in amazing products – which makes it even more rewarding! We procure textile research expertise for companies that come to us with ideas or seeking support, and we help them along the way with guidance, research, funding and assistance in finding the right partners, drawn from our extensive network.
Let us, however, start from the beginning. After a long and varied career in the industry, encompassing many different areas but with a strong focus on product development, Lena-Marie returned to the University of Borås in 2011, the Textile Management programme of which she had graduated from 20 years earlier. It was, of course, fun to complete the cycle, but Lena-Marie would be hard-pressed to say that it was according to her original plan.
– As a 15-year-old, I was entirely sure that I was going to become a designer. I had always sewn my own clothes and been interested in fashion, so that was the big dream that was going to come true.
To achieve her goal, she began working at Aspens konfektionsfabrik AB (a ready-made clothing factory in Trollhättan) straight after she graduated from high school.
Although she was quickly offered a position within the design department, which would mean working on collections, something didn’t feel quite right. As a result of the experience that Lena-Marie had obtained through her work, her eyes were gradually opened to the fact that there was more to the textile industry than design.
– I was fascinated by the knitting department of the factory and learned more and more about materials development. New vistas unfolded before my eyes, with so many possibilities and techniques. Put simply, materials became my thing.
With her appetite whetted, she began to study for a degree in Textile Management at the Swedish School of Textiles in 1989. By the time she graduated, however, it was the development of products, rather than the economic and management aspects, that had once more become her focus. Since then, Lena-Marie has acquired a broad experience of the industry and worked with the whole chain, from yarn to quality assurance. She’s dealt with everything from the transfer printing of ‘bingo dresses’ in polyester to textiles for car interiors. All of this has led to a perfect mix of contacts and problem-solving experience for her position at Smart Textiles Business Innovation.
– It was like coming home, only everything had become so much bigger and better at the Swedish School of Textiles, which is in the same building. When I graduated in 1991, the industry was in crisis and people were offering their sympathies for my choice of career. Twenty years later and it was the opposite – thumbs up from all!
Lena-Marie Jensen is a very positive person whose energy and interest in people and their ideas is contagious. She says that the best thing about her professional role is that it offers her an outlet for her ’ingenuity’. She thrives on the kind of challenging problem-solving that she is faced with on a daily basis. And the meetings, of course. And all of the smart, and sometimes crazy, projects that people come to her with.
– One never knows what ideas will lead to. Sometimes, the most improbable ones are those which, in the end, are the most successful. This is why one has to try to disregard one’s own prejudices and preconceptions. We are more than willing to work with textile innovations that are the result of high ambitions and the desire to make a difference, which means we that have to be skilled in listening and thinking along entirely new lines.
Although there is huge potential for smart textile innovations in a number of different areas, Lena-Marie chooses to particularly stress the exciting possibilities of sustainable resource usage and medical technology. She points to the large healthcare challenges that society faces as the population lives ever-longer. Textile innovations can both relieve the pressure on healthcare personnel and make users feel safer, as with, for example, medical monitoring instruments which are part of a soft fabric.
– At the beginning, I was surprised by how important the projects that Smart Textiles works with are. Innovations are often at the core of the things that improve our lives, from enviro-smart materials which bind carbon dioxide and thus reduce, rather than increase, emissions, to garments with built-in electrodes which alleviate muscle spasms in people suffering from related diseases.
“Cellulose as renewable raw material”, “identifying cyclic flows”, “user-friendly medical textiles” – when Lena-Marie finds her feet and gets going, it is sometimes difficult for a layman to keep up, but the essence is very clear; she is passionate about her work.
– I’m in the habit of borrowing a classic Kamprad (Founder of the Swedish furniture company IKEA) quote: “Most things still remain to be done. A glorious future!” That is what it feels like when one’s work involves contributing to making the world a better place to live. That is, in fact, what we try to achieve with our textile innovations – to make society more ecologically sustainable, to make people’s everyday lives easier and improve healthcare.
One has a feeling that the three-year-old Lena-Marie would have looked up from her dress and, with her scissors poised, nodded approvingly.
Text: Elof Ivarsson
Picture: Ida Lindström