Attune began when its founder, Clare Marie Passmore, acknowledged that she couldn't buy the comfortable clothes in styles that she wanted to wear. As an R&D business executive, she champions science and technological innovation. Clare Marie is also a keen runner & 'vacational' skier, and she observed how new textile design and technology is greatly influencing sportswear and the great strides that have been made in moisture control, temperature responsiveness and comfort. Unfortunately, these innovations were not being used widely in daywear, other than casual or outdoor wear. She set out to develop a range of garments which would 'exude' high quality and styling, and which would be comfortable and responsive to environmental challenges. 

We caught up with Clare Marie as she travelled from Belfast to the US and back again!

How did you come up with the concept for your business?

I studied Pharmacy, graduating with a PhD in 1986 and worked in Community, Hospital Pharmacy and as a Post Doc research fellow at QUB before joining the local (Northern Ireland) Pharmaceutical Industry where I focused on new product development/ research.   This was a natural career path for me as back in the day I was streamed to study science on starting secondary school.   I missed the opportunity to study Needle-work and Design from 11 and had to drop Art to study Physics at 14.  However, I was always interested in dress-making and knitting from early childhood which I continued as a hobby into adulthood.  I took a career break in 2003, exiting as a Director/Vice President, enrolled in BIFHE (now Belfast Met) as a mature student, finishing in 2008 withLevel 3 Certificate and Diploma City & Guilds in Fashion Design.  I took the course to improve my sewing skills and was compelled by the design and, in particular, pattern construction elements of these courses. I loved pattern development, draping and tailoring technique and of course fabric technology; the scientist in me surfacing.  

We were required to design and produce a piece of outerwear for our final collection.  At that time I had started to run seriously. Investing in summer and winter kit, and in new ski wear, I became aware of the evolution of smart textiles for sportswear, thermal control, quick dry, wicking.  Active-wear clothing and footwear came with lots of additional labelling describing the functionality and technology incorporated in the fabrics. I was also aware of how style lines and the detailing ofouterwear had developed from the shapeless salopettesandboxy parkas I had worn initially.   So I decided at first to design a ski jacket for my final piece.  I conducted a lot of research into fabric technology which was not covered in our basic course and started sourcing suitable fabrics.  I soon realised that I would end up with another PhD, so decided to go back to basics and designed a full length princess-line coat with a high napoleon collar and long tufted over-collar as the final piece produced, with couture attention to detail in construction and satisfying my interest in tailoring.  At that stage I wondered about following a career in fashion as a sole creator-maker but felt I would be hampered in making a living by my excessive attention to detail and demand for perfection.  However, as often happens with start-ups, an everyday challenge made me realise that I could use my design skills to develop and produce a commercial solution.  I wanted beautiful, stylish, elegant daywear that was comfortable all day despite any personal challenges or those presented by the climate or environment. So in 2009 I took the first steps to set up the business launched in 2013 as Attune.

In parallel with this new creative career direction,  I have continued to work in broader economic development activities - Foresight, as a Mentor for science & technology based start ups and as a Business Angel.  I work closely with Connect at Catalyst Inc where my role as an Entrepreneur in Residence is very rewarding.  Other interests include Trustee/Company Secretary for charity SPRED (D&C) and I continue to run, cycle both to work and leisure, ski (wearing Attune as base layer) and hill-walking.  I'm always ready to network, dance and drink good red wine!  I have lived and worked in Northern Ireland all my life thus far but have worked with colleagues, national agencies and customers throughout the world supporting export business opportunities.  Attune was launched online from the start to ensure that we have global exposure.

What did you experiment with before settling on your final materials and product?

Attune’s moment of inspiration came when I felt that there had to be a clever fabric out there for everyday-wear there that would have beautiful draping with a good handle and comfort feel that could be used to make beautifully cut and stylish daywear.  A fabric that would have the functional benefits claimed by sportswear - reliable wickability,  breathability that would cope with temperature fluctuation (cooling when hot and providing warmth when cold) and good odour control to keep you fresh and reduced laundering.  Most of the fabrics used in sportswear weren’t suitable because they didn’t have the draping, handle and soft, luxury feel needed for classic, quality and stylish daywear.  Also, I felt that the other characteristics - such as good breathability and odour control - were not achieved with many of the synthetic fibres used in active wear.  

I started to test some of the fabrics, such as CoolMax® used in nightwear ( claiming effectiveness for night-sweats) and found these were not effective, didn’t wick as claimed and had poor odour control on laundering.  We considered bamboo viscoses which were being used increasingly in nightwear and socks etc.  However,  we gathered clear evidence to conduct our more in depth investigations into lyocell - TencelÆ.  We received primary research data on moisture handling and hygiene / odour control (microbial growth) from the manufacturer.  However, we only moved into final design phases after conducting our own wearer trials to ensure that our garments worn in real life stress situations were made with a fabric that we could claim worked reliably, felt and looked good.  We have demonstrated that reliability - the garments wear and was with sustained comfort.  The fibre’s resilience is also excellent with little if any pilling on continuous wear, especially compared to cotton, other viscoses and wool.  Indeed, sustainability is a key message with our line.  I have a personal preference for natural fabrics, love silks, linen, fine cotton and pure wool and therefore pleased to have discovered a superior fibre from sustainable natural sources for our core fabric.

What inventive product design are you inspired by?

The style lines and silhouette of Attune collections are simple, clean and elegant but relaxed with hints of luxury in our contrasts.  The profile reflects the broader design elements that I admire, follow and use in other aspects of my life.  I am at heart a scientist and a technologist.  I am conservative, minimalist and like clean, industrial design and simplicity.  Often this is relieved by a hint of brilliance – sparkle, sheen or use of intense colour.   I am attracted to ‘intelligent’ design - products designed to work.  I like Art Deco, Bauhaus, Chanel and Dior silhouettes, Donna Karan, Roland Mouret, Audi & using CAD designed vinyl lettering/graphics on show stands.