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13 November 2014

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You are in: Nottingham > People > Profiles > Design heroes: Fiona Fairhurst

Fiona Fairhurst, Copywright European Patent Office

Design heroes: Fiona Fairhurst

Inspired by sharks, Nottingham-based Fiona Fairhurst has helped swimmers win more than 40 Olympic medals.

When it comes to designers you have to go a long way to beat Fiona Fairhurst.

In 2009 the 37-year-old saw off opposition from thousands of others in the European Inventor of the Year competition.

She was named one of the top 12 inventors from Europe and only one of two Britons to be honoured. It's a feat she describes as "pretty incredible".

"You're with people who have done groundbreaking research to develop drugs to save lives," she says.

"It's just fabulous to be recognised."

Sharks and swimmers

In 2001 Fiona was doing research at Huddersfield University. Part of this involved studying sharks.

"I went to the Natural History Museum because I always think nature has the answers when it comes to design," she says.

"I was looking to develop a fabric that mimics nature. I felt a nine foot shark and discovered it had a very rough surface. It has little teeth like structures that controls the flow and reduces drag."


The researcher applied for a job at the Nottingham based Speedo swimwear company who were so impressed by her work that they created a post specifically for her.

Fiona Fairhurst, Copywright European Patent Office

Fiona Fairhurst and her famous Fastskin swim suit

In 1999 she began work developing a swim suit that would come to dominate the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2004 games in Athens, where the so-called 'Fastskin' contributed to the winning of 47 medals.

The company recognised the advantages of a development arm and established a research unit. Fiona became Product Manager Research and Development.

"The employment it's created in Nottingham has had a big affect. There's a whole department called Aqualab and that's great for the area and Great Britain."

Going alone

Despite the success Fiona decided the time was right to leave the Speedo bosom.

"I've set up my own business here in Nottingham. It's been a great opportunity and I'm now working with UK Sport.

"Now I'm doing other 'go faster' super suits for Team GB [in sports like] skiing and cycling."

She says there's still plenty to learn from studying nature and making the most of modern technology.

"There are many ways you can affect friction and form drag and improve somebody's performance legally."

Bid to be World Design Capital

Nottingham bid to become the World Design Capital in 2012. The city council, the Arts Council and Nottingham Trent University are behind the application to the International Design Alliance (IDA). Fiona supported the application along with Nottingham-born designer Paul Smith.

You can hear more 'design heroes' every Tuesday with Frances Finn, 09:00 to 12:00 on BBC Radio Nottingham (95.5 & 103.8FM, DAB and online).

last updated: 20/07/2009 at 11:50
created: 08/05/2009

You are in: Nottingham > People > Profiles > Design heroes: Fiona Fairhurst

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