Firstly, a huge congratulations on winning at Graduate Fashion Week 2019! What award did you win?
Catwalk Knitwear Award
How did it feel when your name was read out during the show?
Definitely unreal – it’s something you hope might happen but don’t really expect it to ever come true. I’m just grateful I got the chance to show my work alongside so many other talented graduates.
Which university did you attend & how do you think they prepared you for graduation?
Bath Spa University . The course was much quicker paced than I expected it to be and while that was stressful at the beginning, it did mean that I had to learn some good time management tips early on, which will definitely help me in the fast-paced industry.
What is the most valuable thing that you learnt there?
My course was really small so we all got to know each other really well – being able to turn to them and ask their opinion to help develop your own work taught me the importance of collaboration and support within a studio – design is usually seen as a independent process, but some the most interesting developments in my work came from little comments or suggestions made by my friends – they probably didn’t even notice they were helping!
Tell us about your story. What lead you to fashion?
I sort of fell into fashion design – I’ve always enjoyed arts and crafts and taught myself how to make my own clothes when I was at middle school, but I never was an avid follower of trends. It was the construction and making of the clothes that I liked. When I did Textiles at A – Levels, that was the first time the two – crafting and fashion – came together for me. I really loved being able to make the fabric and then take those textures and put them into a garment – that’s probably why I like knitwear design so much!
Talk us through your graduate collection. How did that come about?
Despite my course not offering knitwear as a specialism, I knew I wanted my collection to contain knitwear - I’d done a half day workshop on my foundation course and loved the idea of being able to create the fabric and the garment. I took a month long course over the summer between my 2nd and 3rd year to learn the basics then spent a lot of time in the library and online researching how to do different techniques – while designing my collection! The whole development stage was a learning process and it wasn’t until I started toiling that the mood of the collection began to come together.
What sort of materials did you use and how did you source them?
I wanted to use 100% natural fibres as much as I could (wool was the primary fibre used in ganseys) so that was the starting point. In terms of sourcing, I wanted to know as much as I could about my supply chain so I used yarns spun in the UK (mainly Yorkshire), with many using fibres from British sheep as well. Keeping the supply chain of yarns based within the UK meant that not only was the carbon footprint of my collection incredibly low, but it also supported the British wool industry. Wool is also such a versatile fibre – it’s renewable, can be spun into different thicknesses easily and manipulated in so many different ways through abrasion or heat, so I had a lot work with.
Describe the inspiration and concept behind your work.
While I was learning the basics of domestic machine knitting, I was also looking into the history of knitting and that’s where I discovered the fisherman’s gansey – a seamless jumper with hundreds of different designs, one for each fishing village in the north of England. The folklore is that if a fisherman was lost at sea, he could be identified by his gansey. I loved the idea of such a functional garment being embedded with so much history and identity and felt it embodied the mood I wanted my collection to have. The other inspirations – pre-Raphaelite women (inspired by the tales of sirens), darning stitches, basket/net weaving, faded/sun-bleached colours – all came from this beginning. I wanted my collection to transcend trends and feel timeless as well as modern and using a historical garment that is still in use today was a good starting point .
Do you explore any political, social or historical notions through your work? If so, what messages do you hope to convey?
Responsible and considered design has always been important to my design ethics, so I felt like thoughtful sourcing of materials and the development of zero waste production techniques had to be a key part of my collection. I hope the use of a historical garment that is both beautiful and practical as inspiration also prompts a discussion into the value we place upon clothes and how that’s become distorted with the rise of fast fashion. The idea of keeping clothes for years, repairing them when needed then reusing them once no longer wanted needn’t be the antithesis to modern fashion and I hope my collection is an example of that.
Many say that the industry is undergoing a huge change, with sustainability, diversity and responsibility becoming huge themes. Do you have any opinions on these movements?
If you’re putting something out into the world, I believe you must consider how it affects the environment, both before and after it is worn – from the sourcing of your materials, the production and the disposal of that garment. I made all my pieces fully fashioned on the knitting machine, meaning that there is zero wastage in production and that the pieces can be unravelled and re-knitted once the garment is no longer wanted – obviously every designer would like to think their garments are going to be worn forever but it’s important to make sure that if your designs are going to be recycled, how that can be done is embedded into the design process. Creating a circular design and production system is one of the most important things the fashion industry should be focusing on right now – the current system (and our environment) cannot sustain the amount of waste we are producing at the moment.
How would you describe your personal style? What influences you the most?
I think there is definitely a romantic, bohemian edge to my work but it’s contrasted with clean, simple shapes – I don’t like things being too fussy or over the top. I want my garments to feel lived in, as if they’ve had a whole other life before even if they’re brand new. I’d like people to want to touch and feel my work, not just look at it, so I am usually drawn to textures that are dynamic and include lots of different techniques, like weaving and hand embroidery. A focus on craft is extremely important to me – taking techniques and textures that may have been forgotten in recent history and reworking them informs a lot of my developments. Brands like Loewe and Phoebe English that embed craft into their practice are some of my influences.
How are you hoping your designs will evolve in the future?
This collection was the first time I designed a fully knitted collection of garments and there is so much more for me to learn – it feels like I only scraped the surface of some of the techniques I worked with. I’d love to expand upon some of these techniques and see how they could be translated into garments – it feels like knitwear has become very print-orientated and I’d like to see the tactile nature of knitwear used more. I also want to continue working on designing and producing responsible and sustainable fashion, using not only natural fibres, but also waste fibres, like old jumpers or fabric scraps. Encouraging people to think more about how they consume fashion and how to do it more responsibly is really important for me.
Do you have any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
I’m doing some collaboration work with Ssone, a small London brand with UK based manufacturing and a focus on slow, thoughtful fashion, to develop some knitwear pieces for them, so that will be interesting and give me insight into the sort of work I’d like to do in the industry. I’m also considering doing commissions based off of my graduate collection – a sort of affordable, simplified collective of garments or accessories that still embodies the values and textures of my collection.
Graduate Fashion Week provides a platform for emerging fashion graduates to showcase their work regardless of the specific discipline. Which area of the industry are you hoping to pursue, and what informed this choice?
I love the sampling and construction side of knitwear design so I definitely want to involve that in any future work I do, perhaps in a small, independent design studio. A job that has a focus on developing sustainable approaches to knitwear and design in general would also be perfect.
Where do you hope to be in five year’s time?
I hope to be a part of a collective or an independent brand with a focus on sustainability and traceability in their supply line, creating bespoke knitted pieces. I also want to do a Masters, either in Fashion Knitwear or Textiles, so I hope to have completed that too.
What one thing would you recommend our visitors do whilst at GFW?
Go to one of the talks at GFW Live – I went to one about sustainability in the industry and it was so affirming to hear people in the industry discussing issues that I felt strongly about and talking about how to make change. It took a topic that is so often talked about in a objective sense and made it feel progressive.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself in first year at university, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to do something you really want to do, even if it means doing something you know next to nothing about! It’s more important to do something you love doing than worrying about whether the tutors will approve and university is the perfect time to try it.
What top five tips would you give to final year students?
- Have faith in your own ideas.
- Experiment and try new techniques.
- Learn some time management techniques that work for you.
- Listen to other people’s opinions but don’t take them to heart.
- Enjoy the experience of designing a collection entirely by yourself – it might not every happen again!