Kingston School of Art student Ella Barrow, is in the middle of an exciting part of her career- having just completed an internship with Ralph Lauren in New York, and now spending time on the team at Erdem, we caught up to hear how she’s feeling about the experience, how her passion for sustainability has informed her studies and the unpredictable nature of the fashion industry.
Which university do you attend, and what is the most valuable thing that you learnt so far?
I study Fashion BA(Hons) at Kingston School of Art. The most valuable thing I have gained from my time at KSA so far is the varied skillset. My course has great exposure to many different areas of the industry and encourages their students to try each one – such as Fashion Photography and Styling, Illustration, an excellent Knitwear department along with countless opportunities to work to live briefs from industry professionals. The KSA campus in general has fantastic facilities which are open to any student from any course, allowing all students to build very strong and varied skills!
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 planning on pursuing and why?
My studies specialise in Womenswear, Knitwear and I also have an interest in Tailoring. I’ve found that I am particularly drawn to skills and crafts that require extra time, attention to detail and are consequently lost within the crazy pace of fast fashion. Following opportunities that have come my way, I’ve found that I enjoy and work well within many different areas of the industry, so I intend to keep my options open as to what I’d like to pursue. Ideally I’d like to find an area or specification which allows me to take the extra time and apply my attention to detail but I’m not yet sure what area specifically this will be!
Where have you completed your year in industry and what have you learnt so far?
Over summer I interned at Ralph Lauren in Girls and Baby Design in New York City and I currently intern in Print Design at a high-end brand in London. My time at Ralph Lauren taught me a lot about myself and how I work. As part of the internship program all RL interns competed internally and were given the task to propose designs for their specific department. Ralph Lauren was an entirely new company for me in an entirely new country, one which I initially found challenging. Despite this, I was honoured to win the competition. My idea was greeted favourably by Senior Designers at Ralph Lauren, to such an extent that I was given the opportunity to present my work to Ralph Lauren himself. On reflection, being in an unfamiliar area of the industry brought out the best in me and taught me to have confidence in my own abilities.
What encouraged you to study a fashion based degree?
I’ve always been creative and grew-up in a very creative, hands-on household – my Mum loves all things crafty and my Dad is a DIY God. I think what initially drew me to fashion is not only the creativity but also the practicality and tactility – at the end of the day you’re designing something to be worn, touched and experienced. Fashion/clothing can be mood-enhancing, it can change how a person feels about themselves, how they are perceived by the world and of course, it’s a form of expression.
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?
Yes! I am particularly interested in sustainability and always have been. Over the years I have gathered the majority of my wardrobe from car-boot sales, charity shops and hand-me-downs. I loved (and still love) buying secondhand items that already have a story behind them and giving a new lease of life to clothing given to me by my mum, sister or cousin. It just always made sense to me to shop that way – it’s cheaper, convenient and of course, better for the environment! I have never been a fan of fast-fashion even prior to learning how unsustainable and damaging it is on the environment. I used to favour second-hand shopping over the high street purely because I was more likely to find higher quality, more original pieces for a lower price. Now I view shopping secondhand – whether it’s for clothing, furniture, fabric, etc – as the most sustainable option; to repurpose an existing item rather than use resources to make a new one.
I also think it’s important to commit to items you already own, consider whether they can be fixed or mended prior to carelessly throwing them away. Fast-fashion encourages people to view clothing as disposable which is not only negative regarding its effects on the environment but also sad and lacking sentiment. I’m a huge advocate for visibly mending clothing – adding quirks, personality, memories and originality. The project I designed for Ralph Lauren as part of the internal competition revolved around visible mending and sustainability. I proposed that they utilise samples, waste and excess fabric to create a limited edition line that was patched-up and playfully darned together with embroidery. It was refreshing for my ideas to be greeted enthusiastically by the judges at RL.
Overall I think the steps that fashion is taking towards being more sustainable are excellent. It’s long overdue for the industry to be taking responsibility for the negative effects it has on the environment. Similarly, the industry becoming more diverse and inclusive is encouraging and exciting! I hope to help these movements along during my career.
Do you explore any political, social or historical notions through your work? If so, what messages do you hope to convey?
My work is always influenced in some way by history. I find researching historical topics exciting and love finding inspiring stories to develop into a concept and share with others through my work. I’m often inspired by powerful women of the past, usually everyday groups of girls that were being feminist idols through their dress or demeanour by doing what came naturally to them. The nonchalant attitude of these women sets a great example that viewing everyone as equal should come just naturally.
I make my work as sustainable as possible and hope that this encourages/inspires others to do the same.
Where are you hoping to be in five years time?
The fashion industry is unpredictable so it’s hard to imagine where I will be in five years time. I didn’t expect to be given the fantastic opportunities I have been given so far so I’m going to leave my options open, take full advantage of any opportunity given to me and go where life takes me.
The one definite thing I know is that I want to be part of the positive movement fashion is making towards being more sustainable. I hope in five years time I have gained vast experience to help this change. Sustainability is still a fairly new topic and I hope within the next 5 or so years I can gain the experience to have a more realistic view of how sustainability can work within the industry, and especially how I can help it along.
Interview and Words by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins