Ericka Santiago, Arts University Bournemouth and GFW17 alumni, has an eye for contrasting colours that goes beyond the aesthetics. With a focus on dismantling the gender norms through her work, Ericka has taken the lesson of being brave and pushing boundaries from her university experience, and implemented these into her work, whether interning at Celiné or in her freelance projects.

We caught up with Ericka as she considers her future in the industry, from specialising in print and textile design and prioritising self care during the creation of your graduate collection to individual designers responsibility to the betterment of the industry and monopolising your time to expand your skill set beyond university.

Which university did you attend, and what is the most valuable thing that you learnt there?


I graduated from the Arts University Bournemouth. For me, the most valuable thing that I learnt from studying there is to not be afraid to push the boundaries of fashion. From the very beginning you are encouraged to be diverse with your design thinking, which is what made me focus on creating a colourful mixed-gender collection. As well as this, throughout the degree you are taught valuable transferable skills within the design industry which I think has helped me to become a better creative.

Graduate Fashion Week provides a platform for emerging fashion graduates to showcase their work regardless of the specific discipline. Which area of the industry have you chosen to pursue, and what informed this choice?


As of right now, I am thinking of pursuing a career in print design. I really enjoyed making the print and graphics for my collection because I love working with colour and experimenting with visual aesthetics.  I think that I would like to look further into specialising in print/graphics and textile design for fashion.


Tell us a bit more about your career journey since showing at Graduate Fashion Week. How have you found life in the industry?


Since Graduate Fashion Week I have been taking on freelance projects as well as interning while working part time. My first internship after graduating was for  Céline as an archive assistant. I was able to see their past collections up close as well as fabric developments which I think is what really made me want to look more into print and textile design. As well as this, I did an internship for a designer called Jens Laugesen. We were a small team which was really good as I got to learn a lot of skills because of this and was able to see all aspects of a fashion business.


Do you explore any political, social or historical notions through your work? If so, what messages do you hope to convey?


I think that a lot of my work is inspired by art, society and culture and my designs often reflect social and cultural issues. Throughout my degree, I have focused on ways to challenge the gender norms, particularly with the societies perception of menswear. Rather than having a toned down colour scheme to tailor to the menswear aspect of my collection, I decided to push for colour for both womenswear and menswear. I wanted to challenge the stigma that men and women have to dress a certain way to fit in with the ideal perception of femininity and masculinity.


Where are you hoping to be in five years time?


In five years time, I am hoping to be working for a fashion and lifestyle brand within the graphics/textiles department. I've thought about starting my own company in the future but I would like to gain as much experience as I can with different companies before pursuing my own creative projects.


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?


I think it's great that the industry is looking more into sustainability, diversity and responsibility. It's easy to get lost in your own work when working under pressure but at the end of the day, as designers we are responsible for making sure that we are aware of the impacts fashion has on our environment and society.

Lastly, to any students that are reading this in admiration of your career-what advice would you give to the students hoping to showcase this year?

Don't forget to take a break! It's so easy to forget about self care when you're working really hard on your collection but try to remember that this is your last year of university so try to enjoy it as much as you can with the people around you. When you step back from your work, you tend to come up with new ideas and solutions to problems. Most importantly, just try to do the best that you can with the talents you've got. Good luck !


Words by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins