Elizabeth Layte, graduate from Arts University Bournemouth, showcased her colourful childrenswear collection on the Best of GFW25 catwalk in 2016, Graduate Fashion Week's 25th Anniversary. After bringing the often undervalued childrenwear sector to the forefront at GFW, Elizabeth has gone on to take her original perspective to Character.com, where she is advocating for a more inclusive design ideology.
Elizabeth is focused on breaking down the barriers and gender stereotypes that shape the impressionable minds of children. From disassociating colour and gender to creating pieces that can be worn by any child irrelevant of biology, the inclusive discussion has been raging through the industry. It's especially notable that the childrenswear industry is driving the political movement through a heightened consciousness. Empowering children to express themselves from the beginning will stop stereotyping before it's begun in the younger generation. Elizabeth is no stranger to using her work to approach society, as her final collection was inspired by her autistic brother, with her tutors encouraging her to fully embrace the concept, to let it inform and expand her creativity. We caught up with the Merchandising Manager to find out why it's totally ok to scream and shout over a button...
Which university did you attend, and what is the most valuable thing that you learnt there?
I attended the Arts University Bournemouth. The most valuable thing I learnt whilst studying there was to be me! They really really encouraged you to be yourself and to find your own design identity. When I first started I had a great passion for colour and textiles, I enjoyed the processes being the methodical person I am! I was encouraged to try childrenswear in my first year and I never looked back! My final collection was inspired by my autistic brother as I was determined to dedicate my collection to him as he is a massive part of my life. My tutors at the Arts University Bournemouth really helped me home in and nail the concept and give me the confidence to just be wild and embrace it! And because of that I was one of the first childrenswear designers to walk in the Best Of GFW shows!
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?
After graduating University, I spent a little time to focus on what direction I really wanted to go in, there are so many directions to go in in the fashion industry, it can be overwhelming. I guess I sort of fell into the position I am currently in being a Merchandise Manager in character license clothing company Character.com! Every day is so different with different fabric samples coming through the door to liaising with suppliers to get the products in on time! I guess you can say my problem solving skills have improved incredibly! I must say what an amazing company Character.com are, they truly are the best company to work for!
I know all the best upcoming kids shows and movies to help cater to children's every whim. Every day conversations are usually talking about Paw Patrol to Peppa Pig! Never a dull moment!
How have you found life in the industry?
Life in the industry I have learnt can be brutal but it just makes you a better more determined person. The industry is a roller coaster of emotions but I have learned so so much from it and wouldn’t be anywhere else.
Do you explore any political, social or historical notions through your work? If so, what messages do you hope to convey?
In my current work, we try and put across gender neutral clothing for children as much as possible. I believe children shouldn’t be categorised with set colours for a specific gender. From the point go I have always had these views, being a little tom boy as young child myself I tended to end up wearing some of my brothers clothes mixing them with my own!
I hope that the industry continues to support and grow the gender neutral clothing for children, as it is definitely the future.
Where are you hoping to be in five years time?
In five years time, I hope I am still doing what I love doing which is creating.
One of my biggest passions and aspirations is to start my own business helping to create those special moments for people with lovely creations! Who knows what the future holds!
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 am happy that the industry is starting to care more and more about sustainability. We should continue to use fashion as a tool to help the world, as it creates powerful statements everyday.
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?
My advice to students is to be yourself. Do not try and change yourself to fit a criteria. I learnt that being myself and creating the things I WANT to make helped me and made me enjoy what I did.
It’s okay to cry and shout and get emotional over a button! Just take a breath and trust yourself!
Words by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins