Katherine Leigh, showcased her androgynous Womenswear collection at Graduate Fashion Week in 2016. Leigh created a feeling of peaky blinders meets Victorian man about town. Leigh was shortlisted to participate in the gala show and went on to open the finale show.
After graduating from Northumbria University, Leigh moved to San Francisco to begin a role with Old Navy. Leigh had the amazing opportunity to go and work for the company, where she is now an assistant designer for the conceptual theme. Leigh gave us the opportunity to catch up with her.
You sound like you have been having an incredible time since graduating in 2016! How was the experience of GFW for you?
Graduate Fashion Week was a whirlwind experience and I wish I could do it all again. I loved every second. It was great to be in such an inspiring space, surrounded by amazing people with such diverse and unique talent! Although there is a sense of competition, the buzz in the air and the excitement was thrilling, and it’s great to see the future of British fashion industry represented in such a powerful way. It really is a celebration of graduates and I feel very lucky that I got to be a part of such an amazing opportunity.
Your final collection was showcased at GFW and you were shortlisted to participate at the GFW16 gala show. Congratulations! What was it like showing alongside the best fashion talent of your graduating class?
Thank you! It was such a dream to even be shortlisted, let alone be selected as one of the best 25 graduates and then to have my collection open the Gala show. It truly was a dream come true and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling when I saw my collection making its way down the catwalk.
How was your experience at Northumbria University? In what ways did they prepare you for the fashion world, and life outside of university?
Northumbria was great, I really enjoyed my time there! Firstly, the Northumbria Fashion courses involve an industrial placement year, allowing all of its student to experience at least 3 months within the industry. I think it is so important for young designers to gain that kind of experience, and then be able to return to university to complete your degree and put everything you’ve learnt while on placement into practice. It really helped me affirm that I wanted to work within design, and as I got to work within high end on my placement, when it came to my current job offer I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work at a different level.
Northumbria really prepares its student to work across both high end and commercial fashion, which I think is vital. To understand the industry across all market levels not only helped me produce a varied portfolio to present at GFW but prepared me to work for one of the most well-known and highly successful commercial fashion brands in America.
How did the incredible opportunity to work for Old Navy in San Francisco arise? Are you excited to work on an international level?
A number of talent scouts from Old Navy, Gap Inc. attend my university’s showcase at Graduate Fashion Week and subsequently I was approached by a recruiter of the company. Old Navy gave me a brand focused project to do, asked me for an interview and two days later offered me a job. I immediately accepted the job offer and could not turn down this amazing opportunity to work for such an inspiring and influential company as Old Navy, based in such a vibrant and upcoming city as San Francisco. It’s great to be able to work overseas, especially at the beginning of my career. Moving to the US for Old Navy has really inspired me to move wherever a job might take me in the future.
You are working as an assistant designer for the concept team, and you have mentioned you have held various roles including the team lead on kids and baby concept and trend. What is it like to aid the designs of childrenswear in comparison to womenswear?
Yes, I was placed on the Concept team based on the project I produced for them and after being there for a few months I was asked to be the focus for Kids and Baby trend on my team. It is a completely different beast compared to Womenswear, but it is always really fun! When I started on Concept I worked on Menswear, before concluding my time on Concept doing womenswear, and I loved exploring menswear as an area I’d never really looked into before. For my final collection, I studied menswear tailoring for androgynous womenswear but never delved into Male trend so this was a great thing to learn. Old Navy is all about the family, and I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to work across so many different areas as this is such an integral part of the brand.
After completing one amazing year in concept design, an opportunity came up to move to women’s design so I have recently joined the Woven Tops & Dress team. I think it is so important to make the most out of all experiences so it was an offer I couldn’t turn down and I had to try something new. Old Navy really supports you as a designer in getting the most out of the company and it really feels like a huge family that really wants the best for its employees.
If you could choose one designer to collaborate with, who would it be and why?
There are so many designers out there that are making a huge impact on the industry, and it’s truly inspiring. I am heavily influence by the strong female fashion designers out there that are powerfully representing women. Stella McCartney has been doing this for a long time, and is really paving the way for the future of sustainable and eco-conscious fashion, and of course that is so important now and it should always be something we’re working towards! I also think the work she’s been doing with Adidas and the Olympic athletes is amazing, sport and tech is really influencing fashion now, so inspiring! I’d love to collaborate with her!
Life in the interdisciplinary fashion industry can be varied. What do you do in an average day?
Everyone says it but there really is no average day with what we do, and it completely depends on what point we are at in the season. On Concept, of course there is a lot of building mood boards, which I love, but we as a team are heavily involved with many areas of the process. One of my favorite times is the beginning of the season, when we filter the trends and begin to build out themes. It’s a really creative process and allows for a lot of creative thinking.
What has life been like for you since moving to the USA?
It’s been life changing to say the least! It wasn’t something I went into lightly and it has definitely been a huge learning curve, both personally and professionally. San Francisco is a great, creative city to live in and inspires me almost every day. It was always a dream of mine to live in America at some point in my life, but I’d never have thought that it’s something that I’d be able to do straight after graduation. Sometimes it’s amazing and
Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
I have no idea! Well 5 years ago I never thought I’d be living and working in America so who knows what the next 5 years will hold! I just hope I’m still doing something I love.
If you were to give our graduates this year some advice about GFW what would it be?
Be open to every opportunity that might come your way. Speaking to the right people could lead to a job offer! You just need to put yourself out there, speak confidently about your work and be exactly who you are. It’s a completive industry but it’s important to be yourself.
Interview by Alix Flannery