From exploring new knitting techniques at university, to interning at the ethically conscious Missoni, Sophie Whatling has been taking steps into the industry since showcasing her Menswear collection at GFW17. The menswear collection created at Arts University Bournemouth captured attention at Graduate Fashion Week last summer, and it's not solely for the illustrative aesthetics.
Inspired by artists such as Jean Dubuffet and Willem de Kooning, Sophie recognised the need for public discussion of male mental health issues through her work. Following the lead of the abstract expressionist artists that inspired the collection, the pieces are underlain by the need to create a open space to talk about mental health. Pushing the boundaries of what is considered the norm, the emerging designer is focused on making her designs meaningful for society, whether through sustainability, visibility or representative model casting.
Inspired by technology, culture, form and function Whatling reflects on what her collection taught her, where she is heading and how to get there, below.
Which university did you attend, and what is the most valuable thing that you learnt there?
Arts University Bournemouth. The most valuable thing I learnt at university was to try out lots of different mediums to find out what suited my design style most. Before attending AUB I never experimented much with print or knitwear and after trying them out they ended up being my favourite things about my collection and also fashion. The university really encourages you to try many techniques within your work.
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?
I am currently pursuing menswear in particular knitwear design for menswear. I chose to study menswear as I feel it’s a very exciting part of the fashion industry which is rapidly growing. Knitwear also panders to my love of texture and colour and combining this with menswear creates contemporary and artistic pieces.
Tell us a bit more about your career journey since showing at Graduate Fashion Week. How have you found life in the industry?
After GFW I interned at Missoni. for 6 months, I am now working for the company as a menswear design assistant. Life in the industry has been so fun! I enjoy how no two days are the same and I have been able to do a variety of creative jobs such as print design, knitting, fabric sample development, choosing colour palettes and many more. It is different from university in the sense that you are working within a design team not just for yourself, so that is the biggest adjustment.
Do you explore any political, social or historical notions through your work? If so, what messages do you hope to convey?
For my collection I was inspired by artists whom explored mental health issues such as Jean Dubuffet and Willem de Kooning, I hoped to raise issues of mental health awareness especially amongst men as its something that is rarely discussed.
Photography by Tina Mayr
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 these movements are incredibly important, it has always bothered me how damaging the fashion industry can be and the fact that brands are becoming more ethical and diverse means a lot to me. I am proud to be working for Missoni whom have been praised for their diverse casting and ethical production methods.
Where are you hoping to be in five years time?
In five years time I hope to be enjoying my job as much as I am now! I have always been interested in starting my own company and once gaining more industry experience this would the final goal.
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?
I would advise students to work really hard and try out lots of different mediums! If I had never started using the knit machines there is no way I’d be where I am now. Also have confidence in what you are doing and your collection; it’s such a personal thing (something you will never get in industry) make sure you are proud and love your collection, then even though the work is tough at least you are getting results you are happy with. Most importantly try to have fun I know third year can be hellish but try to surround yourself with supportive and enthusiastic people and it won’t be quite as hard.
Words By Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins