Niamh Carr, graduate of Manchester Fashion Institute, recently won £1000 and a further £500 for her university, by creating a denim jacket and winning the Lenzing Sustainable Denim Competition! We wanted to find out more about the photography that inspired the collection, why sustainability and responsibility aren't trends and the meaning behind the name of Niamh's final collection "Just Do Your Bit”, so we caught up with the young designer to hear more about her work.
Niamh's home city of Sheffield and the rise of vintage inspired a love of reworking pieces, ensuring that the denim itself has a longer and more enriched history, approaching sustainability as a given within her designs. Check out which brands Niamh hopes to bring this perspective to next, how gender neutrality is intrinsic to denim and how building each other up makes a kinder industry for everyone.
FIRSTLY, WELL DONE ON WINNING THE LENZING SUSTAINABLE DENIM COMPETITION! What encouraged you to enter the Competition?
There was no set brief so it was great to be able to enter work from my final collection into a GFW competition. My collection’s sourcing was based around making good choices environmentally, such as all fabric being organic cotton or repurposed denim/ then within the competition I used the denim from Lenzing/ Candiani, trims such as Corozo buttons and no zips were used and hardwearing/ workwear inspired construction to create clothing that lasts - which is my personal take on a way to work sustainably so it was a great opportunity to enter!
Which university did you attend, and what is the most valuable thing that you learnt there?
I studied Fashion Design and Technology- Menswear at Manchester Fashion Institute. It is a unique course that really teaches us about the industry and the different areas we can choose to individually focus on finding the right career path.
We have the best industry standard facilities available and a supportive, experienced staff.
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 have focused on making things that last, as I personally think that’s the direction the industry needs to take. Denim, a natural and beautiful fabric to work with, will last for years, change and age with the wearer and hopefully be passed on to others for a new life.
In the first year I specialised in menswear as this was the best route to pursue a gender neutral product.
Denim works well for the simple, classic silhouettes that I create while I emphasise details and construction techniques.
How have you found life in the industry?
Do you explore any political, social or historical notions through your work? If so, what messages do you hope to convey?
I look to vintage workwear a lot as inspiration. It’s amazing to find pieces that have had lives before you get your hands on them. That's what I want to make, garments that’ll last long enough to find their way through multiple peoples lives.
I did a lot of research back in Sheffield, where I’m originally from, it’s a great place to source as it’s had such a rich industrial history and being so close the Peak District outwear is a natural part of the uniform. Rag Parade is an absolute gem of a shop, filled with amazing pieces collected by Jojo, who was kind enough to talk me through the history of certain pieces, that inspired a lot of my collection. I also visited the guys at Clobber Calm who are bringing a real ‘denim head' passion to an indie corner of Sheffield. They sell brands from all over the world and do a lot of repair work on site, which is encouraging more people to buy better quality and repair garments.
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?
For me it shouldn’t be a trend to be sustainable. The “sustainable” choices I make are just because being responsible is the right thing to do, when there’s Corozo buttons next to plastic ones, why would I choose the plastic!
Things do need to change but it can’t be done by a small few brands doing things- it needs to be everyone making better choices and bit by bit things will change and become the norm - my final collection was called “Just Do Your Bit” which sums up my outlook on all this! If everyone just did their bit, it would add up to one huge thing.
Where are you hoping to be in five years time?
I’d love to work for brands such as Nigel Cabourn, Christopher Raeburn, Black Horse Lane Ateliers, Endrime ,ULLAC, Too Good (that's a lot but I love them all!) and be on the way to creating my own small brand and lecture alongside of it.
Lastly, to any students that are reading this in admiration of your success- what advice would you give to the students hoping to showcase this year?
It’s hard, but so worth it! Give all the hours you possibly can, you’ll never regret spending too much time being creative. And just be nice, sounds silly but playing 'Devil Wears Prada' at this point doesn’t make for an enjoyable experience for you or anyone around you. Support your friends and build each other up.
Interview by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins
Photography by Molly Mears
Styling by Roxanne Morris