Siri MacDonald, the Head of Womenswear Design at Superdry, has a wealth of knowledge working with many retail brands such as ASOS, Marks and Spencers' and Next. As a Graduate Fashion Week alumni, we were eager to find out how her experiences at GFW and university have shaped her creativity today. From New York to Northumbria, Siri has spent time working within design, styling and editorial, choosing to focus on design.
Inspired at GFW by the energy of emerging creatives, Siri's perspective of living in a visual world where the power of the logo and brand is so strong, and influences all disciplines within design. Describing her appointment at Superdry as a career defining moment, heading up the Womenswear department has been a constant learning curve, understanding innovation and adapting along with an ever evolving industry. We spoke with the designer to hear more about how she's working toward incorporating a more conscious perspective, whether this refers to diversity of representation, conceptions of beauty or adopting sustainable practises, becoming part of the Superdry family and pushing boundaries in a heritage brand.
Graduate Fashion Week provides a platform for emerging fashion graduates to showcase their work regardless of the specific discipline. You have elevated to the position of Head of Womenswear Design at Superdry! What appeals to you about design?
I love the power of design and especially clothing – clothing and dress is transformative and a great way to express yourself. As a visual person with a love of art, you can be inspired by anything and everything around you. My parents are both artists and encouraged me from a very young age, to see the beauty in my surroundings, through travel, photography, culture and art - I have always been inspired to create. We live in a visual world where the power of the logo and brand is so strong, and influences all disciplines within design, and I love that working at Superdry, I am able to push the boundaries, ever evolving the brand through its language, but still staying true to its heritage.
Tell us a bit more about your career journey since showing at Graduate Fashion Week.
I was lucky enough to win one of the ‘River Island’ Graduate Fashion Week awards in 2005, where my print design was chosen to feature on all carrier bags gifted at GFW and in all of River Island’s stores for the month of June. As part of the prize, I was given the opportunity to carry out an internship with River Island on graduation. From River Island, I started out my career working in the supply side of the industry, designing for high street clients such as, Topshop, ASOS, River Island, Miss Selfridge, New Look and Next. Having built up a great relationship with Next through the years, I then ventured into the world of retail. Working at Next was a great experience in terms of their strategic focus and ways of working.
A great learning curve, but being the designer and creative that I am, I knew I wanted to be challenged more from a creative perspective. This is the point when I was approached by Superdry and I’ve never looked back. At Superdry you are able to be yourself, express your creativity, and challenge the status quo. The culture at Superdry is incredible, and product and innovation are at the heart of everything we do. Every day I feel both challenged and inspired, by both the product and the people.
How did your education at Northumbria University, prepare you for an extensive career in the fashion industry?
I was so privileged to get a place at Northumbria University, widely known across the industry as having one of the best Fashion Design courses in the country. The tutors and facilities at Northumbria were fantastic, and the one on one tuition and time given to each and every student was so special. The tutors and modules at Northumbria encouraged each student to experiment with their handwriting and I quickly found my passion for womenswear and print. The year’s placement also widened my knowledge and outlook of design, during which I was lucky enough to be one of two students to be chosen by Marks and Spencer to carry out a six-month work placement. I spent the remainder of my placement year in New York working for Maxim Magazine, supporting the Fashion Editors and stylists on all editorial features and shoots.
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 the movement towards sustainability is so important and should be the focus of all fashion companies in this day and age. From both an ethical and sustainable point of view, we all need to focus on the source of our clothing. At Superdry it is our ambition that all of our jersey cotton ranges are 100% organic cotton, and this is a goal that our teams are all working hard to achieve.
Wherever we can incorporate sustainable fabrics and processes within our design development and day to day business, we do, as we are fully aware of the impact to our surrounding environment. Regarding diversity, this is a topic that I feel strongly about, and feel the industry is making huge strides towards a new era, where all ages, races and genders are promoted equally. Until recently, diversity referred largely to race, but we now recognise the power of representing a wider range of beauty, which I think is a really refreshing and inspiring step forward.
Has there been a defining moment of your career so far?
My career defining moment came from joining the Superdry family. From the first day I joined as Senior Womenswear Designer to my current position as Head of Design – Womenswear, I have been encouraged to be myself and work ‘outside of the box’. The biggest focus in my current role is ‘quality and innovation’ and the creative journey, working alongside both of the founders and our incredible design team has been so inspiring.
In addition to this, I have always worked in womenswear led companies, so joining a company that was founded as a menswear brand was a great challenge to me, and it’s great to see the evolution and growth of the womenswear side of the business, and how the womenswear collection is creating its own, strong and unique identity.
What were your experiences at Graduate Fashion Week like?
Graduate Fashion week was such an amazing and memorable experience. As an aspiring designer, the moment I watched my collection make its way down the catwalk was one of the greatest moments of my career. It was the start of the creative journey to where I am today, and incredibly life changing. It was so special to get to see fellow students showcase their work and feel the amazing energy and buzz created by the next generation of talented designers.
What about womenswear design at the moment, are you finding interesting and appealing?
There is less of a throw away culture, customers want long-lasting pieces that will continue to be relevant for seasons to come. The industry focus on sustainability means that we’re all thinking differently, as both designers and consumers, and quality and sustainability is as much of a status issue as the newest ‘it’ designer bag. This is quite a dramatic shift for an industry that has previously been known for being quite frivolous and disposable, to now seeing trends go the distance. Items that stand the test of time and continue to be relevant, is an amazing step in the right direction for our industry.
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 would be to take every opportunity that comes your way. When you’re first starting out in the industry you think you know exactly who you are and what you want to achieve creatively, but what led me to where I am today, is through trying new things and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Adaptability is key, and an ever evolving handwriting will increase your opportunities. Lastly, I would say resilience and passion will get you to where you want to be, but above all hard work and love for creating and innovating will ensure you reach your desired goals. When I’m looking to take on graduates, I look for three key qualities: passion, energy and creativity, everything else can be taught over time.
Interview by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins