Representing the creative future

Grace Ling uses CGI to create zero-waste and buyer-friendly fashion

The Parsons graduate talks about launching an e-commerce platform straight out of university and technology’s impact on sustainable design

The phenomenon of overnight success has always been a point of obsession amongst fashion students and designers alike; how can I break the internet, go viral, become a fashion icon? But for Grace Ling, her break-out moment has been over three years in the making.

Born in Singapore and studying at not one but two of the world’s prestigious fashion schools; Central Saint Martins’ and Parsons School of Design, in between internships at Thom Browne and The Row. Grace soared to success when the film made for her AW21 collection, Mimicry, received the Grand Prize for Diane Pernet’s ASVOFF x Artsthread x FNL Network 2020 International Fashion Film Festival. Inspired by absurdist philosophy and comprising anthropomorphic silhouettes with meticulously constructed tailoring, irreverent accessories, and dream-like headwear created through zero-waste 3D printing techniques and rendered through computer-generated design, Mimicry was a collection that cemented Grace as a designer to watch.

Since her triumphant debut, Grace has moved from strength to strength. In April 2021 she took the progression of her brand into her own hands, launching her own e-commerce platform selling a selection of biomorphic jewellery, handbags, and outerwear all created through zero-waste digital design methods. We spoke to Grace about starting her own business after graduating, how technology has influenced her design process and why she’s not concerned about fitting in.

It’s been a year since you graduated, how has the transition from education to the professional world been for you?  

It has been amazing! I had the opportunity to learn from a different perspective by running a business, it is definitely not something they teach you at fashion school. There was a lot of trial and error in some areas, but I have been really fortunate to meet people in the industry who are willing to share their knowledge and support my brand. I always had the end goal of launching my own brand whilst I was studying, so even though it’s just launched, I’ve been working on it for over three years. Finally, living that dream is a whole different experience. I have discovered that I am equally passionate about creativity, as I am with business, and that makes me feel alive.

You studied both at Parsons in New York and Central Saint Martins in London, how different are the approaches to fashion at both schools and cities? What effect did the two cultures have on your work?

It seems to me that CSM has a more of a DIY, spontaneous approach to creating fashion, while Parsons has a more methodological and refined approach. I enjoyed both. Diverse perspectives are what allow me to create a balance between artistic vision and wearability in my brand. At the end of the day, I believe that it is important for clothing to be wearable and commercially successful whilst maintaining the designer’s artistic vision. It requires way more work, a refined taste level, and vision to create a balance than to choose between the two.

“I have discovered that I am equally passionate about creativity, as I am with business, and that makes me feel alive. ” – Grace Ling

After the success of your graduate collection, how did it feel making a second collection? Do you feel pressure to match or improve on what you’ve already done?

I feel very excited about my second collection. The first collection, for me, is a transition from graduate to legitimate brand. I feel that I have learned and evolved so much over the past year getting to know the real industry. For me, the second collection is a chance to re-interpret my original vision through a new lens. Perhaps at the back of my mind, I’m thinking about how I can create something that is equally or even more successful. However, success is measured in different ways, it could be measured in the fruition of the vision, in sales, or even in a measurable step towards sustainability or inclusivity. So I believe that if I stay authentic, there is no need for any anxiety.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I find inspiration in lots of dystopian films, science fiction, modern art, and interior design. I also resonate deeply with the surrealist art movement, and the rationale or the irrationalism behind it has become a kind of philosophy for me.

“Through CGI, I can also create designs with no carbon footprint. I photograph my products and they end up looking exactly like my CGI renders, so I don’t even need to make a sample or toile. ” – Grace Ling

Technology is very prominent in your design process, how does that play into the final outcome of a garment and how has technology helped you develop your skills as a designer?

The core of my design process largely involves 3D printing, CAD, and CGI. This allows me to calculate the exact amount of materials I need to create an item, so there is absolutely zero waste. Through CGI, I can also create designs with no carbon footprint. I photograph my products and they end up looking exactly like my CGI renders, so I don’t even need to make a sample or toile. Buyers are also open to buying garments this way once you’ve built a trusting relationship with them. This method is revolutionary in terms of sustainable fashion production and business systems. The combination of modern technology with traditional craft is what makes a GRACE LING product.

“The toiles from my collection were made from picking up scraps on the studio floor by others. The shapes of the scraps were so odd and irregular, that it actually allowed me to sculpt unconventional silhouettes on the mannequin.” – Grace Ling

You mention sustainability a lot when discussing your work, as an emerging designer why is it so important to be conscious when producing garments? What sacrifices or modifications have you had to make for your brand to enable this?

I don’t think it is possible for anyone who wants to be part of the fashion industry right now to not at least try to be sustainable. Even if that’s not the main focus of your work, sustainable practices can still be implemented into the process. Surprisingly, my attempts at sustainability have only given me back more, and I don’t see it as a sacrifice. For example, technology has allowed me to create unique forms and extreme precision in ways I’ve never imagined. The toiles from my collection were also made from picking up scraps on the studio floor by others. The shapes of the scraps were so odd and irregular, that it actually allowed me to sculpt unconventional silhouettes on the mannequin.

Coming from a fine art and performance background what effect has that had on your work and identity as a designer? how do you see your work fitting into the industry?

I am very grateful to have come from a fine art background, this has informed and fuelled my passion to create multidisciplinary Fashion. It empowers me to create a brand that’s an ongoing dialogue between art, fashion, and collaboration. In many ways, the role of a fashion designer is quite similar to that of an artist. Fashion is literally a projection of culture and upheavals. So, I’m not concerned about fitting into the industry. Fashion is about telling people what they want, not necessarily giving people what they think they want. There are also many pleasant surprises that come from not worrying about fitting in. I think as long as one is authentic, one will fit in.

“I think it’s important for designers to figure and work some things out on their own before expanding and putting their brand in someone else’s hands and hoping it will sell.” Grace Ling

You’ve recently launched your own E-commerce platform, why was it important to have an independent way of selling your work as opposed to selling through a boutique or larger brand?

I think that selling through a boutique or a larger brand is great, but it’s not necessarily the most important first step. As with many business relationships, I believe both the designer and the boutique have a mutually beneficial agreement. But if you’re able to start off with direct-to-customer sales, you have an advantage when it comes to taking on an investment or wholesaling in the future. You would also have more to offer a boutique rather than them helping you out. I think it’s important for designers to figure and work some things out on their own before expanding and putting their brand in someone else’s hands and hoping it will sell.

What are your plans for the future? What’s next?

I’m thinking about expanding into some new and exciting online retail spaces soon! I am also looking forward to more collaborations, it will be a surprise!

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

Buy Now