What is the most challenging part of establishing a brand signature and why?
The pressure of constant shows and trying to uphold the conversation around what you are doing is difficult. When press and buyers are constantly asking questions and talking about your work, you feel the need to change it more often. Before I took a break, I tried to be everything to everyone: offering people a wearable T-shirt alongside show pieces. I don’t think it’s possible to do that well. I realised I need to do my own thing and, if people are into it, they will follow. It’s about developing a following of people who genuinely love the product. When I relaunched my brand, I was a bit older and more experienced. I think the identity and aesthetic are stronger now.
“When press and buyers are constantly asking questions and talking about your work, you feel the need to change it more often. Before I took a break, I tried to be everything to everyone.”
How has your perception of the industry changed since you graduated from CSM?
I don’t think I really understood the industry when I graduated from CSM. Fashion schools could focus a lot more on identity and image, but that seems boring when you’re 21. You just want to make great clothes and take photos of them. Current students are really good at that. In my year at college, we didn’t want to use Instagram. Now, I realised it is the way to make money and sell clothes. The internet completely changed the game.
I teach at CSM now and I talk to my students about the industry, because we don’t talk about that enough. We don’t talk about money or branding. I love clothes, but they are 20% of your job. The other 80% is about creating a good image. I should be able to look at an image and know who the customer is without asking any questions.
Has teaching made you think differently about your own experience of education at CSM? How so?
Not really. I still think that the MA Fashion course at CSM is the best in the world; it focuses much more on finding out about yourself and what you are into. Working with the late Louise Wilson, I would show her my work and she would say, ‘You thought that was cool? That is not cool at all.’ I would look at it again and realise she was right – it was lame. I kept trying and showing her things until I came up with ideas I didn’t even want to showcase. Then she said, ‘These are great. I’ve never seen these before.’ That cemented my way of working and made me realise that I don’t need a gorgeous portfolio page with stupid illustrations on it. I can just have interesting conversations with people and use newspaper images as inspiration.
“I love clothes, but they are 20% of your job. The other 80% is about creating a good image. I should be able to look at an image and know who the customer is without asking any questions.”
As a teacher, I try to keep the pace I experienced in the industry, so students get used to it. The industry is really fast; sometimes BA courses last too long. Designers in the real world have to be really good at making decisions. They have to be able to say what is good or bad and know why. You need an editorial eye. That is something I learnt at CSM.
What are common questions that your students ask and how do you answer them?
Industry questions are much easier to answer. Questions like, ‘What does my portfolio look like?’ are harder to answer. It is so personal, because it relates to your own experimentation and identity. I think it’s easier to teach designers a practical discipline like tailoring, sewing or pattern-cutting.
“The industry is really fast; sometimes BA courses last too long.”
As a tutor, you have to question your own questions. People don’t come to CSM to hear a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. They want an open dialogue: who has used that fabric before? What are the connotations of that colour?