Meet Sharifa Nakawooya, the genius textiles designer inspired by Mary Katrantzou and Peter Pilotto, who has recently graduated from the University of East London with a first in her BA class. Born and bred in London, Sharifa, aged 20, creates mesmerising prints, where she transforms her love of drawing into extraordinary textiles – think stylised, boldly brilliant, animals, bugs and sea creatures conjured into expressive prints, and all based on travels which have caused Sharifa a sensory overload. With more trips on the horizon, Sharifa is on the lookout for more unusual objects or animals to draw and inspire upcoming projects. We chat with Sharifa about her graduate collection (especially that iconic lobster print), her university experiences and plans for the future.
The Fashion Conversation: You’re a textiles designer who got invited to Graduate Fashion Week, collaborating with fashion designer Daylan Mollentze to bring your vision to life for the collection that was shown. Where did the inspiration for your silk and chiffon textiles come from?
Sharifa Nakawooya: A recent trip to Italy, where I ate seafood like mussels, lobster, octopus and squid for the first time. I found this seafood looked really disturbing but when I tasted it, it was delicious which I found really intriguing. Then I started soaking up the culture, and noticing aquariums with colourful jellyfish and sea creatures, so I began taking lots and lots of pictures. I actually started sketching while I was on holiday because I was thinking that this might actually develop into something big if I take it further. I brought all my imagery back to London and then just started drawing. After some initial sketches, I started wondering where I could see more sea creatures up close – I was drawing from a barrier and through images – so I went to the Billingsgate Fish Market at 5 in the morning and bought lots of interesting looking seafood like octopuses, lobsters, really anything and everything I could find. I then started drawing the sea creatures up close, analysing their tentacles, and pushing myself to draw these sea creatures which actually looked quite gross in an intriguing captivating way.
TFC: You mentioned Mary Katrantzou and Peter Pilotto are your favourite designers at the moment, why is that?
SN: I like them so much because they’re really expressive. Mary Katrantzou is not afraid in her designs, she tries different materials and is really bold and out there. She mixes print with embroidery with, in one collection she had foam, pink foam, it’s really dynamic. Peter Pilotto is similar to Mary but calmer. They both have unique qualities to them which I love. I would really like to intern with their studios and learn more about how their textiles work with their collections as a whole and further develop my skills. I’d listen to everyone who works for them and the team and soak up as much knowledge as I can.
TFC: What have some of the most valuable critiques being during your time at the University of East London (UEL)? How did these play into your collection shown at Graduate Fashion Week?
SN: Feedback is key because taking on other people’s opinions opens your mind more. Some of the feedback I received during my time at UEL, and what I will remember forever is ‘don’t over design’. What this means is that some of my drawings are so strong, there is no need to over manipulate them – just keep them solid. Also, my tutor Vikki Fong suggested that I shift my drawing from an A3 sketchbook to A1 to push scale further. This made me frightened because I’d never drawn on such a massive scale before but I took her advice and all my best imagery came from my A1 drawings – there was a lot more detail.
TFC: What gets you out of bed in the morning? The alarm clock, excitement, coffee?
SN: The alarm clock wakes me up, but the feeling of never knowing, when you go out, who or what you might come across is what gets me out of bed. You might end up bumping into someone that can actually help you go further in life or you might find something that inspires you – London is a very giving area. No matter where you go, you find something interesting. I’ve got an iPhone and I’m always taking pictures of things, and some things of the thing I photograph, people wonder, ‘why is she taking a photo of that?’, but to me, in my mind, I know I can draw it to make it look interesting. Some people will be like, oh your phone is just full of random stuff and I am like, that random stuff is a concept I’ll create, just give me time.
TFC: What are your plans for the future?
SN: I’m off to Morocco for a week to celebrate my 21st and also gain inspiration for my next project. I always get so much inspiration from my travels. For my next project, I’m collaborating with a fashion designer from my university, Antonia Nae (who won the Lipsy Red Carpet award at Graduate Fashion Week), and we are going to make a collection which reflects our trip to Morocco. I’ve also got an internship lined up at Eyefix Design which I’m looking forward too.