A passion for understanding the environmental and social impacts of design, led Amy Ward to pursue a MA Sustainability in Fashion and Textiles at ESMOD Berlin. Exploring techniques and processes, the 27 year old designer developed a reputation for upcycling and repurposing materials to create unique garments. Why upcycling and repurposing? “They offer something truly unique and special in the world of sustainable fashion. The hands-on connection and storytelling elements of these techniques allow it to become a really interactive and personal journey.”
Some of Amy’s latest work includes her collection CO:Knit which focused on DIY, craft and community themes. Basing the collection on patterns that were online, as well as utilising online tutorials for embellishments and dyeing, Amy created a collection that is designed to be an expression, or example, of what can be achieved by oneself, as opposed to being premeditated by another designer. Another recent collection resulted in Amy becoming a finalist in the prestigious EcoChic Design Awards. For the competition, Amy created a collection inspired by the work of contemporary Chinese artist Siu Jianguo, whose sculptures ‘are fun and unusual, and capture an element of nostalgia’. As part of the awards, Amy travelled to Hong Kong, opening up conversations about how design can be used to really make significant change in an industry like fashion. We catch up with Amy, now based in Edinburgh, on her journey so far.
The Fashion Conversation: What inspired you to study a BA in Fashion and then a MA Sustainability in Fashion at ESMOD Berlin?
Amy Ward: I initially started studying fine art, and quickly moved into textiles. I really like the exploration of making things with your hands and I am really process driven which I think comes from my artistic side. Fashion for me was actually something I wanted to avoid, but I gradually began to realise that there was a social impact that comes with fashion, as well as exploring the concepts of identity. My MA really allowed for me to bring all of these elements together, and really helped me to find some meaning in the work I was producing.
TFC: How did you become interested in upcycling and repurposing fashion design specifically?
AW: Working with DIY techniques and experimenting with textile processes means that you never let anything go to waste! So long before I even thought about sustainable fashion I was trying to find ways to use all my leftovers and scraps. It also helps being a creative person with a pretty strict budget, you get used to altering and adjusting your own clothes, and those principals transfer across into your work. I really pushed these concepts further with my MA work, looking at how these techniques and ideas can really empower people and change what we perceive as fashion. As soon as you start to question the system of fashion you can’t really go back, because you realise there are some really awful things happening. Sustainable is the only way.
TFC: Your EcoChic Design Awards (the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition) entry used upcycling and repurposing techniques, including unraveling second hand knitted garments to reuse the yarn. Can you please tell us more about your experience as a finalist in the EcoChic Design Awards?
AW: The EcoChic Design Awards were an incredible experience, although making a 6 piece collection, finishing up my MA and moving country is not something I recommend to anyone! I think that the EcoChic group offer a really amazing opportunity for up and coming designers. It’s a lot of work but totally worth it to get to go out to Hong Kong, be part of fashion week there and to meet loads of incredibly inspiring people! I was so happy with my final collection, everyone always talks about the pompom playsuit!
TFC: Your CO:Knit collection focused on the areas of DIY, craft and community, with the final collection being based on open source patterns, and shared information about dyeing and embellishment. What were your inspirations behind your CO:Knit collection?
AW: CO:Knit is designed to be an expression, or example of what can be achieved by oneself, as opposed to being premeditated by another designer. It started with Lego actually. Not aesthetically, but the way that you can take blocks and add and build and create, to make something completely unique. I liked the idea of being able to give this kind of choice to others, to let them design and build their own clothing, so the concept grew from there. The “co” part of the project really comes from me trying to work in collaboration/co-operatively with other people – designers, the public – anyone really who wanted to try and make something for themselves.
TFC: How would you describe your design aesthetic? What sort of critiques have you received on your work and from whom?
AW: I like to think of my work as multi-sensory, it’s designed to be touched and played with. I also love colour and fun, playful clothes that can be adapted and edited for anyone. I also really like the idea of the look of the garments changing over time. I naturally dye a lot of the pieces, and gradually the colours change. The tassels, pompoms and textures change too. I think it’s nice to see a garment alter over time.
TFC: What are your future plans? And goals for the future?
AW: I’m really lucky at the moment to be working on a really exciting project in Edinburgh – working towards researching the impact that design has on education and teaching. I get to work with lots of very excited children, with lots of energy, talking to them about all the ideas they have for designing their own spaces and products and inventions, all to help them learn! It’s less about fashion but a lot about inspiring a new generation to think about the impacts of design, so I’m very excited to be working on that right now. I also have a new collection that I’m working on that I really hope I can release next year, so watch this space!
TFC: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
AW: Learning new things. It sounds a bit cheesy really but for me it’s so important to just keep on learning, about everything, not just design, but about people and places and everything I can.