6 Mar 2016

Emerging designers and the changing face of fashion

From Standing Room Only, 1:45 pm on 6 March 2016
Collection by Shanghai-based designer, Chen Yi.

Collection by Shanghai-based designer, Chen Yi. Photo: Image supplied.

Fashion is reflection of our times, and today manufacturers work at breakneck speed to keep up with the demand of high street retail stores to ensure that the latest offerings from the runway are made readily available on the racks.

But for emerging designers around the world, the fast and furious pace of the fashion industry isn’t necessarily the end game that they’re looking for when it comes to their future in the fashion industry.

Twenty six-year-old Te Puke-born and now Hawkes Bay-based designer, Steve Hall, took out the prestigious award for Emerging International Designer at last year’s iD Fashion Week, followed swiftly by success at New Zealand Fashion Week where he won the Miromoda Supreme Award.  But despite the accolades, he hasn’t given over to the temptation of moving too quickly to make things happen. 

Steve Hall (right), winner of 2015 iD International Emerging Designer Award.

Steve Hall (right), winner of 2015 iD International Emerging Designer Award. Photo: Image supplied

“I’ve got a little studio where I work full-time and live. It’s a pretty basic set-up [with two industrial sewing machines] but I make it work. I haven’t tried to rush or invest in a big studio and I’m taking my career in fashion quite slow. Everyone’s different, but it seems to be working.”  

Hall cites Zambesi and Nom*D as local designers that inspire him, while Comme Des Garçon, Craig Green and JW Anderson are among the international names that he looks up to.

He has plans to move to London after showing his monk and geisha-inspired collection at this year’s iD Fashion Week.

“I want to work for a few of the bigger designers that I really like to see how they operate, and then when I’m ready to continue my own label I’ll see how I want to operate as a designer,” says Hall.  

Chen Yi is a finalist in the iD International Emerging Design category at this year’s event. She hails from Shanghai and has her sights set on running her own studio in the not-too-distant future. The idea is more feasible now, given that the fashion market in China has changed.

“Independent original designers are becoming more and more popular in Shanghai,” says the designer who is still working towards her final graduation project.

In her submission for iD, she takes direct inspiration from traditional Shanghai Jinshan farmer paintings: “It is a kind of civil artistic expression in Shanghai. The striking contrast of the colour in the paints motivate my imagination, so I put the brush strokes, graffiti and casual leaf traces in the collection.”

Yousef Akbar is a TAFE graduate whose collection, ‘Blood Witness’, is a deconstruction of classic silhouettes where he combines elegant draping, intricate hand-beading and armour-like statement pieces.

Australian-based designer Yousef Akbar says his collection gives women a voice, image supplied.

Australian-based designer Yousef Akbar says his collection gives women a voice. Photo: Image supplied

Growing up in the Middle East, the Australian-based designer says witnessing the oppression of women by men, made a lasting impact.

“All my work comes from some sort of emotion [or] some sort of frustration that I need to express.” 

“The starting point for this collection was that there are so many tragedies in the world around us today. I wanted to dedicate this collection to all the women of this world—the silent women fighting their own battles.”

Akbar’s work is undoubtedly beautiful, yet he feels it would be nothing without a message behind it.

“I hope that I evoke some emotion, to raise awareness that there are many other humans suffering because of the greed of others and hunger for power. Most of these victims are women and children [and] this is simply my way to share my feelings and thoughts about it.”

Sara Munro, creative director of New Zealand label Company of Strangers, says the calibre of talent was extremely high this year.

“I always look for the most original ideas and how well they’re executed. You’re really looking for that wow factor [and] people that are pushing boundaries [who] you think are going to go far.”

Munro says the competition really allows designers to let their imaginations go and to create the kind of garments that one would never design for retail.

In previous years, changes in technology have led designers towards digital printing and laser cutting, but she says this year the strong emphasis and theme that came through was focussed on ethical practice.

“People are really thinking about the fabrics they’re using, how they’re going to be made and where, and the effect on our world,  it’s something that fashion really needs to think about especially in the fast fashion culture that we have at the moment.”

Sustainability and the concept of slow fashion has been the focus for emerging designer platform, Not Just a Label, founded by London-based Stefan Siegel in 2008.  

Siegel will be coming to New Zealand to judge the finals of the iD International Emerging Designer Awards and knows a thing or two about working with new talent.

Stefan Siegel, founder of Not Just a Label.

Stefan Siegel, founder of Not Just a Label. Photo: Image Supplied

“Sustainability and fashion is an oxymoron, but what we’re trying to do is create a new system for fashion where we can decelerate the process, the seasons, and even go back and allow the designers to survive by having smaller collections or small production scales.”

His website hosts fashion talent from around the world and they encourage their stable of designers to look towards adopting zero waste policies and investigating their supply chains to guarantee ethical practices.

But ultimately, Siegel looks for designers who have an ability to translate a story into their garments and those whose work speaks of their backgrounds or locations are often the most successful on the platform.

“On our consulting side we deal with some of the biggest corporations in the world and at the same time we’re on the phone with someone who  is based in a country that finds itself in political turmoil, [yet] they stick to being creative and creating beautiful art or wearables.”

Siegel says the fashion landscape has changed dramatically, no longer dictating that designers base themselves in the bigger fashion capitals of Paris, New York and Milan. Instead they have the freedom to work from their location of choice without it having a detrimental effect on their growth in the industry.

“Fashion is so interesting because you find yourself at the limits of a very artistic industry, but at the same time it is the world’s biggest industry [and a] hugely commercial environment. Our mission is to open up this world of young artists who desperately want to express themselves via fashion and it’s our responsibility to make their voices heard.”

Listen to the audio story where Sonia Sly speaks to Steve Hall, Sara Munro and Stefan Siegel about the voices that are changing the face of the fashion industry.