declares London-based designer Paolo Carzana. It’s apt, given that when we catch up with him we’re backstage at the show that marks the culmination of the first ever Challenge the Fabric Award – a competition started by the Swedish Fashion Council to spotlight young sustainably minded designers.
For the show, each of the six designers – Harry Freegard, Brandon Wen, Christine Valtonen, Elena Velez, Anna Bernal, and Paolo Carzana – were tasked with creating looks in addition to their graduate collections that implemented viscose, a sustainable material created from wood pulp.
Backstage at the CTF Award 2018
Held during the SS19 womenswear shows at LFW, the debut CTF show was not just an opportunity to showcase upcoming talents, but also an opportunity to connect the burgeoning names with industry professionals in the form of a judging panel including Swedish designer Ann-Sofie Back, Diet Prada founders Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler, and RE-EDITION’s Jo Barker.
Paolo Carzana CTF Award finalist
For Carzana, this meant building on his collection entitled ‘Boy You Stole’, first presented at University of Westminster’s 2018 BA show in February. “It’s my idea of creating a utopia to fight the injustices in the world,” Carzana tells us of the inspiration. Like nomads travelling the world after the apocalypse, his models wore clothes that often dwarfed them – think trousers twice the width of the wearer, or patchworked shrouds that looked as if created from found materials on the models’ travels.
“The new pieces are extensions rather than interlude of the collection,” he tells us. “It’s where I am now, but with a more delicate take.” While not wholly familiar with working with viscose, Carzana wanted to make sure that the supplied fabric didn’t go to waste. “Within the pieces I knotted together all the scraps I gathered from working on them and used them as knitwear so there was zero waste,” the designer continues. As something not just important now, but “important all the time”, Carzana wants to continue honing his craft as he continues designing: “I really want to research and develop in terms of material, in terms of knowing my own impact in a much more scientific way. Now we’re all educated about sustainability, if you’re consciously deciding to ignore it, that’s a huge problem obviously.”
Harry Freegard CTF Award finalist
On the other end of the spectrum, recent Central Saint Martins graduate Harry Freegard couldn’t be any further from the stereotypical image you might conjure up when thinking about sustainable design. His campy offering, burst onto the runway while the Pet Shop Boys’ “Absolutely Fabulous” blasted out of the speakers. Led by a kitten heel-wearing Freegard on a gold scooter in a newspaper headpiece declaring “HARRY IS DEAD”, the collection was inspired by the hypothetical death of the designer himself. Elsewhere, models wore repurposed items (shoes as gloves, forks on eyepatches) and there was even a nod to Princess Diana via a skirt suit made out of shredded pieces of viscose safety pinned within an inch of its life.
“I love viscose, it’s my favourite fabric to work with,” Freegard jokes backstage, more seriously adding: “It's a really fun fabric to use and it dyes really easily. What's different though is that it's more eco-friendly and really gorgeous.” Like the rest of his peers, Freegard recognises the importance of opportunities of competitions like Challenge the Fabric. “It’s hard to make money in London as a creative,” he explains. “Winning would support the work and let me carry on as I am which would be incredible. Even if I don’t win, it’s been incredible just having the support and I feel so flattered to make it to the final.”
Brandon Wen CTF Award winner
Which leads us on to Challenge the Fabric’s first winner – Royal Academy of Antwerp graduate Brandon Wen. Describing his collection as “a moment of Spanish culture, but on a Cali beach,” Wen’s extravagant designs looked like they could be part of an ancient ceremony – often using natural materials like feathers and wood cuttings gathered by the designer himself.
Distancing himself from the “ugly” image that people associate with sustainable fashion, Wen wanted to “use wild materials and other kinds of things to bring a sort of things to really bring a ‘summer moment’.” Like Carzana, Wen also created zero waste with his collection and it’s something he urges all labels – large and small – to adopt. “You can’t do fashion and say that you’re sustainable,” he says. “It’s so wasteful.”
Fashion isn’t a completely lost cause though, and Wen hopes his win will kickstart the rest of the industry into paying more attention to sustainable causes – particularly since him and the other finalists have shown how it doesn’t have to mean the sacrifice of unadulterated creativity. “You can’t change the world in a day,” Wen concludes. “I just want to do my part for a better future – that’s the plan.”