Interview With EFWA Upcycling Designer Lara Ireland (Sydney)

Share about the journey that led you to fashion design-

From an early age I have always been a creative person, my Father was a Painter and I began at an young age drawing, sketching, painting people. I had a fascination with dressing these figures up in outfits - Hair styles, clothing, jewellery, accessories, the whole lot - and I carried that right through from primary to high school. I suppose the decision to study fashion design was a natural one. For me there really was no other alternative, I knew I wanted to be designing and creating clothes from an early age.

I began sewing clothing during high school for myself, family members and friends - and even creating photo shoots of the looks with my tiny digital camera! I loved anything and everything creative! And fell in love with the thrill of seeing my friends and family actually wearing my clothing!

I know you trained at the Academy of Art University, but had also learned a lot on your own before you began this program. Talk about the highs and lows of studying fashion design. What did you find easy? What was a challenge?

A great deal of my skills as a designer were self taught. I think exploration is a big part of designing and for me in particular, using a lot of non-conventional materials (ie plastic bags, as a part of my graduate showcase) these were not particularly things that could be taught. I think coming from a small country town, resources were limited and so I used whatever I could get my hands on, plastic bags and all!

My 4 years of Study at the University of Technology Sydney were invaluable and my skills as a designer have come so far since beginning all those years ago. In particular, the technical aspects of design from pattern making, to construction, textiles development and sizing/fitting garments have been absolutely invaluable.

A great deal of my skills were picked up fairly easy, as I am a fast learner when I am passionate about what I am learning. I did however struggle with the more technical aspects of pattern making as a great deal of it required a mathematical mind, of which I have never seen as a strong suit of mine. In saying this however, this is perhaps the reason why my collections today are predominantly textile led and then applied directly onto the mannequin. I find that I construct my more successful garments when designed in a more three dimensional way on the body, rather than via a more traditional flat pattern, as I can see the relation of my fabrics directly on the body.

Who you are as a designer? Aesthetic? Customer? Brand etc? Do you create a new line each season, create custom work or both?

As it is still early days in my career I feel as though I am still constantly changing as a designer and exploring who it is that I am offering as a creative mind. I would however describe my aesthetic as quite raw and dynamic, with a focus on the tactile nature of my unique fabrications. I like to play upon the juxtaposition of both organic forms and geometric pattern - letting my textiles lead the direction of my collections, I often feel myself drawn to minimal colour palettes if any at all. I love the idea of restrictions within design, often playing with the idea of creating monochrome looks that really explore the texture of my garments rather than the colours.

I am still exploring who my customer is. I do know that they are of a similar mindset to myself, with an attitude for sustainability and a desire for something unique and different. I often look at Fashion as an Art form, and I do feel that my customer would feel the same. As my garments are of a more conceptual nature, and not exactly a ready-to-wear piece, my customer would have a desire for something uniquely their own and one-off.

Having said this, I feel that my Brand centres on a more custom made approach. Often creating unique looks for clients with a certain brief, rather than producing a new line each season.

I am so thrilled to have you a part of the EFWA Upcycling Challenge by Marilyn R Wilson. Have you ever upcycled used garments before? If so how?

During my second year at UNI wee were given an assignment to deconstruct a pair of men's trousers and create an upper body garment out of the salvaged fabric - in other words to upcycled the trousers into a completely new garment.

I remember at first being quite daunted by the challenge as this was my first experience in using a garment to create another. I ended up creating an origami inspired vest that had great success and thinking, wow I completely transformed a boring pair of pants into something incredible, and not to mention cost affective for a UNI student!

I never would have imagined the impact this assignment would have had on myself as a designer - Originally wanting to create ready-to-wear garments for young women, to all of a sudden graduating with a completely upcycled collection of garbage bags! Who would have thought!

Please share a little about your approach/inspiration your runway look for this international show? What can the audience expect?

The approach I took for my runway look was a natural one. For me, my designs are 100% influenced by the fabrication at hand, and the Men's Shirting offered such a wonderful texture once shredded and cut up that I really wanted to highlight the raw nature of the fabric. I found myself fascinated with the way the shirting frayed once torn, and the way the fine threads created this wonderful organic texture, in contrast to the quite plain tailoring of the original garment.

I began by familiarising myself with the shapes of the shirt, playing with the garment directly on my mannequin to see how I could translate this into a garment, what features I wanted to maintain, what features I wanted to change etc.

I then began cutting, fraying and shredding strips of the shirting to weave into a new fabric. Focusing on my signature colour palette of shades of white to grey, I wanted to really transform the shirt into something entirely new, yet still offering glimpses of its original state, a cuff here, a collar there, a few buttons etc.

The audience can definitely expect to be surprised, I feel as though transformation is a big part of upcycling, as is deconstruction, two aspects that are apparent within my design.

What would you most like the international fashion audience to know about you as a designer and your brand?

The most important aspect of myself as a designer, and thus my brand is the idea that Fashion Is Art. To me, the most fascinating part of design is the idea that I can use my skills to create garments that provoke though and discourse. Sustainability is an ever more pressing issue in today's society and what better way to use my Passion of Design to shed light on the mass wastage the fashion industry is promoting. Upcycling is such a fantastic way of reducing the impact waste is having, by utilising a discarded item to create something entirely new. I couldn't be more excited to take up the EFWA upcycling challenge, as it is such a fantastic way to make designers, and consumers alike think about the ways in which they produce, consume and dispose of Fashion.

What's next for you as a designer? What are your long term dreams?

The next challenge for me is to bridge the gap between my designs and the consumer. I still dream of having my own label, and providing customers with my own designs, yet I believe that a sustainable approach is the key. I would love to open up a market for one off couture pieces that have been created from sustainably sourced materials, for lovers of Eco fashion like myself.

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