we are fashion east: these designers show we’re stronger together
As filmmaker Saskia Dixie invites us behind the scenes, the Fashion East family of designers tells us why initiatives that support emerging talent are more important now than ever.
As the pages of our Family Values Issue explore, times may be tough, but we're tougher when we're together. Now is the time for tight-knit families, teams, tribes, and collectives. Fashion East is all of these and more. It's the wonderful web that holds the next generation of designers in place and the support network that turns promise into progress.
"This political climate together with student debt is pretty bloody depressing, but I'm not good at sitting around over-thinking," Lulu Kennedy MBE, Fashion East Founder and Director, muses over email. "At Fashion East, we just get on and do the best show we can for the kids and make sure we have fun while we do it." It's this spirit that sets London Fashion Week apart. "London designers have this crazy, counter-intuitive flair for doing brilliant things in bad times," Sarah Mower MBE, British Fashion Council Ambassador for Emerging Talent, noted in a recent i-D feature. Of course she's right. Against the backdrop of the financial crisis of 2007, Erdem, Mary Katrantzou, and J.W.Anderson were establishing themselves on the international stage thanks to the support of talent nurturers like Fashion East and NewGen. However dazzling, sheer talent alone is not enough.
Blessed with an eye as sharp as a razor, Lulu is the next generation's fashion fairy godmother. With her team at her side, the curly-haired, crystal-eyed creative believer and enabler has found and nurtured some of the industry's biggest talents through Fashion East, her pioneering non-profit initiative established with the Old Truman Brewery in 2000. Thanks to sponsorship funding from Topshop, TOPMAN, and The Greater London Authority, Fashion East navigates its bright young things through the difficult early stages of their careers. As part of the scheme, the chosen few receive a grant, a fully produced runway show, and are taken to Paris to hold sales appointments with international stores. Seventeen years on and each new class of dreamers and doers all aim to follow in the footsteps of acclaimed alumni including Jonathan Saunders, Simone Rocha, Claire Barrow, Ashley Williams and co.
"There are new career and money opportunities if designers can be clever and adapt," Lulu adds. "The new breed of designers are polymaths — stylists, art directors, filmmakers, DJs, and selling to their social media followers direct." As the industry landscape shifts, Fashion East evolves with it. "We are focused on how we can help designers move forward as businesses. Everyone is thinking smarter and performing harder to survive."
The latest crop striving to go harder, better, faster, and stronger for fall/winter 17 and beyond included familiar favorites Matty Bovan and Mimi Wade and two newcomers, RCA grad Supriya Lele and CSM grad A Sai Ta (ASAI). As we exclusively share Saskia Dixie's behind-the-scenes film, the Fashion East family talk us through the thrills of fall/winter 17 and what life is like for a young creative finding her way in 2017.
How does it feel to be part of the Fashion East family?
Matty Bovan: It's been great to show with Fashion East as we have that sense of community and we are all actually friends and it's very supportive.
Mimi Wade: Incredible, Fashion East has been such a tremendous support.
Asai: It feels like being picked up from Battersea Dogs Home to be part of a new, warm, and excited family. It's not just for Christmas, it's for life.
How has the Fashion East family helped your fashion dreams become a reality? And specifically for fall/winter 17?
Matty Bovan: To be able to have creative control and that belief in us as designers is amazing — also having that amazing Topshop venue at Tate Modern was just incredible.
Mimi Wade: Fashion East has given me the support, encouragement, and invaluable guidance to help get my business off the ground. This season, having the opportunity to show my collection on the catwalk at the Tate, one of my favorite places in the whole of London, was a total dream come true.
Asai: Showing at The Tate Modern Tanks was a major dream satisfying the little hopes of being an artist in me. I got to combine all my desires in one. Having my own takeaway (well, the press release at least) and a fashion show — it was a culmination of such early memories and desires. Being really supportive and encouraging of ideas and being upfront and giving me a dose of reality.
Supriya Lele: Fashion East has been amazing — without it I wouldn't have been able to collate all the elements together to put on my first presentation. I'm really lucky to have had the support and mentoring from them, they have such a wealth of knowledge — it's really great for when you're first starting out.
How will you remember fall/winter 17?
Lulu Kennedy: The season we won. The designers delighted and slayed. Their messages resonated deep. There were tears.
Matty Bovan: I enjoyed this collection so much. I always have such mixed emotions backstage — super highs and super lows. It's always manic, but always the amazing moment of seeing what you create come to fruition.
Mimi Wade: As a very joyful and triumphant end to a fantastic three seasons with Fashion East.
Asai: Having Mutya Buena's track "Real Girl" as the finale, and us having a DM moment after. Having my little sister and brother put their skills to work backstage was a tearful moment; they know from day one how much I've wanted it. I was pinching myself.
Supriya Lele: As the time I had my first presentation at LFW in the Tate — how cool is that?
Finish this sentence: Backstage is where...
Matty Bovan: The best and worst things happen in seconds!
Mimi Wade: You eat crisps for breakfast.
Asai: The shit goes down.
Supriya Lele: The madness is!
What's the best thing about being a young creative in London (and York for Matty) in 2017? And the worst?
Lulu Kennedy: The best thing has always been the inspiring culture, open attitude, nightlife, the schools, and the support schemes. And the worst? The cost of living is insane.
Matty Bovan: Being young and creative for me in York and London is great as I get the best of both worlds. The only downside is that I don't get to see my friends that much as I'm always crazy busy. I feel like people are being creative because they enjoy it now more than ever, which I agree with wholeheartedly.
Mimi Wade: The best thing is that you are in good company! There is so much creativity in London and so many people to collaborate with! The worst thing is that the cost of living is enormously high.
Asai: I discover new places all the time to catch the vibe... There's always surprises with people and scenarios, discovering similarities in people's needs and views, as opposed to focusing on differences. It's bigger than you think, and it's great exploring beyond your ends.
Supriya Lele: London is such a vibrant city — there is so much support for young creatives, and loads of incentives and programs that can offer mentorship. The worst has to be how expensive the city is... it's hard to be a young designer and support yourself.
What more can be done to ensure creativity thrives tomorrow and beyond?
Lulu Kennedy: Subsidised rent and factories willing to produce small quantities.
Matty Bovan: Really that we have individuals with their own point of view and not have everything run by these huge corporations, so that London (and other cities) doesn't get eaten up by them.
Mimi Wade: Initiatives like Fashion East and NewGen, more funding and scholarships for art students.
Asai: Allowing the freedom to create — purely wanting to make something with your hands. Taking away the pressure of having to contextualize, or justify it to people. I don't truly understand something until it's materialized, and it takes time. Just having more appreciation, respect, and awareness for each other's output.
Supriya Lele: I would say more support schemes for young creatives that offer grants/mentorship.... It's one of the best ways of supporting young creatives.
Finally, what excites you about tomorrow?
Lulu Kennedy: The designers! Our pride and joy <3
Matty Bovan: I'm excited for the impossible, the positive, being your own person, maintaining more control and enjoying the process.
Mimi Wade: Researching for next season!
Asai: Being closer to the end.
Supriya Lele: The unknown!
Text Steve Salter
Film Saskia Dixie
Photography Lily Bertrand-Webb