Photography Nikolay Biryukov

5 of the world’s most exciting fashion graduates launch their first commercial collections

As MACHINE-A and VOID present The Graduate Project, its bright young design talents share their tips for the next generation of fashion students.

by Steve Salter
08 June 2018, 4:01pm

Photography Nikolay Biryukov

Sandwiched between a massage parlour and a hairdressers, 13 Brewer Street is a destination of discovery. Born from a desire to create a space that celebrates young talent, MACHINE-A not only sells the wares of talents large and small, emerging and established, it also nurtures them and grows with them. As founder and buying director Stavros Karelis searches for the most exciting designers each year, the Graduate Project is the first step in this process. “We have always looked to introduce the work of brilliant designers straight from their BA and MA final years and have worked with different collaborators to ensure we offer the strongest start possible,” Karelis explains. Two years before Grace Wales Bonner was awarded the LVMH Prize, founder and buying director Stavros Karelis sold pieces from her CSM BA collection. Today, five of last year’s best in class look to follow in Wales Bonner’s footsteps as MACHINE-A partners with 1 Granary’s VOID platform. Step forward Bianca Saunders, Eftychia Karamolegkou, Arnar Már Jónsson, T/Sehne and Camilla Damkjaer.

After the VOID exhibition toured London and New York to celebrate work of recent graduates from Parsons, Central Saint Martins, the Royal Academy of Antwerp and the Royal College of Art, Karelis worked with 1 Granary’s editor-in-chief Olya Kuryshchuk to select five graduates to take to the Copenhagen-based fashion fair CIFF. As they met global buyers for the first time, this was their introduction to the business of fashion. The next lesson sees MACHINE-A and VOID launch their debut collections in-store.

“In their very first formative years, brands are very ‘sensitive’ and circumstances can be extremely difficult in order to achieve long term stability,” Karelis explains. “If we as a store, alongside our network and community of creatives, can help them through these moments we can determine their future in a positive way. The sense of fulfilment is huge when these graduates become successful because you are part of it -- you are connected, you grow together, you are part of each other’s DNA and you form deep friendships as a result.”

“It’s hard to do this on your own,” Iceland-born, London-based RCA MA graduate Arnar Már Jónsson explains, “there are so many elements that you don’t learn until you run into them then It is great to be able to ask questions and get advice within a project like this.” From the freedom of creation to the reality of production and sales, these bright young things are still learning. “From pricing to line sheets, Stavros helped us with everything we needed to sell a collection, lessons you don’t really learn in college,” T/SEHNE’s Stephen Piel confirms, a graduate of Amsterdam Fashion Institute. “It’s like passing from the theory test to the real thing. With it brings excitement, responsibility, stress, contentment,” Santorini-raised, London-based CSM MA graduate Eftychia Karamolegkou explains. “It’s great to have a store that is willing to support young designers, as well as add guidance to the ‘buying’ process,” south London born-and-based RCA graduate Bianca Saunders adds. After spending six months learning about the realities behind the business, their first commercial collections are about to land in-store. To celebrate, MACHINE-A, VOID and SHOWstudio share the Nikolay Biryukov-shot, Derek Martin-set designed film that translates each of the five designers’ visions in one watch.

As we're in the midst of Graduate Fashion Week, if you’re reading this and daydreaming about following in these young designers' footsteps, Karelis and the five recent graduates share their insights and tips below:

“Make a list of what other jobs you would rather do and compare it to being a designer and running your own brand. Be honest with yourself and the work involved. If the answer is still yes, make a list of the reasons you want to have your own brand. Keep this list somewhere safe and read it every time you encounter difficulty and disappointment. This will be often. But if you work hard, you're determined, and you listen to advice from people you respect, you will see that difficulties are easier to deal with over time -- you become more resourceful and a better problem solver. If you are lucky enough to have both creative and business acumen, or know someone well that has the business strength you lack, make use of it. You cannot do everything and you shouldn’t. And don't hurry. Success takes time and along the way the concept of what success means will evolve and change in your mind. Make the most out of the process, never stop developing. And lastly, always smile and be kind.” Stavros Karelis

“Be vocal in what you want and what you want to achieve. There’s so much pressure on designers to create, but creating without purpose is not needed.” Bianca Saunders

“Keep going, evaluate what you are doing, and learn to reassure yourself. Trying to build something by yourself can be hard -- both emotionally as well as physically -- so it’s good to keep in mind that it’s part of the process and that most people in a similar situation are likely dealing with similar problems. And last but not least, learn from your mistakes.” Stephen Piel | T/SEHNE

“Be flexible, take everything that comes to you with an open mind and reschedule upon this.” Eftychia Karamolegkou

“Just do exactly what you feel is right for you. A collection should be a manifestation of you. Make sure you are designing for a reason not just for the sake of it.” Arnar Már Jónsson

“If I could change one thing about this industry it would be the fast pace it operates. I believe that the quality of the products in many ways become poorer. To be honest, after graduating I really needed a bit of time from fashion, and allowed myself to take it easy and not stress about finding a job or starting my own label. I think that was really important for me. So my advice is give yourself a bit of time.” Camilla Damkjaer

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