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Backstage at Challenge the Fabric Award 2018Photography Shaun James Cox

Three designers proving you can be creative but still sustainably minded

The Swedish Fashion Council’s Challenge the Fabric Award gave six designers from around the world a chance to win €30,000

More and more young designers are realising the terrible impact the fashion industry has on the environment, and, more importantly, they want to do something about it. Take, for example, Kevin Germanier and Patrick McDowell – two upcoming names paving the way with their sustainable designs.

In celebration of those demonstrating not only their creativity, but also the mindful way they approach design, the Swedish Fashion Council launched a new competition called Challenge the Fabric. Each of the students involved was tasked with implementing viscose – a biomaterial processed from wood – into their collections, which they later presented on the runway in London.

Choosing six finalists from schools all over the world, the lucky few included: Christine Valtonen from Aalto University, Anna Bernal from ArtEz in the Netherlands, Elena Velez from Parsons, Brandon Wen from Royal Academy of Arts, Antwerp, Paolo Carzana from Westminster, and Central Saint Martins’ Harry Freegard.

Among the panel of esteemed fashion experts were Swedish designer Ann-Sofie Back, The Gentlewoman’s editor-in-chief Penny Martin, and the duo behind fashion’s unofficial watchdog, Diet Prada’s Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler.

“This is the first international fashion award launched by the Swedish Fashion Council,” said the council’s CEO Jennie Rosén. “We’re connecting young creatives with the industry and across disciplines to create awareness and push limits to improve the fashion industry in the long run.

Here, we speak to three of the competing designers about their collections and the importance of sustainability.

HARRY FREEGARD

The Central Saint Martins’ enfant terrible first scooted into our lives at the school’s BA show in June. While you might not connote Freegard’s work with sustainability – “I love viscose, it’s my favourite fabric to work with,” he jokes backstage – the handmade nature of his collection goes against the fast-paced machine of the industry. In fact, without a studio space, the designer created most of this collection in a tiny cupboard in his flat – “I'm like Harry Potter, living in a cupboard,” he says, laughing.

Bringing the same camp energy that permeated his BA show to the competition, new pieces included a nod to Princess Diana via a skirt suit made shredded pieces of viscose. “It's a really fun fabric to use. It dyes really easily. What's different is that it's more eco-friendly and it's really gorgeous,” he explains. And yes, he was on the scooter again. “It's really fun, but the runway is really fucked. Imagine if I go flying – that will be a moment,” he says. He did in the end, losing a kitten heel in the process before the Absolutely Fabulous soundtrack blasted out of speakers.

@harrie.bradshaw

PAOLO CARZANA

Westminster graduate Paolo Carzana learnt about himself from the time he presented his final collection, to the one created for CTF. The overarching message was the same though: “My idea of creating a utopia to fight the injustices in the world,” he tells us. “It’s a more delicate take though, the new pieces are extensions of the originals.” This manifested in extremely oversized shirts, jackets, and trousers, worn by models who trudged along like nomads in a post-apocalyptic world – carrying everything they own on their backs.

Pushing sustainability even further – “it’s something we can no longer ignore,” he says – Carzana wanted to create zero waste with the viscose provided. “Within the pieces I knotted together all the scraps I gathered while working on the collection and used them as knitwear,” he explains. Like his fellow finalists, Carzana notes the importance of competitions like CTF. “Now we’re more educated about sustainability, if you’re consciously choosing to ignore it, it’s a problem,” he says. “I really want to continue researching and developing my own impact in a more scientific way. We have to look after the world.”

@farfallapaolino

BRANDON WEN

It’s impossible to miss Brandon Wen’s designs. Even if you ignore the plumes of feathers that sprout from some, the size of them alone is overwhelming enough. Taking inspiration from the mash-up of summers spent in Los Angeles (Wen’s hometown) and his grandma’s house in Spain, the designer described the collection as “a moment of Spanish culture, but on a Cali beach.” That manifested in the form of mixed brocade fabrics, and extravagant headpieces paired with materials gathered by the designer himself. 

And gigantic tiered skirt created from grass cut by the designer himself. Employing natural materials in his design process is something Wen feels strongly about, recognising that everyone working in fashion can be more sustainable in their design process. “Fashion has become abundantly wasteful,” he explains. “I’m a millennial and I recognise it’s horribly wasteful and I feel guilty about it, but we all should be aware of these things.” Not only captivating the audiences with his eye-catching designs, Wen also won over the judges too – taking home the prize and first ever Challenge the Fabric title. Prepare to see a lot more from him.

@brandylaa