Designer Spotlight: Suzanna James
Meet Suzanna James, a multi- award-winning knitted textiles and fashion designer working within the fields of environmental and ethical sustainability. Her graduate collection saw her chosen as one of Texprint’s Top 50 graduates of 2015 and awarded with the WSA and Peter Jensen Fashion Textiles Award.
Having won the Undergraduate Student Award from The Textiles Society, she was sponsored to complete her graduate collection within the strict ethical guidelines she had proposed. She was also awarded ‘Runner Up’ of the David Band Textiles Award at Graduate Fashion Week 2015.
In 2016, she was chosen to exhibit as part of the prestigious ‘destination zone’ of ‘One Year On’ at New Designers 2016, where she showcased her new capsule collection.Her graduate collection collection was also selected to exhibit at Spinexpo Shanghai in February, and she has been selected to exhibit at the 10th anniversary show of ‘Handmade in Britain’ at Chelsea Old Town Hall in November.
Tell us more about you?
My name is Suzanna James and I am an environmentally and ethically sustainable knitwear designer, I launched my brand after the success of my autumn/winter 15 collection entitled ‘The Great Outdoorman’, a capsule collection of ethical knitwear, made with Fairtrade yarns and focussing on British wool, it was inspired by scandinavian and russian landscapes, along with the knitwear traditions of those regions. My work is about celebrating the great outdoors, both through inspiration and material integrity. The collection had a fantastic response and I started selling small pieces before beginning to exhibit at design shows this year where my brand has started to develop.
What does ethical/sustainable mean to you ?
Ethical and sustainable means fashion that is actively improving the current environment, for workers, crops, animal welfare, and the great outdoors, rather than harming them.
What has been the most rewarding since you launched?
I’ve been noticing a renaissance of appreciation for handmade textiles, I think it’s been building over recent years and it’s having a lot of success at the moment, which is so rewarding for me, and I know this is the case for many textiles makers that I know, that’s it feels as though our skills and work are being appreciated and there’s an interest by a larger market in textiles that is slow to make, and lasts for a long time, so that is definitely really rewarding.
What is the inspiration behind your designs and/or materials?
I always choose materials that are ethically sourced, whether that means Fairtrade, organic, ecologically positive, or British grown, they’re always natural fibres. I’m often drawn to materials that go with my current inspiration as well, like Icelandic wool and Peruvian Fairtrade alpaca, for my recent collection inspired by my travels to Iceland, and my upcoming project in Peru. My inspiration always comes from the great outdoors, normally from a specific landscape or area and the textiles that have come from that place traditionally. My new range inspired by horizon lines in Iceland has been really popular.
What do you think the biggest issue in fashion is at the moment – or what are you most passionate about?
I’m most passionate about trying to ‘convert’ people to the ethical fashion cause, in the most quiet but meaningful way possible, I don’t believe in billboards and shock advertising. I find with something that’s niche like ethical knitwear, it’s a personal story that turns heads and starts to make a small difference. I just like to explain why I do what I do and try to get across to people who don’t know a lot about why it’s important, fashion is the third most lucrative industry in the world, so the amount of people it affects on a daily basis, in a negative way at the moment is a scary total. I just want to see that change permanently, and I want that now.
What’s the future for the brand?
I’m working on a few commissions at the moment which is always interesting as it’s usually way outside of my comfort zone and involves a lot of problem solving, as well as that I’m creating a new range of knitted accessories to show at Handmade in Britain in November and co-founding a textiles collective with a group of textile designer-makers I’ve exhibited with recently. I’m also working on a new idea, of printed shirts and accessories designed from my knitwear stitch illustrations which I’m really excited about, it’s going to be a range that’s a bit more accessible for everyone, which is really important, as ethical fashion is not something just for the elite. This affects every person wearing clothes right now, so I’m selecting organic cottons at the moment to get started with that! Autumn is knitwear’s busiest season so there’s never a dull moment!
Read more about Suzanna on her website