The Irish artistic fashion house WE ARE ISLANDERS gave us the chance to ask some in-depth questions concerning their in-house practices. These are the answers I got back from designer Rosie O’Reilly. Enjoy the reading!
First of all, what defines an islander apart from being domiciled on an island?
Nice opener .. the story starts with the premise that we are all on an island – our globe hovers in a universal sea of other planetary activity and who knows what the universe floats in. We are all domiciled on islands and should always be looking outwards watching and anticipating what’s about to happen. Unfortunately the more common zeitgeist today is inward looking – very much focussed on the self. The consequences are obvious when you look at the environmental and social story of our time.
We Are Islanders is an ‘eco-lux art and contemporary fashion house’. How would you describe the relation of art and fashion in your work?
We’ve always believed that a fashion house can be a project bigger than the clothing it produces and communicate beyond just style and aesthetic. Clothing is the fabric of the day to day and a powerful tool for communicating stories.
Who do you create your products for?
The adventurer, the explorer, the global citizen the woman who wants to wear a garment that tells a story but cares about the environmental and social story of the time they are living.
What is the idea behind calling your collections a series of ‘Tidals I-IV’ and how do they develop?
The creative process behind We Are Islanders goes beyond just the design and production of clothes. We explore alternative media in art and culture which in turn inspires the stories behind each collection. Each collection has been a continuing exploration of the TIDAL series – exploring our relationship with our environment and how it shapes our identity. In september 2013 I designed and executed and articistic installation titled ‘4/704’. Using 3 dye vats which suspended fabric over natural dye, and used the buoyancy of the high tide to physically transfer the tidelines on to the fabric, thus creating what was termed ‘textural timelapse’. The installation was a comment on rising tides as a result of climate change, and was also an exercise to encourage people to look out. The print that was naturall achieved by the tide informed the first TIDAL collection, which we see as a continuing experiment and project. TIDAL V achieves Inimitable markings on organic cottons, bamboo silks, and Irish linens which are transferred from the staves of a traditional Irish wooden boat called a ‘currach’. The free-hand printing techniques respect the natural grain of the wood, breathing new life into an object that was once living.
The ‘Claiming harmony from chaos’ Tidal IV deals with constant change, that is beautifully expressed through intuitive, process-driven, thus unreproducible free-hand printing techniques. How came you chose colour dyeing and printing as your main artistic medium?
The craft of printing has allowed us to explore the possibility of merging art and fashion. Through the use of free-hand painting techniques we produce fabric lengths in limited edition runs that are completely unique – inspired by the hand of the artist rather than a computer programme or digital machine. Mark making is an immediate process grounded in the present by virtue that each mark is one of and no two prints are the same. While the process is simple, it takes discipline in preparation and application. It requires the painter to react to the dyes and colours rather than working from a technical plan has allowed us translate It’s about the present.. it’s not something that can be reproduced.
And what influences your design in finding the 3D form and shapes of your pieces?
Fabric and colour always comes first, then narrative pulls the shapes together. In the case of A/W 15 The Atlantean Irish informed the silhouette. This is the story of Irish people as sea farming nomads. The shapes remain strong while the clothes tell a story of movement.
You are stating the necessity as islanders to look outward. Yet, in result of your collections, you come back home and source materials and draw parts of your inspiration from Irish heritage. How would you explain this apparent ambivalent interdependence?
Looking outward for We Are Islanders means upholding a business model that is grounded in both environmental and social sustainability to ensure the longevity of the brand. Sourcing fabrics and production locally ticks these boxes allowing us to limit the carbon footprint of the product, control lead times and support the local economy.
Using Irish woven fabrics supports an indigenous industry that holds and provides immense cultural and social capital to the country. Unfortunately the wool used is imported, but we are working with various suppliers here to reintroduce Irish wool in the weaving supply chain in Ireland.
What was your reason to decide to work with organic salmon suede and where do you get it from?
We believe Upcycling as a design model is more efficient than Recycling whereby you add value to a product through a design change rather than breaking it down to remake it again into the same product. In the case of the salmon leather we use the fish skins which would typically be grounded down and turned into ‘meal’ but instead are tanned in Germany to create beautiful high quality products for the garment industry.
Our silks are bamboo and are sourced through a company in the UK that ensures tracability and certification.
What other fabrics and materials do you use?
We mainly use cottons, linens, bamboo silk and wools.
We work with reactive dyes transferred on to silk through a screen using seaweed gel. The process of hand paintimg through the screen means there is zero waste in dye. Everything is absorbed by the fabric. This is hugely rewarding after working in the silk screen industry where there was a huge amount of waste dye at the end of the process.
What happens to any kind of in-house produced waste and remnants?
Currently we are sampling accessories and shoes using waste from the pattern cutting process and are aiming to create some items through zero-waste pattern cutting in the next 12 months.
What kind of problems or difficulties do you face along the mainstream fashion industry processes and suppliers, that your company depends on?
The main issue we face right now is scale. We are a small brand in it’s 5th season, so our quantities when buying are low in comparison with larger brands. This pushes our purchasing price up which we absorb right now. We also uphold a better fashion manifesto that sources ethically; global demand for these products is making the supply chain more competitive but it is still a challenge when sourcing.
Well we head to London fashion Week next month, so the focus is on creating a great story for that showcase, but crucially making connections with buyers. I’ll be working towards a new installation to showcase at Dublin Fringe in 2016, so I will be back to the sketch book to explore the next narrative for the We Are Islanders design process.