When Amelia approached us to ask if we wanted to collaborate on a series of silk scarves inspired by the seasons, we knew very little about the process of small batch production in the fashion industry. Since then we have embarked upon a journey learning about the difficulty in the traceability of silk, about the challenges of trying to make ethical choices in manufacture and about what it means to really be committed to slow fashion, deliberately steering away from mass production.
Darn doesn't follow the traditional design calendar, instead Amelia releases collections in short runs to highlight how they are created for life and not just for a brief moment in time, and we are excited to be involved in her next limited edition. With samples currently being made, we spoke to her about her creative upbringing, the effect nature has on her, and her questioning of the meaningfulness of the products she brings into into the world.
FIRST AND FOREMOST, CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY INTO DESIGN AND WHERE THE DARN CONCEPT STEMMED FROM?
My mum is a freelance textile designer so I have been raised head to toe in fabric - I pretty much came out as a quilt! With her amazing eye for textiles, me and my five siblings were surrounded by all sorts of vintage goodies growing up, which I think has guided us all into becoming creative in our own ways. Our first shopping experiences would involve cycling at 6am in the pitch black to antique and second hand markets, buzzing to see what goodies lay ahead which we would hunt using a torch to just about make out what they were. My family is very supportive of one another and our individual creative talents; whether it’s music, print design, beauty or media. It feels like my own exclusive club which has always been very supportive, especially since I have been setting up my own company solo.
DARN developed from my BA (Hons) Fashion Design final collection at Falmouth University in Cornwall which I created from the vintage materials I had collected from a young age - they were literally waiting for their day to come and I always knew they would come in handy. The name DARN comes from memories of moths eating my clothes, so I included laser cut hole patterns and sourced really beautiful darned fabric - it was a f**k you to the moths! It wasn’t until three years later when I was designing for different fashion houses in London that I wanted to investigate the idea of my own brand further, considering what I aimed to establish and the ideas I felt were worth putting out into the world, rather than more things.
WE ARE HUGE ADMIRERS OF YOUR ETHOS AND ADVOCACY OF ‘SLOW DESIGN’, MOST ESPECIALLY YOUR COMMITMENT TO MINIMISING WASTE THROUGH LIMITED EDITION RUNS AS WELL AS USING LOCALLY SOURCED MATERIALS - TELL US ABOUT THIS PROCESS, WAS THIS SOMETHING YOU SET OUT TO DO RIGHT FROM THE START?
I have always hated waste, especially as someone who is particularly fond of beautiful vintage fabrics. Overlooking anything feels inhumane and my mum would kill me to throw away even a little fabric swatch or accidentally hoover one up! The smallest pieces have the potential to be something or inspire you in some way - there are so many possibilities.
Initially, I did want to go corporate and be a big fashion designer. I’ve been attending and working at London Fashion Week since I was 13 years old so I LOVE catwalks and wanted to plan big presentations of my designs with food, music and people - the whole shebang. Nowadays in a way I am doing those things, but with a more humble approach. I love organising supper clubs and am planning DARN events for the summer; I love people and I want to share my appreciation for all of the things I admire with others.
As for the DARN production process, I value being able to make strong, loyal relationships with the factories I work with, from the small printers in the South of England who translate my designs to fabric, to my team of hand knitters based in Wales, Hertfordshire and Surrey. It is a very small setup at the moment which will expand in time but with the same core essence and values remaining firmly in place. It isn’t always easy to expand your offering and find manufacturers to work with who share the same beliefs, but I think with the current much needed movement within the industry for more considered, traceable design means this will become easier in time.
WHERE DO YOU TAKE MOST INSPIRATION FROM? WE’VE NOTICED SO MANY OF YOUR SILK SCARF DESIGNS FEATURE FLOWERS, WHICH WE LOVE! DO YOU FEEL DRAWN TO FLOWERS IN PARTICULAR OR IS THIS JUST A COINCIDENCE DO YOU THINK…
I do really like flowers and I tried not to draw them for a short while during my Masters Degree at the RCA. I thought maybe it was time I explored a new theme, but I quite quickly found that I just love them so much and am better off sticking to celebrating that! I watched the film The Secret Garden as a child and I am sure subconsciously it is always inspiring me somehow. It all ties in with my photography too - flowers and the countryside are both big yeses to me. Nature and flowers are what drives me, so I’m going with it and seeing where it takes me.
HOW DOES THE DESIGN PROCESS MAKE YOU FEEL? HAS IT IMPACTED THE WAY YOU RELATE TO OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE?
For sure, and now that I live in Cornwall where rent is cheaper than London and I can breathe more, I don’t have to take on so many corporate jobs which never left me time to figure out what DARN is. Time is so precious, and being here gives me more of it to evolve. Rushing something in an evening never works and you can tell if it has been done this way. It is nice to have the time to think in between designs and not feel such pressure, or as though I’m releasing something for the sake of it.
I would have probably bought cheaper more synthetic clothes in my youth, whilst also wearing my mums vintage collection, but when you have to make things yourself and learn about fabrics as you see the process of something being created, you develop a great appreciation for the time it takes. Also, once you know this, there is an ongoing reevaluation into other areas of your life where you question what you are buying and why.
ONE OF THE MAIN MOTIVATIONS BEHIND SSAW IS TO TRY AND HELP IMPROVE THE CURRENTLY VERY LIMITED UNDERSTANDING OF, AND TRANSPARENCY IN SUPPLY CHAINS IN THE FOOD & FLORICULTURE INDUSTRY. WE LOVE THAT THIS IS SOMETHING YOU TAKE SERIOUSLY TOO - WHAT DOES YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN MEAN TO YOU AND HOW DOES IT RELATE TO DARN AND YOUR DESIGNS?
I choose the factories that I do because I am able to create a working relationship with them; I know about them, I know what they look like, I am able to drive to visit them and they offer small minimums. I am grateful to be currently working with smaller scale manufacturers who allow me the flexibility which means I am able to keep new designs in select fabrics coming.
I personally think that the government should offer a special award or some sort of financial relief to factories who offer small minimums and are able to help independent start up businesses. Especially now with Brexit, I hoped that it would encourage production closer to home and for people to do more but without the need for large initial orders. I would like to do a lot of other things with different fabrics and products, but until I have built DARN up further I can’t because the minimums of the suitable factories are so high.
WE ARE HUGE ADVOCATES OF THE NEED TO APPRECIATE AND BE CONSIDERATE OF THE PROCESS AND TIME INVOLVED IN MAKING AND CREATING. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS MOST IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT YOUR PROCESS AS A DESIGNER?
For me the biggest thing for others to understand is that it is just me and DARN isn’t a corporate company, which is what I am competing against in the way of being seen and visible online. Having a website and Instagram is great, but you always have to seem bigger and more established than you are, which is a lot of work for one person to achieve.
It can be hard to keep up whilst also being true to yourself and transparent. For customers to gain trust, you have to be able to deliver everything from high quality photography to regular, engaging content and professional customer service
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED OUT, AND ANYTHING YOU MAY HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY IF YOU COULD TURN BACK TIME?
Hell no...although maybe I should answer this question in ten years time! I am really trusting my gut to take it slow as I develop a story and have new designs introduced. Whatever the company makes goes back into production and with this I try and enjoy it, not rush and keep doing what I enjoy. DARN is opening up to me one day at a time we are still working each other out, let’s just say we are still in our honeymoon stage.
AND FINALLY, HOW HAVE YOU HAD TO ADAPT YOUR BUSINESS THROUGHOUT THE PANDEMIC, HAVE THERE BEEN ANY SILVER LININGS?
Yes, it got me to move to Cornwall finally after six years of questioning. My heart was here but my brain was in London. During the pandemic I have watched all of my freelance work disappear and professional relationships go silent, so it was time for me to rely on myself and get things going. I have reevaluated what I want in life and it was about time I took a big step towards this. At the end of the day, no one can help you but yourself. I am now lucky enough to be working in a studio space that I could never afford in London and I have the time to sit with ideas.
I am still using everything I learnt from my studies and this really ties in with the focus of what I produce being timeless; I create things with the idea of them being passed between generations, mended with love when they tear and something that is cherished throughout time.
HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY CHANGE IN YOUR WAYS OF WORKING SINCE MOVING TO CORNWALL, DO YOU FEEL IT’S AFFECTED YOUR OUTLOOK AND APPROACH TO YOUR CREATIONS?
It has allowed me the head space to take a step back. I was very much in the rat race in London which meant I was always looking for the next job and worried about rent etc, so it is nice to have that weight off my shoulders now and finally I can give time to the things that I really love, such as art direction and getting DARN up in the air. It is very special to be a part of the Cornish supportive crew and it feels like we are doing it for each other - like a high five gang ‘go you! No, go you!’ sort of thing. There is no ego or nasties, just collective support.