‘Nets and rope were my textural escape’
The ocean provides a livelihood for a multitude of fishermen, sailors, crabbers, divers, and one menswear designer from Runcorn, Liverpool. Fashion design graduate Rebecca Hill draws on the uniform of seafarers as inspiration for her creatively simple collection ‘Knots’, which turns utilitarian into an aesthetic
Rebecca depicts the resilience of fishermen in an innovative collection of functional beauty. She revisits the traditional fishermen’s waterproofs, waders and knitwear, using recycled fishing nets, knots and lashed rope to create garments of unpretentious, simple practicality.
Rebecca Hill graduated from the University of South Wales. She tells us all about her final collection.
Rebecca, can you describe your work to us?
I specialise in menswear, especially activewear and outerwear. I try to create garments that are functional yet still aesthetically pleasing. I chose to base my graduate collection ‘Knots’ on fishermen, with my research relying heavily on the work of photographer and commercial fisherman Corey Arnold.
I created four outfits using a colour palette of brick oranges, yellows and a mixture of deep greens and blues. The garments are visually appealing whilst remaining functional at their core. The collection includes classic hand knitted Guernsey jumpers and waterproof coats in a recycled material made from old fishing nets. This resulted in an extremely high quality nylon fabric.
What were your goals for your graduate collection?
I wanted to challenge myself and create a collection based on a concept, approach and inspiration fresh to me. For one of my garments, I made a jacket entirely out of knots and lashing rope together. This jacket was based more on a concept than practicality, unlike my other garments that have functionality at their forefront.
Where do you first look to gain inspiration?
Whenever I begin a project, I look to photographers for my main source of inspiration. I usually focus on documentary photographers rather than fashion photographers, as I prefer to stay as far away from other designers’ work as I can. I want to create something raw – relying as much as possible on my own imagination.
What aspects of fishing did you particularly want to reflect in your clothes?
I created oversized coats, jackets and waders underlined by skinny fit trousers to represent strength and masculinity in my garments. Commercial fishing was named one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. I wanted my designs to reflect the force of the ocean, the strength of the men and the power of the ships.
What aspect of documentary photography particularly inspires you?
Documentary photography provides a window into someone’s life: something real and candid. I create clothes that would fit in to that environment; clothes that capture the atmosphere and emotion of those images. I briefly studied photography during my higher education; it is a practice I constantly draw inspiration from.
You mentioned earlier the work of Corey Arnold. In what way do his photographs inspire you?
Corey Arnold’s work is so rich in colour. It would be hard not to be inspired by his images. I drew my main concept from his work: a collection based on fishermen gear, particularly commercial fisherman. Whilst I wanted the collection to be interesting and textural, I also aimed to retain the functionality of a fisherman’s attire.
How did you translate this functionality into your designs?
The coats are waterproof and the Guernsey jumpers were created with a twist knit so they are weatherproof. The key garments I wanted to produce were the large waterproof coat, the wader and the jumper. I researched them extensively to understand their use and functionality; I aimed to interpret these garments whilst retaining their primary usefulness.
Where did you source the fabrics for your collection?
Whilst I was developing my collection, I emailed companies asking if they would sponsor me with any fabrics. I came across a brand called Ecoalf, based in Madrid. They take waste, such as plastic bottles and post-consumer coffee, and transform it into fabrics.
Ecoalf gave me a beautiful brick coloured waterproof material and the same fabric in a dark green. These are made from old fishing nets, which I made my coats with.
Once I saw the material, I knew exactly what to do with it. The colours and fabric were perfect for my large parka coat. The material itself inspired me all over again. The ethical aspect through the use of recycled fabric completed my collection, encapsulating everything I wanted it to.
Tell us about your creative process?
I usually surround myself with inspirational images, including photographs of textures, fabrics and colours; items that continuously inspire me to explore further. I create design boards and collate all my ideas before editing them down to the most exciting images worth developing. Once I’m at that stage I can begin to create toiles and experiment with the silhouette of a garment.
What do you find the hardest aspect of the design process?
The most difficult part is refining ideas and reining them all in after bombarding myself with so much research! When I delve deep into my inspiration, I never get bored with my theme. I never feel the need to take a break from it. I’m constantly finding new ways to improve my work or further incorporate my research into my designs.
So what was the best part of final year?
It was exciting to be bold with my designs, creating them completely from scratch and seeing the final result. Nets and rope were my textural escape, something that I could run away with and create something completely different. I had never seen a completely knotted jacket before, and I wanted to be the one to create it.
What are your most treasured memories from your fashion education?
The best bit about being at university is being surrounded by other creative people; people who you can talk to about your work and gain feedback. I got lucky: my tutors and classmates were incredibly supportive. I was exploring areas I had never thought to.
Before university, I hadn’t thought I would become a menswear designer but now I can’t see myself doing anything else. I couldn’t have had a better experience in fashion education.
How was the whole experience of creating your graduate collection?
This collection is the best thing I have done because it reinforced my desire to create my own activewear brand for men. I want to keep creating, in synch with trends, market development and other designers. I believe in my ideas and my ability to create something people will want.
What are your plans for the future?
In the next few months I will be creating a business plan whilst trying to gather as much experience as possible. I don’t want to go into the industry blind or naïve.
Finally, what advice would you give those considering higher education in fashion?
Get as much experience as possible; nothing will prepare you better for the real world. Other than being passionate about what you do and having the hunger to succeed, experiences in industry are one of the most important things. You need to really want it.
Rebecca Hill graduated with a First Class BA (Hons) in Fashion Design from the University of South Wales in July 2015 and is currently working as an assistant designer for an ethical brand named Know The Origin, which is going to be launched in mid January 2016.”Know The Origin” are all about creating a 100% transparent supply chain that can create beautiful, environmentally conscious clothes that add value and transform communities in Bangladesh.