‘It’s high time designers return to domestic garment production.’
Rimsha Shahid’s final collection mixes 70s and 80s sport casual aesthetics, the best of British fabrics and the colour palettes of Pakistani truck art. Combining modernity and tradition in a collision of cultural influences, Rimsha interweaves sources of inspiration from her birth country Pakistan with materials found in the British Isles. She describes her menswear line ‘Folk Casuals’ as a “visual hybrid of ideas”.
Indulging in textile research amidst the “whirlwind” of the Fashion BA final year, Rimsha has begun to fashion her identity as a new designer. With a strong focus on textile design, Rimsha’s final collection surpassed even her own expectations.
Having now graduated with Fashion Design BA from Manchester School of Art, Rimsha Shahid talks to Modeconnect.
So Rimsha, can you describe your collection to us?
My collection is the result of a textile-led approach to luxury menswear. It incorporates iconic 70s and 80s sportswear silhouettes with decorative and textural folk-inspired detailing; it is a hybrid of cultural influences. I drew my inspiration from Pakistani truck art, which shows through my woven fabric. I worked in collaboration with a third-year textile weave student Jennifer Phillips. Both offering our different areas of expertise to the process, we started by sharing visual imagery and sampling ideas.
I combined an interdisciplinary approach to surface textiles; the result was a vibrant mix of patterns and textures combined with a contemporary interpretation of classic sportswear silhouettes.
What was the desired outcome for your final collection?
Your graduate collection is what you take with you when you enter the industry. It is a chance to establish your identity as a designer; to showcase your own interests above market trends. My interest lies in surface textiles and a decorative approach to contemporary menswear.
My final collection was an opportunity to indulge in all the textile processes I hadn’t yet explored. It was also a chance to push myself creatively. The aim was to emerge at the end with a project surpassing anything I had previously attempted. My practice will no doubt continue to evolve and change, but this collection serves as a statement of intent for my career.
How have people reacted to your work?
Colour is a key element in my designs; it seems to be what people are initially drawn to. In the past I’ve shied away from working with colour, so my goal for this collection was to produce something lively and bold. The fabrics also evoke a tactile response; most people are interested in the feel of the knit or woven fabric.
What was the inspiration for your collection?
My Pakistani background has directly influenced my collection. On my last visit to Pakistan, I found old photographs of my Dad as a young man from the 70s and 80s. I’m accustomed to his uniform of beige trousers and neutral jumpers but in the photographs he wears stylish western clothing. He was once so fashionable! The current representations of Pakistan are that the country is closed off and unwelcoming of any modern or western influence – it was quite the opposite 30 years ago.
I’ve always been interested in ‘cultural collision’ and the dynamic between modernity and tradition. I see this dynamic in the photographs of my Dad. It is also at play in Pakistani truck art; a modern vehicle is transformed into a roadworthy work of folk art.
What resources do you use to research your inspiration?
As my work concerns people and cultures, I refer to documentary photographers and photojournalists. The stunning visuals in the book ‘On Wings of Diesel’ by Jamal J. Elias displays the cultural significance of the truck art. My university’s library also provides access to both past and current exhibition catalogues and journals. This is where I’ve found my most original research material.
I found the catalogue for the exhibition ‘No Such Thing As Society’; a collection of British photography from the 60s to the 80s.
I compared the garment silhouettes from my Dad’s photographs to clothes popular in Britain during the same era. These references sparked my interest in combining western dress with traditional Pakistani designs.
And what resources did you use for your collection?
For me a project always begins with textile sampling and research. This is where I feel at ease and at my most creative.
The university facilities only allow for fabric sampling so I sourced my fabric from the Gainsborough Silk Weavers in Sudbury. This was a stressful process but the end result was worth it; I have worked with beautiful and original fabric. I incorporated a lot of skill and ideas into the fabric of my garments and produced a textile that is unique to my project.
So how have you incorporated your theme of “cultural collision” into your collection?
My recurring themes of cultural collisions and opposing hybrids are evident in the fabrication of materials and processes used. It was crucial that the fabrics complement each other rather than sitting as separate elements. I combined the different techniques and aesthetics of the woven fabric by introducing upscaled repeat patterns that have been woven directly into the fine knit.
This required an extensive process of sampling with various yarn qualities. Eventually I developed a technique of trapping floating yarns into the double bed knit. The result is a functional textile with a decorative repeat on one side of the fabric, but invisible and without loose thread on the inside.
What advice would you give when creating a collection?
For the final collection, choose a topic you are passionate about which has a broad scope for ideas – you don’t want to exhaust the topic too soon! My course at Manchester School of Art allows their students plenty of time to collect an extensive range of research to play with. You can then delve deeper into your ideas.
At this stage I put too much pressure on myself to arrive at a fully formed concept for my final collection. I should have used the time to enjoy the organic process of trial and error. Only when I enjoyed my research without overthinking it could I begin to develop the conceptual basis for my final collection.
Things can change quickly – don’t be too precious with first ideas at the start of a project.
What have you learnt from presenting your designs?
My collection has more visual impact in photographs than on the catwalk.
It’s important to be aware of the various mediums available to disseminate your work, such as look-books and fashion films. These might have a greater impact than a catwalk.
I’ve been organising shoots with various student photographers to fully showcase my collection as a look-book. For a recent shoot we used the remaining fabric from the collection as a backdrop for a vibrant pattern-on-pattern shoot.
What are your professional plans following graduation?
At this stage of my practice I want to start defining my specialism as I intend to pursue a Master’s degree.
I am now more aware and open to the various roles that exist in the industry beyond garment design. My interests lie in the textile sampling stages of production and design development. I would like to explore this area further and learn more in relation to its professional practice.
I’m staying open to any opportunities but I can’t see myself in an office job. I’m used to moving around and physically engaging with my work.
What are your strongest memories from your final year?
The numerous all-nighters! Final year has been a whirlwind… My relatively small year group was close-knit because of all the time we spent together in the studios. Being surrounded by incredibly talented and hard-working people made me strive to do better.
What would you envision for the future of fashion?
I’d like to see a shift from disposable fashion and an emphasis on clothing that doesn’t rely on transient trends. I’d like to see clothes with more skill and craft invested in them and that can stand the test of time.
I’ve also discovered fabric and yarn mills still in operation throughout Britain. Designers predominantly outsource production but it’s high time designers return to domestic garment production. Students should try and build relationships with mills and suppliers dotted around the country.
This year I visited Clissolds, a luxury wools mill in Bradford that produces high quality menswear suits. I’ve sourced yarn exclusively up North, from companies such as Texere Yarns in Bradford and Copley Marshall in Huddersfield. A greater awareness of British fabric has allowed me to begin a list of reliable suppliers and contacts for the future.
Finally, how do you respond to other trends currently in the industry?
As an emerging designer, you shouldn’t aim to regurgitate trends but strive to set your own. It’s important to be aware of what’s happening in the industry but approach current trends beyond their surface level.
Delve into trends for upcoming materials and processes. Give yourself a chance to step out of your comfort zone and try ideas that don’t automatically sit with your existing design philosophy – who knows what you might create…
Rimsha Shahid graduated from Manchester School of Art with a degree in Fashion Design. View Rimsha Shahid’s portfolio to see her final collection.
All studio shots courtesy of Carrie Furnell