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The Abury Design Experience: Meet the Winners

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By Chere Di Boscio

Last spring, ethical fashion label Abury created their Abury Design Experience competition, calling on young designers to create an accessory capsule collection for Abury using traditional artisanal craft techniques  from different cultures in the developing world. Winners were offered a life-changing prize: a budget up to €5,000 to create their collection, and three months in Morocco or Ecuador, observing and employing artisans there. The resulting collections would be marketed and sold under the name of ABURY and the designer and  half  the profits would be re-invested into education projects.

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But that’s not all: the winners automatically become part of Abury’s permanent collection designers, and would be sent to  Berlin to attend several exclusive events and workshops provided by the likes of Harper’s Bazaar Germany and Positive Luxury. And of course, they would be featured in Eluxe, and plenty of other prestigious fashion publications.

It was a coveted prize, to be sure, and now, we are pleased to announce the winners!

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Samuel Mason

This 25 year old leatherworker from the UK won the public vote. He is the son of a leatherworker as well, and studied at the Royal College of Art in London.
What motivated you to apply for the competition?

The competition was actually send to me by a classmate in an email, after reading it I decided that the Abury philosophy was pretty much in line with my own, the idea of fusing modern fashion design, with authentic traditional craft is one that has appealed to me throughout my career so far, so on the off chance (and about 15 minutes before the deadline) I entered.

In which ways do you think leather can be Eco friendly?

Leather can be eco friendly in lots of different ways. When it’s tanned traditionally, without the use of harmful chemicals and with the use of organic ones, its in inherently sustainable and eco sound product. Couple that with the fact that it could, with care, in effect last hundreds of years, good leather products in general don’t get discarded, like so much fast fashion does these days.

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How would you describe your style?

I think I would like to describe my style as honest. I would hope someone to looks at something I have designed and/or made and see a sort of purity in it, that comes from a respect of materials, good design and functionality.

Which other designers do you look up to?

I look up to so many other designers, not just fashion designers either. Personally In the world of fashion I really admire the Japanese aesthetic of those such as Rei Kawakubo or Yohji Yamamoto, simply because they look at shape in a non linear way, I think it’s very important to do that. Craig Green, a London designer that’s only been showing a couple of years also channels that purity in my eyes, I think his work is phenomenal.

Samuel collection

What inspires your creative process overall?

I think overall I’m inspired by shape and function, as well as craft. I think especially today, we’re all looking to have our lives simplified by design, and I think functionality has this strange calming quality, maybe thats just me but I feel form following function is where I start and then I play with proportion and semiotics from there. I try to channel the great product designer Ray Eames‘ when I work “What works good is better than what looks good because what works good, lasts.”

After having won this, which element of the Abury Design Experience are you most excited about undertaking?

Oh I think the most exciting thing for me, is the idea of mashing my ideas and the skill of the artisans I’m going to have a chance to work with, inevitably there will be a back and forth and what I see in my mind, and what others see will change and organically grow, you can’t be dogmatic when you are working in a big group, so that symbiosis, will hopefully bring something really lovely into the world, and that’s the most exciting thing anyone can be doing.

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Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri

This former journalist is based in the UK. She recently reinvented herself as a fashion designer, and has shown great talent for creating luxury accessories.

What motivated you to apply for the competition?

There is a general lack of interest in honouring the dignity of traditional craftsmanship. But I don’t agree that there is no interest in the next generation. When I saw the details of the Design Experience, something moved in me. I knew that this was exactly the platform that would develop what I believed in as a designer. I am very dedicated to exploring and preserving traditional craftsmanship, and I think that it is important to reach a collective understanding that craftsmanship is not an option in a world of diminishing natural resources. The thought of this was motivation enough for me to want to be involved.  Just fashion without  craftsmanship is really just more ”rubbish” that will end up in the landfill. I want to be part of a process that advocates the value of handmade products and highlight that they can be equally as luxury high end as a Dior bag! In turn, the idea of working with social enterprises gives my work more integrity as I am part of a process to not only develop myself, but others.

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In which ways do you think leather can be Eco friendly?

Leather can be Eco friendly when the products are tanned naturally without use of  any chemicals. While most tanneries  produce chrome-tanned leather some leather makers are ”greening” their process seeking to use less water or solar-powered energy. I use mostly vegetable tanned leather which is created via ancient process that ensures leathers are treated.

How would you describe your style?

My style is about detail and shape experimentation on hand-crafted products with a fashionable edge. My products are not about being trend-led rather concentrating on the beauty of craftsmanship and design. I love trying out different  ancestral techniques, without any particular interest in intricate style, but in showing the beauty of the materials used.

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Which other designers do you look up to?

I realised a long time ago that my growth was determined by other people who were growing alongside myself. My style and approach to designing sometimes makes it difficult to connect with designers who do not share the same ethics as me. Lately I have been inspired so much by the work of British fashion accessory designer Dorota Stumpf, her approach to technical development of products is breathtaking. She is articulate and respects every piece of leather she cuts as though it  has a heart beat. She combines her execution of construction methods with her own research and traditional techniques, creating beautiful pieces. Steve Mandy a South African Fashion artist is also a favourite of mine. He has a magical skill to transform the ugly into a masterpiece He is well known for his sharp skills of artistry and his paintings of bags and dresses on the catwalk. His drawings connect to his cultural heritage and educate the viewer.

What inspires your creative process overall?

I have a weakness for research. Every collection I have done has two to three sketchbooks over  three months of research. It is important in my creative process to have a concept. The whole process has to make philosophical sense to me. Once my sketchbooks have all the necessary research, I begin to see hints of inspiration filtering through. I am a bit ”OCD” about how I begin my designs. All my shapes and forms are extracted from my research and it is at this stage that I start a lot of sampling. At this point I start connecting the dots from my research to the samples. Once all this is out of the way, I become unstoppable. The designs take shape.

Pam collection

After having won this, which element of the Abury Design Experience are you most excited about undertaking?

I am very passionate about working with communities and this is the reason why it was very important for me to win. I have been a philanthropist for many years, and in my work with different communities, the one thing that strikes me is the purity of talent at disposal, that is not being used.  I imagine living with communities and totally exhausting the possibilities for them to not only work on my project but also engage in projects that ensure that their skills are not lost and passed on to create employment. It is more like ”Helping communities help themselves” campaign, however in this instant giving the communities the choice to do what they want with their endless pot of  skills. I hope to establish long term relationships, that enable me to engage with these communities for a fruitful working relationship.

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