Jessica Alkire

A Flight to Fashion

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Sarah E. Buchanan is only 22, but she is already on fast track to success in the world of fashion and design. The modern, innovative designs inspired by flight included in her Empire of the Clouds collection have captured attention and generated buzz throughout the fashion industry. Her designs were even requested by Lady Gaga. I had the chance to speak with Sarah about her creative process and the inspiration behind her designs.

At what age did you become interested in fashion?

I was always interested in art. I used to draw A LOT. All the time, everywhere I went I always had a sketch book and pencil and I mean everywhere. I used to draw clothes a lot without really realising. It was about 14 when I was choosing GCSE options that I became aware and planning for the future.

How did you become interested and how did that interest develop?
I became aware of what I enjoyed most about being creative- producing a product, from start to finish, something that was my own and something different, unique. After a graphics and fashion open day at the local college, I knew 100% which course I needed to take. My interest grew through my BTECT; I had an excellent course that encouraged being experimental and having freedom to own your creative style.

What is your inspiration?
I focus a lot on engineering and human advancements. I like to find the beauty in everyday things that are incredible achievements but so mundane and normalised now. I am a huge geek, always have been, and I love the journey of discovery and research. The best example of this is Empire of the Clouds. It was inspired by the true design innovation and achievement from machines of flight throughout the entirety of the concept. It also focuses on model making to gain a unique perspective and develop an understanding of the overwhelming human drive, almost obsession, to achieve what we cannot do naturally, to fly.

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What is your typical process once you get an idea to creating the final product?
In the early stages of research and design, I am not thinking about the final product. I go through a lot of experimental design stages, including sketching and building on the stand with pattern paper or draping. All the time I am photographing and drawing over the pictures, trying something different- what about this pocket placement or that sleeve? I do a lot of collage. Then, once I am happy with the design, colour, fabric, finish, etc., I do a lot of finish samples, toiles, and experiments to ensure the final product is the best it can be. Then it’s much easier to sit and produce it.

What does a typical day on the job entail? 
Lots of early starts and late nights! I usually have a list of things that need/want to be achieved by the end of the day. It tends to be a lot of different things that help moving the project forward such as library visits, sketching, creating folio pages. Other tasks include sample making, sourcing fabrics or ordering them from mills, etc. It is pretty much everything 100 mph all day every day. The ultimate organisational challenge!

What materials do you use?
For my 2 most recent collections I have used lots of materials that are or emulate paper type qualities, lots of plastic and technical fabrics. These materials are unusual in clothing. They have different ways that you need to work with them, and it was a lot of experimenting. I’ll be the first to tellyou that my garments are not for the everyday in these collections. I loved experimental “one off” art pieces and the chance to do this. I like materials that are different, new, and unusual.

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What is your favourite type of clothing to create?
Something that I can really see an effective end piece for the research I have used as inspiration. Something that does justice to my vision.

What is the greatest challenge of being a designer? What do you most enjoy?
The greatest challenge is the race against time; no matter what role you have in fashion. I do love the organising, that’s one of my favourite things, successfully organising and being productive. Specifically, I love research, the process of discovering something exciting, fresh and looking at life from a different perspective.

What barriers do you and/or young designers in general today face? What is your advice for young designers today?
There are lots of difficulties around today. As a recent graduate, my current problem is finding a job, as it is for most of my friends. During studies and going it alone, I would say time is a big problem- there is just never enough! The same with money to produce the collections. Even if you are doing it yourself, you still have to have fabrics to sew, right? I feel that the key to success lies in organisation and forward planning, in both cases of time and money. As for the job, I think it’s a case of being determined!

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What is your greatest achievement thus far in your career? 
Having my garments requested as options for Lady Gaga was a high point definitely. Recently, I have been asked to have my work in a new design book out next year. All the feedback I have had from my work is a highlight to me; hearing that people like it and what they think definitely makes it worthwhile.

What future projects are you currently working toward?
I am currently working on a collection that is more paired down, something that is completely different to my past work, to show range as a designer.

Where do you hope to be in five years?
I hope to have a really good stance on the fashion career ladder. I hope to be at a label that I am actively helping to grow everyday.

To learn more about Sarah and see her designs, visit her website and flick through her portfolio today.

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