Interview with Designer Emma Ward

There are some designers that when you see their work it draws you in. You want to learn more, see more and are excited about their new pieces. That is the case with Emma Ward. As soon as I saw her pieces online I was impressed. She showcased her work at the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards 2017 (you can read about them here), and her work on the catwalk had us all talking.

She is currently a fashion design resident in the Derry Fashion and Textile Design Centre and I can only see amazing things in her future. And I am delighted to be featuring an interview with Emma today on Floralesque. 

Interview with Designer Emma Ward

Have your always been interested in design?

Definitely, as a child I was always interested in art and drawing and when it came to the time for me to choose what to do after school the most obvious choice was for me to go to Art College.I just didn’t know exactly what field of art or design I should go into, so I went to Ballyfermot College of Further Education in Dublin where I did a year-long course in Art, Design and Three-Dimensional Studies. It’s a really great course for people struggling to find out exactly what they want to do. I learned a lot about the technical skills involved in painting, drawing, film photography and sculpture and it gave me some time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do afterwards.

I created a portfolio there and decided to go to Limerick afterwards. The way limerick works are that for most of your first year you do a very general art course and at the end of the year, you get to try out a few disciplines and then choose what suits you best. It wasn’t until I did the fashion elective at Limerick school of art and design that I realised fashion would be perfect for me. After I left BCFE I thought I might go into painting or sculpture but I liked how fashion actually brings together a lot of different aspects of art and design that I really love. In fashion, you end up using a lot of different skills such as drawing, illustration, sewing, designing and problem-solving.

Interview with Designer Emma Ward

Do you remember the first piece you made?

I had no idea how to sew when I first started at Limerick. I don’t think that really mattered too much as, especially in the first year, we were always encouraged by our tutors to prioritise challenging ourselves creatively first, and the technical skills would come later. In our elective, in first year our first project was to design and make a skirt. The sewing wasn’t perfect on mine but I’m still really proud of it. By the time you get into the second year the quality and precision of your sewing become much more important. The first time I made something I was really proud of was a jacket I made in our technical class in the second year. I made an over-sized green tweed jacket that I still wear.

You have worked with a number of different textiles in your designs what has been your favourite?

I really love experimenting with different fabrics and textiles especially plastics. On my internship at Steinrohner, we would set aside whole days to play around with fabrics to come up with different textures. It’s a really good way of coming up with designs that you may not have come up with if you were just drawing in a sketchbook. Sometimes I think it helps to physically make things first and then see how that texture will work with a garment later.

Interview with Designer Emma Ward

What is your favourite part of the design process?

I really love all of it, but my favourite part is just after I have decided on my theme and I have gotten the first few designs on paper because after that is when I start experimenting with pattern drafting. I love the process of bringing a two-dimensional sketch into a three-dimensional garment. That’s where everything starts to come together for me.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My graduate collection was based on the work of artist Matt Shlian. Shlian is an American artist who creates works based on glitches in computer code so each of my garments had a ‘glitch’ or intentional mistake.Since I have finished college I have been working as a resident designer at the Fashion and Textile Design Centre (FTDC) in Derry where I have been working on a new collection and I have continued with a similar theme.

For this collection, the theme is based on the work of artist Jeremy Hutchison. For his installation piece entitled Fabrications, Hutchison collaborated with employees of Al-Aqqad & Partner Fashions, a denim producer based in Nablus. The artist commissioned the factory to manufacture jeans with intentional errors. The factory produced garments with errors such as unfinished seams or exaggerated lengths.

It is not uncommon for the intentional mistakes in Hutchison’s project to happen unintentionally in similar factories where huge amounts of garments are being made every day.

I really loved Hutchison’s work and I wanted to make a collection based on his a critique of consumerism and capitalist modes of production, so again I made garments with intentional mistakes but instead of doing so through texture and pattern drafting, like I did in my graduate collection, I did it by introducing more subtle mistakes such as seams and darts on the outside of garments or by exaggerating shapes. I started by drawing very simplified versions of clothes and then exaggerated their widths and lengths and then decided which parts of the garments I should keep inside-out or not.

Unlike the garments produced in these factories, where the garments are cheaply and often badly made, I wanted every piece of my collection, in comparison, to be well thought out and deliberate. Everything in this collection is planned and considered and more personal. Each piece of my collection was made by me and the fabric and finish are of a luxury quality.

Interview with Designer Emma WardWhat made you choose LSAD? Was there something that drew you to the course?

I chose LSAD because of the broad variety of courses available. You also get to try out a lot of disciplines before deciding which one is for you. LSAD also has a really good reputation for fashion, with graduates like Danielle Romeril, Rebecca Marsden and Natalie Coleman. One of the biggest draws was definitely the 3-month internship you do in the third year. I think that’s where you learn the most.
The course itself is very intense and demanding I would recommend it to anyone who wants to challenge themselves creatively in fashion.

Working at Steinrohner must have been amazing. What is the most important thing that you took away from the experience?

Steinrohner is a small label in Berlin run by Inna Stein and Caroline Rohner. I couldn’t have asked for two nicer or more talented people to work for. They were also very open to listening to my ideas and solutions to problems.

Steinrohner had a small studio but I think that was of a huge benefit to me. When you work in a small studio you really get to see you how everything works. I got to have a hand in almost every garment that they showed at Berlin fashion week.When you work for a small company you get a great insight into what it takes to run a business and the huge workload you have to take on. I learned that even a small company can make a profit and be successful and that having your own label is something that is actually possible.I think the biggest thing to come out of that internship was how much my skill level in sewing and attention to detail improved. When you’re working for someone else at that level each garment has to finish to such a high standard.

Interview with Designer Emma Ward

Has your relationship with fashion change since you have become a designer?

I think having studied fashion I’m much less likely to buy cheap, badly made clothing, I appreciate quality so much more and I try to be a lot more conscious of where and how my clothes have been made.

Would you have any advice for any would be designer thinking of getting started?

In my opinion, it is always the people who are creating a lot of work and constantly trying to improve that do well. At LSAD we would have weekly and even sometimes daily tutorials and you eventually learn to do a lot of work under a lot of pressure. I was always surprised at the sheer amount of work it possible to get done when you’re put under deadlines like that. Deadlines also stop you from being too precious about things and overthinking things to the point where you don’t create anything.

Having deadlines like that are great because they make you produce a lot of work, however, I think that in the end, the quality of your work is the most important thing and that has to be your utmost priority.

Interview with Designer Emma WardWhat is next for Emma Ward?

I think that my residency at FTDC has made me realise where my strong and weak points are and how I want to move forward. I’m happy to continue making collections but I also what to gain some more experience in pattern drafting and sewing. Now that I have made a second collection I want to start exploring the idea of bringing my collections into retail.

A massive thank you to Emma for doing the interview – I loved learning about her inspiration and path into fashion. Her designs are simply beautiful and I have no doubt that will have a successful future in fashion and design. You can check out more of her work on her website and she is also on Instagram. 

If you enjoyed this interview in the ‘Floralesque Meets’ Series, then you can click here to read more exciting interviews with designers, creators, artists, photographers, entrepreneurs and more – enjoy meeting the makers!

All images kindly provided by Emma for use and all image credits to Darach Photography. 


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