There are some Irish Designers that really get me excited every time I see something new from them and ‘We are Islanders’ are one such brand. Their ethical designs are just beautiful and I love the feeling of passion that resonates from the pieces. I have admired their work since their debut ‘Tidal’ collection which was made of materials including bamboo silk, salmon leather skin and Wexford linen and the fact that they are ethical also won serious brownie points for me.
I am delighted to be featuring them today on my blog with an interview with Deirdre Hynds who is the Communications Director of the luxurious We are Islanders brand.
What was the inspiration behind ‘We are Islanders’?
The name came from many moments looking out to the Irish Sea. The metaphorical landscape of an island is the backbone and vision for the label. Always ask questions about what’s beyond your view point and what’s in front of you. So We Are Islanders works as a conceptual project where Rosie (O’Reilly – Creative Director) creates artwork that responds to these questions and this feeds into the design process.
I understand that there are 3 of you behind the brand – Rosie, Kate and yourself. Was it a natural choice for the 3 of you to come togeather to build the business? And was it an obvious choice for the split of roles behind the scenes? Could you tell us a bit about your backgrounds?
We Are Islanders is an Art and Fashion House established in 2012 by; Rosie O’Reilly (Creative Director), Kate Nolan (Production and Operations Director) and Deirdre Hynds (Communications Director). Kate and Rosie co-founded Re-Dress, an organisation which promotes better practices within the fashion industry, which included running Ireland’s only Better Fashion Show. Deirdre came on-board to work on voluntary PR/Communications 5 years later, and the following year We Are Islanders was born! It always felt like a natural choice for the team to work together, the diverse backgrounds and experience has helped create a synergy that permeates each collection.
The brand to me has such a fantastic ethical feel to it, is this something that is important to you?
Sustainability and ethics are at the core of We Are Islanders as it is hugely important to us as a label. We embed these principles in the way we produce all our collections but ultimately we are creating contemporary luxury fashion that appeals to strong, successful women who share our intent.
Currently there seems to be a turnaround happening and many people are going back to buying quality pieces rather than spending money on ‘fast fashion’. I know that personally I think more about where my clothes come from and it is becoming more important to me that I know that the clothes have been produced ethically. Is this something that you are noticing as well? Do you think it will benefit the industry?
We have received a great response to the label both domestically and internationally so far, so perhaps that is the best metric to gauge consumer behavioural change. The term ‘Ethical fashion’ can be bandied about, and often misappropriated but for us at its core it is about empowering oneself with the information that will enable considered and conscious spend, and this can only benefit an (admittedly) fractured industry.
Many of the collection’s aesthetic look like works of art as well as being wearable clothes, is this an intentional part of the design process/finished pieces?
The label is ‘art lead’, which means that the creative process behind We Are Islanders goes beyond just the design and production of clothes. Rosie explores alternative media in art and culture which in turn inspires the stories behind each collection. Each collection has been a continuing exploration of the TIDAL series – exploring our relationship with our environment and how it shapes our identity. In September 2013 Rosie designed and executed an artistic installation titled ‘4/704’. Using 3 dye vats which suspended fabric over natural dye, and used the buoyancy of the high tide to physically transfer the tidelines on to the fabric, thus creating what was termed ‘textural timelapse’.
The installation was a comment on rising tides as a result of climate change, and was also an exercise to encourage people to look out. The print that was naturally achieved by the tide informed the first TIDAL collection, which we see as a continuing experiment and project. In our AW’15 collection, ‘TIDAL V’ we produced Inimitable markings on organic cottons, bamboo silks, and Irish linens which were transferred from the staves of a traditional Irish wooden boat called a ‘currach’. The free-hand printing technique has been carried into the SS’16 collection also.
I have read that your brand draws inspiration from Irish Heritage, is it important to keep coming back to your Irish heritage?
The label uses Irish woven fabrics and supports an indigenous industry that holds and provides immense cultural and social capital to the country. The first collection was about creating a story – communicating important issues through clothing. It was also about understanding the fabrics available at home and abroad that upheld the principles of better practice, craft and innovation that we believed lived up to the We are Islanders aesthetic.
We use Irish textiles that have never been seen before (like for example salmon skin leather, which is a by-product from an organic fish farm off the west coast of Ireland) and in ways that are unexpected so it keeps everyone interested and engaged but we more interested in working hard here in Ireland to develop relationships with the textile mills and producers around the country. We are passionate about our wool and linen indigenous industries as well as the vibrant Irish Craft scene, and really want to see them grow as we do.
What is your favourite material to work with? And also is there one that you would prefer not to work with again?
We were very excited to work with linen producers who are based in the north of Ireland who carry out a traditional process called ‘beetling’, this is a technique that we have incorporated in all of our collections to date. Beetling is a process which requires linen to be hammered repeatedly, resulting in a waxy sheen. The linen takes on an inherent rigidity that lends structure to the fabric, which we have utilised for clean lines in tailoring. This is a 250 year old technique that uses absolutely no chemicals, so we are helping to keep this tradition alive, but in a very unique and contemporary way.
The label uses salmon suede, a beautiful fabric (steadily becoming more and more popular) for trimmings and accessories. The salmon suede is originally a bi-product from an organic fish farm off the west coast or Ireland, which would typically be ground down and turned into ‘meal’ but instead are tanned in Germany to create beautiful high quality product for the garment industry. It is always great to see customers reaction to the salmon suede, it invites touching and feeling, and looks great when juxtaposed with the Irish linens, and silks across the rest of the collection.
We have had a few ‘learnings’ when working with fabrics, but all in the journey to understand our chosen medium! If we had to pick one, it would possibly be an organic waffle cotton, which looked incredible but was not suited for design purposes.
Can you please tell us about concept behind the SS16 collection and the materials that you use?
SS16 is called the Journey to Hy-Brazil. Rosie spent a lot of time researching Hy-Brasil, a mythical Atlantean Island said to lie off the west coast of Ireland. Sea stories and legends formed part of the mist that is said to cloak its legendary isles, only clearing, according to Irish Folklore one day every seven years. The maritime obsession with the fabled island resonated across borders with the wanderings of nomads and explorers.
Rosie O’Reilly, “This collection creates its own story by fantasizing about two female explorers of the 18th century, Ida Laura Pfeiffer and Jeanne Baré and their fictionalised journey to Hy-brazil. The two female botanists boarded a boat dressed as men to explore new life and form in nature, and became the muses for this collection.”
“The journey to Hy-Brazil represents in many ways the need to move away from the linear in our understanding of form. One interpretation of the story is that Hy-Brazil was actually a shell island that through erosion was moved and broken down over time. This raises interesting questions about landmasses, islands and borders. What if they are continually moving and never static, as we like to imagine?”
These questions provided a start off point for a collection which is produced using Irish linens, hand painted bamboo silk, salmon leather, organic cotton twills and Muslin, and the process used is mainly hand – painted silk where inimitable markings are transferred on to silks and linens from of a traditional Irish wooden boat called a ‘currach’. The collection was showcased at London Fashion Week Sept 2015, and has garnered a fantastic positive international response to date.
Who is the ‘We are Islanders’ woman?
Anyone with balls! Ultimately we create wearable works of art for the adventurer, the explorer, the woman who wants to wear a garment that tells a story. Names like Tilda Swinton, Roisin Murphy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marina Abramovic, Margaret Atwood, FK Twigs, Sandra Hagelstam, Susanna Lau, Grace Jones, Joni Mitchell, Nancy Whang, Ulyana Sergeenko, and Fiona Banner, come to mind, we are designing for mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and friends – the home grown heroes!
Would you have any advice for anyone who is thinking about getting into fashion design (something that they don’t tell you!)
Well if we were to consider this question from the point of view of passing advice on to an aspiring designer starting out now, it would be along the lines of ‘Tell a story worth listening to with your brand. Don’t believe the clothes are enough; let them be part of something bigger, and don’t get discouraged by the brands with big budgets. To paraphrase Phil Alden Robinson’s overused, but eternally hopeful sentiment, ‘if you build it they will come’…
If you could refocus the conversation regarding fashion in 2016, what would you put on the agenda?
In terms of aspirations in the long-term, we want to take the time to continue to invest in the craft and manufacturing industry of Ireland, paying particular attention to the redevelopment of the Linen industry, which has all but died out in the last few decades (except for a select few proponents) this has always been a key focus and impetus for the label, so we would love to be involved with any initiative that looks to invest in indigenous crafts and production.
And lastly, what does the future hold for We are Islanders?
The vision for We Are Islanders is to establish the label globally as an authentic, luxury, art and fashion brand. The label is dedicated to the development of aesthetically inspiring works of wearable art, created to the highest craft standards and within the boundaries of better industry practice. Our vision for We Are Islanders, is that it will redefine a new era of luxury for the considered consumer.
A massive thank you to Deirdre for the interview and if you have not yet looked at their pieces then I would highly recommend looking firstly at their website and you can also shop from there as well. Checking out their Social Media is certainly a guilty pleasure of mine when I should be doing something else – they are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and be warned you will spend quite a while on their Pinterest!