• vanessa.menrad


As part of our Fashion Feature Series, we have Catherine Archer, a Fashion Design student graduating from Bath Spa University.

She has answered some questions about sustainability, her design process, and her inspiring graduate collection.

Read more about Catherine's work below.

If you would like to hear more about Catherine's collection or want to collaborate, you can contact her through her Instagram or her portfolio. On her blog, Underneath The Fabric, she also writes about sustainability in the fashion world.

As seen on your blog and social media, you are very involved with the sustainability movement in the fashion industry. Could you talk to us a little about what inspired you to take this path?

As a child, I loved designing but it wasn't until I was a teen that I began to sew. To me, the fashion world was one of possibility and joy - allowing for an idea to become reality.

I realised the scale of the negative impacts of the industry when studying both Textiles and Environmental Studies at A-Level. I became enthralled, as someone does with a good book or film, with the intricacies of the fashion industry and the devastating scenes that occur during the creation behind even the most beautiful dress. It didn't make sense to me how such devastation would be caused for fashion.

People like Orsola de Castro from Fashion Revolution, journalist Lucy Siegle, and Author Kate Fletcher became my real heroes and icons. Taking to activism occurred naturally. I think it was quite a human response, really, it's what made common sense, 'knowledge is responsibility'. I cared so much for the environment, for the factory workers (and still do of course).

Article after article and documentary after documentary kept exposing truths; "The True Cost" and "Machines" are two that come to mind. I needed to talk about what I discovered, as even just a few years ago we didn't know half as much as we do now.

The drive remains and has grown stronger. It is great to see the growth in genuine interest and innovation from around the world. I'm constantly inspired and grateful to be a part of something that moves me so much.

Could you tell us a little about your current project?

My graduate capsule collection is called 'Tonal Tides'. It's a trans-seasonal co-ed circular fashion collection inspired by sailing wear and soft tailoring.

My parents sailed the world together before I was born and the pictures of them really inspired me; it was the joy and freedom that they experienced on the ocean that I wanted to adopt as the mood of my collection. This was really the starting point.

I was also taken by the striking colours of salt evaporation ponds in Australia, captured in aerial pictures by Tom Hegen and Kevin Krautgartner. These are coloured by algae, producing bright shades of pinks, greens, blues, and oranges. My research was then framed around the idea of nature being circular, life and death, algal blooms and erosion. These paved the way for my process and colour palette, as well as fabric choices.

What makes your design process sustainable or ethical?

I wanted to make my capsule collection as sustainably as possible, so I adopted a circular design approach. I am using organic hemp, cotton, silk, and wool, so all of the fabric is fully biodegradable. I'm also using an algae-based polymer as I knew I wanted to include a biomaterial of some kind as I have a keen interest in new sustainable materials.

All of my fabric is naturally dyed by hand, creating the lovely shades of pink, turquoise, and beige which I developed over a long time and link back to the aerial pictures I mentioned.

The metal components are removable and reusable or recyclable.

The silhouettes are based around boxy sailor shapes, fitting both genders. I also developed modular fastenings so garments can be worn several ways, for instance, a jacket with left-over-right or right-over-left with a rope belt closure, or trousers that can be worn as shorts with a pop-off bottom. This way I hope to encourage the wearer to keep each unique item for a long time as it can fit them as they desire it to.

How do you research when starting a new project, where do you draw inspiration from?

Nature and vintage mostly. I'm very much a gatherer of visual information across multiple platforms. I look at magazines, Instagram, old books, museums, the outdoors... I like to find similarities in a colour palette, a texture, a silhouette. I like getting information from the Earth. For silhouette and function, I 'go back to basics' and look at vintage archives - it helps to understand the wearability of a piece and also make it unique and less standardised.

Often I love researching too much and get distracted from designing! I was once told I design too much with my head, but I think it's really important to find a balance between instinct and logic; after all, that is the epitome of conscious design. The research needs to funnel into something beautiful, but functional. If it's not wearable, it's discardable - and that's the last thing the planet needs.

And finally, how are you dealing with the current situation of having to work from home? Any tips for fellow design students?

I have lost my 'usual' routine and created a new one. At first, it was a difficult transition. I have a small flat so I've had to sacrifice my dining room table and desk to create a cutting table (it's lucky they are the same height!) However, I have become grateful that I finally get to breathe again by going on more walks than I used to (1 a day) and reconnecting with nature. It's made me realise I was becoming stressed over deadlines and unable to focus at university anyway.

I'd encourage fellow design students to embrace the change and ease off the pressure. Being at home all the time is different but by no means impossible. Things might take a little longer, but at least slow making is quality making!


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images // Provided by Catherine Archer

article//Edited by Chloe Payne