Interview with Sarah Mair – GFF International Talent

Meet GFF International Talent: Sarah Mair, from AMD Akademie Mode & Design. Sarah’s final year collection is called The New Nomad, inspired by her travels around Morocco and the Tuareg people, a large nomadic Berber society. Sustainability is at the core of Sarah’s concept and construction, made from up-cycled sails, she has imagined what a nomadic future society would wear to survive. Read on to learn more about her work and plans for the future.

Tell us about you, where are you from, what lead you to fashion and choosing that course?

23 years ago I was born in Bavaria. My whole childhood nature played an important role for me, I grew up near the mountains. Quite early, a huge part of me was sensitised for nature and the responsibility towards our planet. Since I was a little child, I was obsessed with arts and crafts and drawing. I always had the strong desire to express myself aesthetically through my own hands. I have always been fascinated by the variations in styles and was interested in the different ways of dressing. I perceived so many little details, what most people probably just see subconsciously.

And so I started to develop my very own sense of fashion and aesthetics. In my teenage years, I got more and more interested in fashion, different styles and trends. I figured out, what shapes and silhouettes fit best for different body types. In school I started to draw figurines and designed my first outfits. The most inspiring moment in my past was probably, when Lady Gaga became famous with her eccentric fashion style. That marked the beginning for my great fascination for show outfits and avant-garde fashion. The fashion design course at the AMD in Munich was the perfect combination of technical knowledge and enough creative space, where I was able to realize my very own visions. I think, it’s an important part of the process to learn, how to realise your visions and how the technical background works.

Describe the inspiration and concept behind your work. Talk us through your final project and your research process.

The original inspiration for my collection was the Tuareg society. During my journey through Morocco in 2019, I developed a huge fascination for their clothing and their silhouettes. It attracted me, how they use their clothes in a functional way. I got more interested in their moving lifestyle and the general background of the nomadic way of life. In regard to our current situation with climate change, pollution and natural catastrophes (just to name a few) I asked myself: how could our society look like in the future? I formed a dystopic opinion on that topic. In my fictional story people will be forced to adapt a nomadic lifestyle again. To demonstrate the above-mentioned issues, the concept is based on sustainability. The goal of the gender neutral collection is to create avant-garde fashion, in which all materials are 100% upcycled. The whole collection is made out of used sails and climbing ropes.

The New Nomad‘s claim is to separate those materials from their original context and to create a new, innovative combination. The collection is designed to encourage society for a better reflection of its own consumption and actions. It is about a personal attitude and an opinion on current problems in politics, society and ecology. The idea behind the collection lays in sensitizing the society to higher quality standards and the longevity of new purchased goods. Furthermore, the appreciation of used products and the creative reuse of them is considered as the main focus. The method of upcycling should also draw attention to the variety of sustainable concepts.

Main inspirations for my moodboards are art, architecture, photography, people and conversations. Sometimes specific elements of different ancient eras inspire me. For my specific design research, I start thinking about the main fabrics, I want to use. I love to visit hardware stores. I also often visit flea markets, second hand and vintage shops. My goal is to always create contemporary designs with a spark of a future vision. I love the challenge of transforming unusual material into wearable fashion. Another very important part of my design process are spontaneous, intuitive drapings. In doing so, I can try different shapes and silhouettes.

I often take pictures of them and edit the drapings with photoshop. That offers me the possibility to change the symmetry or asymmetry of the draping. For me the most efficient working style is the mix of draping and pattern cutting. The last important point of finding my final designs is to always be open minded during the manufacturing process. Especially in case of mistakes. I think that they often have the potential to become the most attractive parts of the design in the end, because you are forced to rethink creatively.

Tell us about your Collection Development.

I’m a big fan of combining draping with pattern making. Pattern making is the more accurate, tailored part and draping is more like a free approach without any fixed rules. This mix can bring an interesting dynamic in every design. In my collection I draped all of the climbing rope elements and stitched them together by hand. For manufacturing the climbing rope elements any other method wasn’t thinkable, because those artistic elements are need to be fitted right to the human’s body.

It was also necessary to drape the headpieces, to explore different proportions. A challenging part in the pattern making has been finding matching parts on the sails. A sail already has its very own structural design. The most time consuming part was to find matching parts on the different sails and the process of rearranging the patterns during the cutting. On the other side these difficulties enabled me to enhance my original design visions and to create a new dimension. It’s always about the spontaneous and the courage to try new things, which slightly differ from the original design.

Talk us through your final collection and each outfit. Why where these the final designs?

Each design has a different function for the new nomad society. All outfits are mainly made out of sails. Therefore, every outfit is waterproof and weather resistant.

The first outfit consists of wrapped pants, an asymmetric utility vest, a puffer sleeve, a turtle neck, a legging and a headpiece. The utility vest can be used for storage space. The turtle neck and legging form the base layer. The puffer sleeve is adjustable through its ropes and can be used as a bag for collecting items. The headpiece was inspired by the idea of transporting goods on your own head.

The second outfit is a combination of a cape with gathered pants. The cape consists of three different removable layers, which can be adjusted to the different weather conditions.

The third outfit consists of a skirt, the base layer, two puffer sleeves and a draped rope element for the breast. The skirt involves a strap, so it can also be worn as a dress. The length of the skirt is adjustable through the ropes for different weather conditions. The two puffer sleeves have the same function as in the first outfit. The climbing rope draping stands as an artistic symbol for the new nomad society.

The fourth outfit involves the it-piece of the collection: the sleeping bag. Combined with an oversized jumpsuit and the base layer turtle neck. The special function of the sleeping bag is that it can be worn as a backpack. The oversized jumpsuit is constructed with extra wide legs. They are adjustable in length and width.

The fifth outfit consists of culotte trousers, the base layer and a large geometric utility vest. The utility vest has an extra large pocket on its backside, which has a similar function like a backpack. The last outfit can be seen as the wedding dress of the collection. It consists of a huge veil, the base layer turtle neck, the same oversized jumpsuit as in outfit four, the climbing rope-harness element like in outfit three and a headpiece for the transport, as described in outfit one. The extra long veil can also be worn as a cape.

What materials have you used within the collection and how did you source them? Why were this the right material for your collection?

I set myself the goal of creating a 100% upcycling collection. After my research about items and fabrics I could obtain in my surrounding area, I decided to reuse old sails and climbing ropes. Sails are a really robust fabric. That’s a great advantage for the longevity of the nomadic clothing. Moreover, it’s a water resistant and weather proof material. Also the haptics of the sail fabric really convinced me. I like the idea of upcycling old materials and to give them a new meaning and value. The sails were in a perfect condition, except of some little holes or some fine cracks. That was the main reason for the sailing clubs to dispose them. The vast majority of the sails were still in a perfect condition to reuse them.

I used two different types of sails for my collection. The ones who are a little bit more stiff in their haptics and the other ones, the ‘spinnaker’, who are very thin and consist of a flowing texture. Both types fitted perfectly in my collection. I used the stiff sails for the utility vests and pockets, because they gave them the perfect formality. Out of the spinnaker fabric I sewed the veil and the puffer sleeves. Besides the raw sail fabric, the sails also included many little metal supplies, like different types of carabiner. I tried to use as much of the supply as I could, to efficiently upcycle the materials.

Tell us about your illustration technics. Explain your final line up and what art materials and technics you use to showcase it.

My figurines are inspired by real human body proportions. It was important for me to visualise the proportions of my designs as realistic as possible, to bring my topic close to the people. My illustration style is influenced by graphic elements and a certain sketch optic. I also like the combination of manual and digital elements. The first step in creating my illustrations is a fast sketch of the figurines with my designs. To vary and to improve my design line-up, I scan the sketches and print them several times. Now I’m able to create variations and to do the fine tuning. In the end, when I set my final designs, I scan them, edit the colours and optimise the form and the lines. For sketching I use a normal pencil. For the colouring I use markers in different colours. For finishing my illustrations, I contour them with a thin fine liner.

What part of your final project have you enjoyed most and why? 

The most exciting part was the development of my concept and the research of the fabrics. First I spent a lot of time by researching for sailing and yacht clubs in my surrounding. I reached out to them immediately. Many of them were very interested in my concept and wanted to support me. Eventually, I drove around to collect the used sails and climbing ropes from sailing and climbing associations in my area. It took me a couple of weeks. It was a great experience for me to get in touch with different people and to discover the origins of where the materials come from and how they have been used once. It was nice to see the peoples’ interest and caring in my sustainability project. After another research, a German up-cycling brand caught my interest, because they are specialised in manufacturing bags out of used sails. I got in touch with them very fast. The owner of the up-cycling brand was very passionate about my bachelor thesis and supported me with a bunch of used sails. I definitely had enough material to experiment with the fabrics.

What’s an aspect of the fashion industry that you’re passionate about fixing or having a positive impact on?

My big goal lays in sensitising people for the value, the longevity and the creative reuse of clothes. I’m such a big fan of vintage and second hand gear and clothing. I love the rethink, of how you could create a new design out of old fabrics. Often old fabrics have a higher quality standard and are more durable than new ones, especially in the fast fashion industry. In my opinion, the focus should be more on timeless classic items, with a high quality standard. An important task is, to focus on the masses of existing fabrics and how to recycle or up-cycle them. It’s the responsibility of each brand to find their own solution of being sustainable.

Even if you focus just on one aspect of sustainability, like up-cycling, recycling, production under local conditions or using biodegradable fabrics, it could make such a huge impact on the whole industry. So better start somewhere to improve the task of sustainability than thinking a single one wouldn’t change a lot. The ultimate goal would be to reach a complete sustainable circularity including socio-economic factors. In my opinion, this major change in the fashion industry doesn’t need to result in a restriction of our creative thinking and work. We need to see the creativity in the change.

What is your plan once you finish your BA? Where do you wish to be in the future?

My plan is to gain as many practical experience as possible through internships and freelance jobs for one year. I want to work in the design or styling department. After that, I plan to do my master degree in fashion design in London. I set myself the goal to enhance my skills in the field of fashion design, creative thinking and working.  I’m very happy about studying fashion design at the AMD in Munich, to gain a variety of different design, pattern making and sewing skills. This forms a perfect base for my future work life.

During my studies I learned how important it is to be open for the progress. At the beginning of my studies I thought differently about many subjects in the fashion industry. During my studies it got more and more clear on what my main focus is. During 3.5 years of studying, my great passion for styling and creating concepts has emerged. During my fashion design course, I often worked as a freelance stylist and did several fashion editorials and other projects. Through those different jobs I gained lots of experiences in the field of styling and developing new ideas and concepts. That’s the perfect field for me, because I can combine my creative skills in fashion and design with administrational tasks and creating new concepts. It would be the ultimate goal for me, to work in the position of a creative director one day.

Interview taken from the Graduate Fashion Foundation