Thursday, 26 July 2012

One to watch: Q&A with Olwen Bourke

Fledgling ethical clothing label Olwen Bourke launched in February this year, aiming to create bespoke, luxury clothing by recycling materials and incorporating pre-used textiles that have a story. The beautiful, first collection Paradise Lost is inspired by jungles and Japanese silkscreen prints, and uses predominately hand-dyed silk, (end of roll) cotton and wool, recycled leather and suede.

The eponymous designer has designed for stage and screen since graduating with a first class honours degree in Fashion from the National College of Art & Design, including costumes for the Royal Opera House in London. Here she tells us a little more:

Describe your label in three words...
Feminine, handcrafted, textural

Where does your design inspiration come from?
Lots of different places but mainly from nature. I grew up in Ireland near the sea and I think the colours and forms from my environment growing up has influenced my work a lot. I'm always drawn back to certain themes of nature and natural forms.

How does your background in costume design inform your own work?
When I designed the dresses for Strictly Come Dancing I was creating a high turnover of dresses for women of all ages and sizes. It taught me a lot about how to flatter different body shapes by using certain angles and style lines and how to create dramatic silhouettes. It also gave me an appreciation for designing bespoke items for individuals, rather than mass produced fashion.

Who would your dream person be to design for?
Livia Firth

What do you see the future holding for your label?
I've received such positive feedback from my first collection that I'm very excited about the future of my label and have lots of plans to expand! While continuing to create bespoke jackets and dresses to order, I'm planning to make the label more accessible my providing a mid-price range line of handcrafted dresses to be stocked in shops as well as online. I'm also developing a bridal and accessories line. Generally I'd like to continue to create desirable clothing using ethical practices and hopefully inspire people with my designs to choose an alternative to fast fashion.

If you could only wear one fashion brand forever, what would you choose?
I'd wear Olwen Bourke as I only ever design clothing for my label that I'd like to wear myself!

What made you choose to operate in an ethical way vs any other model?
Initially it wasn't a conscious decision. I have always been excited by the idea of transformation and turning something basic into something beautiful, so the idea of upcycling clothing came very naturally. I don't like waste and the excessive consumption of fashion today and the high turnover of cheap, disposable garments which end up in landfill is a real problem. So I wanted to see if I could rewind the cycle by taking garments out of the landfill and using them to make something of high value.

Are there any fellow ethical business owners/advocates you admire / other businesses you recommend and why?
I really admire The French brand Veja who recently won the Guardian Sustainable Business Award. They make eco friendly trainers which are produced by small producer co operatives in Brazil and are ethical through every part of their supply chain. I think they're a great business model to learn from.

What tips would you give others keen to run their label or company as a successful ethical business?
Stay true to your own beliefs and identity and don't be tempted to compromise on your values. Take risks and don't be afraid to make mistakes.

If you had to pick a favourite look from your collection which would you choose?
The blue draped dress with the suede bird motif. I feel it embodies the essence of the whole collection.

Take a look online at

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