Next week that concrete jungle where dreams are made will play host to 12 of Scotland’s most talented designers, manufacturers and textile companies. Creatives from across the design world will this week take their work to New York to meet some of America’s top buyers and media as part of a new initiative, Scotland Re:Designed.
The aim of the project – which is funded by private sector investment, the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland – is to promote Scotland’s design talent internationally. It will see the 12 exhibitors display their work for four days from Monday as part of the city’s annual Scotland Week celebrations. When they get home they will exhibit their wares at the Lighthouse in Glasgow at the end of June.
Chosen by a panel of fashion experts – including Sarah Murray, owner of Edinburgh boutique Jane Davidson, and James Gilchrist, CEO of New York menswear brand Adam Kimmel – the 12 successful applicants represent the worlds of fashion, interiors and manufacturing.
They include established names such as Timorous Beasties, the award-winning Glasgow design duo famous for their textiles and wallpapers. Their work is surreal and witty, with knowing nods to Scottish culture; something they have in common with a number of the designers involved.
Another big-hitter is Belinda Robertson, the company that helped make cashmere cool. Then there’s milliner William Chambers – whose hats have been worn by everyone from Joan Jett to Kelis – and fashion designer Henrietta Ludgate, who made an impression last year when eco-conscious Livia Firth chose to wear one of her dresses to the British Fashion Awards.
Textiles company Caerlee Mills – which collaborates with high-profile designers including Holly Fulton – has also made the cut, as have Bebaroque – they of the fabulously bejewelled hosiery – jeweller Euan McWhirter, interiors brand Morton Young & Borland and Vogue favourite Rosie Sugden, whose neon cashmere beanies were a huge hit last winter.
Throw in Common People Clothing, Eribe knitwear and fashion designer Judy R Clark and you’ve got 12 creative companies representing the very best of Scottish design. “Scotland has a great pool of talent and when we get together I think there’s strength in numbers,” says William Chambers. “I like that most of us are living and working in Scotland. That excites me, and I think that us all going over to New York together helps to show that it can be done.”
Though many emerging Scottish designers often gravitate towards London, fashion and design are serious businesses in Scotland, and our textiles industry has a long and illustrious heritage. Today it employs 9,500 people, supplies to more than 150 countries and has an annual turnover of £756 million.
It’s an industry worth shouting about. Earlier this month, Colin McDowell, one of the world’s top fashion commentators, gave a talk at the Edinburgh College of Art alongside designer Christopher Kane, in which he suggested that the country’s talents in the fashion and textiles sectors are such that top Scottish designers like Jonathan Saunders, Holly Fulton and Kane himself could showcase their collections at home instead of at London Fashion Week.
However, it’s an industry built on connections, and helping creative businesses make and nurture key contacts is one of the aims of Scotland Re:Designed. Such projects are a vital springboard for young businesses working within tight budgets, and are crucial if the Scottish textiles industry is to build its interests abroad.
Next week, the 12 exhibitors will display their work in a showroom in Chelsea, NYC, where they will be able to meet key buyers as well as powerful members of the US press who can expose their designs to a much wider audience. In short, it’s an invaluable opportunity, one which promises to help expand the interests of established businesses and help launch newer ones to the world.
Scotland Re:Designed was founded by Chris Hunt, of fashion and textiles agency Genuine, after he was approached by a number of designers and companies suggesting that an industry-led platform to support Scottish talent at home and abroad could help businesses grow. The perception of the Scottish fashion and textiles industry across the pond is, he says, one of “quality manufacturing and design full of skill”. His hope is that the initiative will ultimately help secure jobs within the industry in Scotland.
“Tom Ott, [the senior vice-president] of Saks 5th Avenue, said at last year’s annual Textiles Scotland conference that our time is now,” says Hunt. “Working with mills, factories and designers as I do, there’s a greater than ever sense of global brands and retailers coming back to Scotland to buy quality design and manufacturing, supporting our incredibly vibrant and proactive fashion and textiles industry.”
It’s no secret that New Yorkers are pretty enamoured with all things Scotland. Events including Tartan Week, Dressed to Kilt and Scotland Week have all showcased Scottish culture over the years, and have been big dates on the city’s calender. Scotland Re:Designed plans to make the most of the “special relationship” we enjoy with the city.
Euan McWhirter is the Glasgow-based jewellery designer who counts Kylie Minogue and Shirley Manson among his fans. He has stockists in London but hopes that travelling to New York will help him make contacts in the US.
“With high-end luxury, it’s important to be stocked in big fashion cities like London and New York,” he says. “My whole focus used to be on design but I spend a lot of time on the business side of things now too, so building contacts is key. A lot of people have said that my products would go down really well in the States so I’d love to get a couple of really good stockists in New York.
“I find the style and the people in New York and Glasgow quite similar, so it’s a good fit.”
In the inaugural year of Scotland Re:Designed, organisers received three times the number of applicants they could support, and Hunt already hopes that the project will grow in the future, to accommodate other businesses. “To me, that says there’s a need for other sustained platforms for the different types of business that SRD couldn’t accommodate,” he says. “We are already in talks for some exciting developments once we get back from New York for our event in Scotland at the end of June.”
It’s every designer’s dream to see their work exhibited on an international stage, and the stage doesn’t get much bigger than New York. From household names who are receiving a boost internationally to newer businesses you’re about to see a lot more of, Scotland Re:Designed promises to shine a spotlight on Scottish talent. Start spreading the news.
• Scotland Re:Designed will be at 558 West 21st, & 12th in New York, NY 10011 from 9-12 April and at The Lighthouse in Glasgow from 28 June-1 July. Visit www.scotlandredesigned.com for details.