Inês Silva - Fashion Designer
Fashion Designers may come from different backgrounds, have different references, different goals, but there’s one common thread to all these creative folks: passion! They are all passioned about what they do, about what they are creating and about what they want to achieve with their work.And Inês Silva is no different. During our interview/conversation, we could see her eyes shining as she spoke about her work and her brand. And even when we talked about more sensitive issues and the daily struggle of young fashion Designers, you could still sense the passion in her voice.Keep on reading to know more about Inês Silva and the nature of her brand, Fair Retail.
We know that a significant part of your path in the fashion world was done in London. So why don’t we start from the beginning and tell us how everything started?
When I finished high school I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. At the time, I was already interested in fashion and design, so I ended up taking a course in design at IADE, which allowed me to explore different areas in the art world. After this, I took a break and did a technical course on cutting and sewing, after which, I decided to go to London to study fashion design, at West London College.
This was definitely a very important turning point for me. When I got there I felt overwhelmed by the big city and it was very interesting because I had colleagues from all over the world. At a personal level, it was also a very enriching experience.
After ending the course at West London College, I did a 6 month internship with Lulu Liu. The team was great and we worked with haut couture, and fabrics such as silk, chiffon, lace and until then I never had the change to work with that kind of fabrics, so it was great. And by working at her studio I ended up taking part of the London Fashion Week.
Upon ending my internship, I took a few weeks off and then I ended up working for a young designer - Micol Ragni - which had recently created her own brand. In there I learned a lot, she taught me everything she knew. And it was great, because we both had a similar backgrounds with internships and she taught me not only sewing but she also taught me about the administrative part of the business, like getting in touch with suppliers, communication and so on.
I worked for her during one year and then I decided to come back to Portugal.
That’s when Fair Retail was born?
Yes. When I returned to Portugal, I applied for several jobs, but I never got a decent offer. And understanding how the market was, I decided that instead of taking a poorly paid job that had nothing to do with me, maybe I would do better if I started my own brand.
What difficulties did you feel, when launching Fair Retail?
I still feel them! It’s very hard to find the right contacts and it’s also hard to be well accepted by factories and textile producers. When you visit manufacturing plants, it seems people there feel troubled with your presence. I’m not saying this is what happens everywhere, but… still, it feels like we (designers) have a bad reputation. And this is frustrating because it’s a known fact that these factories have tons of textiles they end up not using and what they consider to be a waste, can very well be raw material for us!
We've noticed there’s an environmental concern in your brand, where did this come from?
That consciousness began mostly when I started having a better understanding of the fashion industry, in particular the manufacturing side of it. When I created Fair Retail, my experience was mostly from working at ateliers, but when you go to a factory and you realise how large quantities of clothes are actually manufactured, that creates a different impact in you. It impressed me seeing huge quantities of clothes being made, to be sold at low prices, only to be used half a dozen times and then going to the garbage and realising that around 80% of the clothing industry works like this… it makes you stop and think. Up to which point do you want to work on this industry and contribute to these things that go against the values you believe in?
It’s a fact that, nowadays, the clothing industry is the most polluting one. I think people know this, but they prefer to ignore it… they probably prefer to pretend like they don’t know… and I don’t see myself as an activist, I just want to try to make something that I truly believe in.
We feel that in Portugal, there still isn’t a wide environmental consciousness nor a particular interest for sustainable fashion. Do you feel the same? Do you think this is an opportunity for your brand or a barrier?
I obviously look at it as an opportunity. There are many things happening in Portugal, when it comes to sustainable fashion, but it’s mostly cases like mine, of small brands, with low budgets to invest and it’s not cheap, because all the recycled materials are far more expensive.
There is also another important issue, that has to do with the concept of what is in fact “sustainable fashion”? Many people think that a sustainable product is the one made mostly with natural raw materials. What they don’t know, is that the process of making those products is highly polluting. We should try to understand the durability of those products because, in my own opinion, what contributes to our ecological footprint, it’s the consume itself. It’s the act of consuming and throwing away.
So, this means that your clothes are made considering these aspects?
Yes, they are being made on a factory in the north of Portugal, which has very high standards of quality control. I consider my clothes to be eco friendly, because they are indeed resistant and durable. It’s not something to be used during one or two seasons only.
But don’t you think that happens because fashion is cyclical? You can buy a great jacket today, but in two or three years you won’t be using it anymore, because its pattern or design is not trendy anymore.
Yes, that’s why I said that the pollution problem has everything to do with our consumption culture. And maybe that’s why I consider Fair Retail to be very ambitious, because I’m not selling an aesthetic trend, I’m selling a social trend. I’m trying to pass values and not only the looks of the clothes.
Looking at the minimal approach of your brand and the use of natural elements, reminds us of the nordic design. Was that one of your references?
I think you need to wait to see the coming collections [laughs] because the next ones might not be so aesthetically consistent.
But yes, I have a preference for minimalistic aesthetic. For instance, my first collection was inspired by a series of photographies and this second was inspired by the the void and emptiness, which a very subjective theme. And the third collection was inspired by bipolarity. As you see, they are all pretty unique.
Last October was an important mark for you, because of Sangue Novo - ModaLisboa [Lisbon Fashion Week]. How was that experience?
It was awesome!! I was super thrilled when I knew I had been accepted. This has to do with what I said earlier… when I came back to Portugal, I felt somewhat displaced, because I had never worked in fashion here, and I was starting everything from scratch, so everything was like a big question mark and I had lots of doubts about my own capability of doing this.
Being accepted to present my collection at ModaLisboa, as I said to my friends, was like getting the ticket to Hogwarts [laughs] After getting the call, I wanted to do everything immediately, like having the collection ready the week after. But then I calmed down and started working on it and from there until the day, I did nothing else but to work on the collection.
And what was the feedback after the show?
There was one thing that bothered me a bit, that had to do with the fact that my participation had to be done individually, with my own name and not with my brand. I think that caused some confusion, because some people tried to reach me afterwards but they couldn’t find me, because they were looking for “Inês Silva” and not for “Fair Retail”.
So why did you decide to create a brand and not going with your own name, like many Designers do?
Because I see the brand more as a project in which I’m taking part of, rather than an extension of who I am. I see my brand more like a group (of which I’m part) that works for a specific audience.
What about the future? What can we expect from Fair Retail?
Right now, I’m struggling to get my current collections to a wider audience. And the next collection is already being produced 😃
And where can we find your clothes?
At the moment, on the website - http://www.fairretail.pt/ - but I’m also considering other alternatives, such as specific stores and online platforms.
To close this interview, what do you think is still missing in the Portuguese market, that would allow young Designers to succeed?
I think there’s missing a lot of mutual help among people and not only in the fashion scene. Portuguese people are still afraid of taking risks, they only go for more secure ventures. And the ones who are willing to take the jump, end up having their wings cut off, because I feel like opportunities are only given to certain people.
Portuguese textile industry has a great reputation and we have big companies working in this industry, but I don’t understand why don’t they invest in young Designers. They have all the tools… I mean, how much of a risk is it for them to create sub-brands where they would use Portuguese Designers?
I really feel this link is still missing, between these old and established companies and the young Designers.
photography & interview Gonçalo M. Catarino
find out more at FAIR RETAIL