Q & A with Kévin Germanier, winner of the EcoChic Design Award 2014/15

Wednesday, 13 May 2015
INTERVIEW Emerging Swiss designer and second-year student at London’s Central Saint Martins Kévin Germanier was named the winner of The EcoChic Design Award 2014/15 earlier this year during Hong Kong fashion week. Part of the prize included the opportunity to travel back  to Hong Kong to create a sustainable fashion collection for premium department store Shanghai Tang, using up cycled materials. FashionUnited took a moment to talk to the young women’s wear designer to learn more about his experience applying for the EcoChic Design Award, creating the collection and how it felt to be named the winner.

When did your interest in fashion design begin? How did you end up at Central Saint Martins (CSM)?

“I was always interested in fashion, especially women’s wear because I prefer dressing women over men. I was afraid of sharing this passion with the world, so at first I did a year of university in Geneva. But then one of my teachers asked me what I doing there and started pushing me to apply for my dream school - Central Saint Martins in London. So I decided to do so in secret, I didn’t tell my friends or even my parents, nobody knew so it was quite a shock for them all when they discovered the truth.”

“I come from a really small village in Switzerland and I wanted to challenge myself. I was about to turn twenty and was asking myself ‘Are you happy with your life right now?’ And, to be honest I was quite happy with my life in Geneva but I wanted more. And I didn’t to live with regrets so I tried my chances and ended up here.”

What attracted you to sustainable fashion?

“Sustainability has always been linked to fashion to me. People tend to forget about it at times, but now since the industry is going badly in so many ways, it’s been brought forward again. My trip to Hong Kong really opened my eyes as to how bad it is in some areas. So it is part of our job as designers to be smart and clever when you create. It is good to design nice dresses, but in my opinion if you design smart, nice dresses that sell that makes more sense. I want, I hope I can be a smart designer and not just another dressmaker. Being a fashion designer is not just a hobby to me, it's’ a job and you have proper issues to deal with. Isn’t just about creating dreams and helping people escape from reality - you still have to face reality and its ordeals, otherwise it doesn’t make sense.”

“I like to be limited as well, so that is why I chose up-cycling. It’s all about finding the right fabric, although I may not like the colour it is, so in that sense it makes my work far more personal, instead of going to a store and saying ‘I want that in white.’ When you up-cycle, designing is so much more challenging because you never know what you will get, so you are always on your toes, but in the end you will always make it. That is the beauty of sustainability, you never know what you may get, or how it will look in the end and I think that’s really challenging. As a designer you want to surprise yourself each time as well, it’s not just about the others, it makes it exciting to work in that way.”

“Also as a student at CSM you don’t always have a lot of money. I partially started to up-cycle because of my financial situation. So I then I thought instead of letting it be a weakness, I should make it may strength. And here we are.”

Why did you decide to apply for the EcoChic Design Award?

“The designer I work with, Mei-hui Lei, was part of the jury panel for Taiwan and she told me to do it. I told her I was really busy with school and that the timing wasn’t right, but then I decided to trust her and applied and surprisingly I was named a semifinalist for the UK. I met the two other contestants for the UK and they were really good, so I thought ‘What I am going to do? I am just gonna have fun because I will never get through to the next round anyways.’ Then I just came up with a crazy design, with fun fabric manipulation because I thought I was never going to get through anyway and so I can at least have fun and put the work in my portfolio."

“But I guess the judges liked it and I was selected to be the finalist for the UK. I really did not foresee it, I was at my parents house in Switzerland when I got the email saying I was a finalist. So I was really excited on one hand, but at the time I only had one month and a half to make the collection. I think I was quite ambitious. Actually I was quite naive when I was making my designs because I thought I would never go through, but in the end I had enough time to do everything, even though it was really stressful. CSM was really supportive of me applying for the award and building an entire collection for first time. I built 11 pieces in total for 6 looks which is quite a lot for one person. I made knits, something which I had never done before and used plastic bags with swiss army blankets, which was also challenging. But I was really positive about it all and optimistic. What was really nice was that the time was so short that I didn’t have time to complain, I just had time to make it.”

Where did you find your inspiration for the collection for the EcoChic Design Award?

“I usually get inspired by the dirtiest, weirdest things I can find. The more unusual something is, the better for me. I do not like obvious things, I prefer mess and chaos. I like to shock people too. Not in a scandalous way, but in a surprising way. I like to take inspiration from something dirty or unusual and turn it into something people would like.”

“For the EcoChic Design Award we received a theme which was Modern China Chic. I mainly focused on China, because to me China is the perfect mix of old tradition with the future. You have all these traditional buildings, and art and clothes mixed together and on other side you have all the technological developments. So I was inspired by the clash of these two different topics and decided to use fabrics which represented them - swiss army blankets and plastic bags - and up-cycle them. The swiss army blankets, are traditional, old, woollen and look noble in a sense, but then on the other hand I used really cheap plastic bags. Actually I don’t like to call them plastics bags, I prefer the scientific name, polyethylene, because then people tend to be more interested in the fabric and open to it. I think you have to be clever with the way you talk about your collection to make it seem more desirable. Especially with sustainable fashion, it can be far more challenging to make people like your clothes so you have to market it in a clever.”

How did you feel when you heard you were the winner of the EcoChic Design Award 2014/15/?

“If I am honest, it was really overwhelming for me. You can’t imagine creating your first collection as a student and then showing it during Hong Kong fashion week, that’s incredible. It was my first time making a collection from A to Z. I was afraid that the models didn’t know how to walk, but they were great. The set and music was amazing, most of us finalists were actually in tears during the rehearsal because it was such a powerful moment for us. We were a group of 21 year old students showing our collections during Hong Kong fashion week, how amazing is that. It such a competitive field, just to show in front of an audience with industry movers it was a dream come true.”

“During our time in Hong Kong we were filmed all the time like a reality TV show because they wanted to make a short film documenting the process. At one point we had to go one by one into a room and answer questions about our day and they asked the other finalists who they thought was going to win, but they never asked me. So in the end when we were waiting to hear who won, all the finalists were around me, but I was in my own world, I was so stressed and tired, it didn’t sink in. When they said my name I looked at the other finalists and they were all saying ‘We knew it!’ and we had a big group hug. I went out to the catwalk to accept the award, but I was still pretty out of it. Even though many people believed in me, I was still doubting because in fashion nothing is certain. I really wanted to win, but didn’t think I would.”

As the winner of the Award you will be designing a luxury, sustainable collection for Shanghai Tang. What aims do you have for your collection?

“Shanghai Tang has an amazing design team and I can’t wait to start on my collection for them. Working in a team will be a rich experience for me, I can’t wait to learn from them as well. I would love to use bright colours in the collection and clever shapes. I want people to be unable to see it is sustainable straight away. I want them to be like ‘oh that dress is incredible’ and then I can shock them by saying it is sustainable and they’ll respond ‘I didn’t know sustainable fashion can be so amazing.’ But the collection will be up-cycled, so I will most likely be given some leftover fabrics to work with from previous collections and I don’t know what I’ll get. I don’t want to be too excited either and dream up all these designs to be told when I get to Hong Kong that it’s not possible. Either way, it’s going to be challenging for me to make clothes that will really sell, but I love challenges so I can’t wait!”

“As a designer it is an amazing opportunity for me to spend three months in Asia, living in another culture and learning new ways of social interaction. I just turned 23 and I will be designing a collection that will be sold in this big department store, I feel really blessed. I think you have to be very humble and thankful in fashion or you won’t make it because it’s such a hard business. I couldn’t be happier with the prize. I have also always been interested in Asian culture, so this is really just the cherry on the cake.”

What is the biggest impact winning the Award has had on you?

“I would say as a human it gave me hope that there is change going on in the world and as a designer that it is possible to succeed, but you have to really fight for it. During the month and half I was working on the collection, I had no time for fun. Designing is my passion, so I do not see it as a negative thing, but you really have to work hard and be harsh with yourself to do well. It gave me hope and happiness. People tend to ask me where I see myself in ten years or what my biggest goal is but I always answer, I just want to be happy. So winning made me super happy and gave me lots of hope and contacts. My tutor at CSM told me that he could see I was ready to take on more dramatic designs now, because before I was a bit shy and unsure of myself but now I trust myself more.”

What the main piece of advice you would give to a student applying for the next EcoChic Design Award?

“I would say be creative. It is a 6 look collection, so have fun with your looks as well. Also when it comes to sustainable or up-cycle fashion, many designers tend to use denim or shirts and visit vintage stores for fabrics. But sustainable fashion is not just that, you have so many incredible fabrics waiting to be used. So I hope I opened the eyes of the next applicants to use more materials like polyethylene or swiss army blankets - even though it was a horrible fabric to work with. What makes fashion amazing is that it’s all about fun, I would say so don’t be afraid to have fun. I may sound arrogant to some, but that’s just who I am.”

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