Celebrating a prestigious award ceremony in your living room is a strange dichotomy.
That’s how up-and-coming fashion designer Sarah Flynn, of Sarah Flynn Textiles, describes the experience of winning the 2020 Institute of Designers in Ireland Graduate Awards for the Fashion and Textiles category. Nonetheless, the champagne was popped.
The project she won it for, entitled Colourfully Conscious, was almost never completed.
Weeks before Flynn finished her final year in the National College of Art and Design, universities closed up shop due to Ireland’s first Covid-19 lockdown – leaving many students stranded with unfinished work.
“We were at home with no equipment and no machinery. It was so hard to work out of a box room with absolutely nothing. We had no access to weaver looms. I discovered my love for hand-knitting during lockdown and based a lot of my collection on hand-knitting and weaving,” Flynn tells me.
“Thankfully, Ncad got us back in for Makers Month and that’s when we had three weeks to make our full collection.”
Colourfully Conscious is a collection of luxurious woven, hand-knit and digital-print fabrics for women’s wear spring summer collection 2020-21.
Inspired by Moroccan tile patterns and fabric materials, Flynn combined traditional textile techniques with the geometric patterns most often seen in Marrakesh. At its core, the collection promoted slow fashion.
“I sourced natural materials such as cotton, wool, silks and seaweed yarns. The seaweed yarns I got from a supplier in Belgium,” Flynn says. “As well as that, I sourced dead-stock waste yarns from a local Irish mill, which would have gone to landfill otherwise. So it was nice to up-cycle these materials – they’re natural and still high-quality as well.”
Ethical and sustainable production were the driving factors behind this collection.
By documenting these sustainable practices, Colourfully Conscious tries to demonstrate alternative practices that can be adopted by the textile industry as a whole.
For example, Flynn’s project incorporates natural dyes in an effort to combat the fact that the fashion industry is responsible for one-fifth of the world’s water waste and textile dying is the world’s second largest polluter of water globally.
“Dye is so potent and toxic,” explains Flynn. “It seeps into rivers and oceans and pollutes everything. I thought it was good to focus on that and how you can incorporate a more natural approach and stop using toxic chemicals in the process.”
Flynn continues: “In Morocco, they concentrated on using natural dyes in their yarns and wools and then weave them into textiles such as rugs and fabrics – turmeric used as a dye is a big one. Paprika is another spice they use and there are loads of flowers too. But obviously, they can’t be grown in Ireland.”
While turmeric and paprika may not be readily grown in Ireland, there are sustainable methods being practiced for making natural dyes. For instance, the Apple Oak Fibre Works project in county Clare, who make dye from composted onion skins.
Getting down to business
With the leftover materials from her graduate project, Flynn decided to keep the sustainable cycle going and start up her own business – Sarah Flynn Textiles.
“Instead of throwing it out, I was like ‘what will I do with this?’ So I decided to make these woven frames and basically use this zero-waste method and turn it into art. Each piece takes about two hours to put together.” explains Flynn.
Flynn’s pieces don’t shy away from colour. Each squared frame has its own unique design, fixating you into a portal of otherworldliness.
I ask Flynn about growing her brand and getting her business up and running.
“It’s definitely a learning process. I love being creative so I’m always looking for ways to improve. I think it’s key to recognise that you don’t know everything. So it’s good to be open to new ideas and approaches,” she says.
Still in its early days, Flynn wants to stick to her guns and keep her fashion sustainable – a conflict she feels many brands face once they get off the ground.
“My brand’s mission is to get customers to see the impact you can curate through strong design processes. And to see the value of hand-made products. Instead of something that’s made a hundred times from plastic or clothes made en masse from cheap materials.” says Flynn.
Fast fashion is a problem facing the world over, and with online consumption increasing during the pandemic, lots more garments will find themselves in landfill.
“I think people need to investigate and realise why fast fashion is so cheap. Because the reality is if you’re not paying for the cost, someone else is.”