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Norwich fashion joins the backlash and goes bespoke

PUBLISHED: 15:50 04 April 2013

Fabric designer Katie Whitton with some of her creations. Photo: Steve Adams

Fabric designer Katie Whitton with some of her creations. Photo: Steve Adams

A new style craze could finally bring back Norwich's heritage in fashion and textiles, which is still bubbling under the surface, as EMMA HARROWING finds out.

There is a growing backlash against mass-produced fashion as real women tire of ill-fitting clothes and trends that just do not fit in with their age and lifestyle.

Whereas the smart money used to be spent on ‘investment pieces’ that can be worn forever, the term has taken on a different meaning as an increasing number of women look to dress makers and designers to make them one-off pieces that fit them perfectly.

This demand for bespoke clothing is good news for Norwich. There are a growing number of designer/makers in the city and beyond and with the first fashion graduates from Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) taking their first steps into the big wide world of fashion this year, the prospect for Norwich becoming a hub for bespoke fashion looks somewhat bright.

Katie Whitton, a textile student at NUA graduates this summer. She is already building a name for herself in bespoke fashion by creating the Norwich print.

“There are not many jobs in fashion and textiles in Norwich so many graduates will get their skills here but move to places such as London where there is work,” said 20-year-old Katie. “However, there are a growing number of graduates who are looking into setting up their own design business here. There seems to be a market for one-off, bespoke fashion.”

Katie won the fourth annual Brainchild competition organised by NUA last March for her innovative business proposal to allow people to design their own unique screen-printed fabrics. The one-off fabric can then be used to make anything from cushions to aprons or bought by the metre.

“Winning the competition gave me a bit of funding to set up Whitton Prints,” says Katie. “I’m a judge for this year’s Brainchild competition and it’s exciting to see the many different business ideas that are being pitched and great that I can offer some advice drawn from my experience of winning the award.

“My designs are mainly of buildings and I like to draw many iconic buildings when I’m travelling. The initial idea was that these can be made into notebooks, aprons and even tea towels and sold as souvenirs.”

One of Katie’s designs is the Norwich print, a pattern that takes in the city’s iconic buildings and places of interest from Norwich Castle to Norwich market. Interest in the fabric from people in Norwich has been such that Katie has branched out into turning her print into patterns for skirts.

“I make simple skirts that are gathered at the waist and skim the hips and thighs,” explains Katie. “These can be made in any length and can be made to measure so that you have an item of clothing that truly fits your shape.

“The design can be printed on any fabric and in any colour so you can have a piece of fashion that is bespoke to you.”

At the moment Whitton Prints is just a sideline for Katie who is currently looking into different career options in textile and fashion design. However, the young designer is adamant that her collection of architectural prints will continue to grow, even if she has to work on her label in her own time.

“The main problem in setting up on your own is having the funding to buy equipment,” says Katie. “Then there is the need for inexpensive studio space. Costs can mount up meaning that you need to take on a part-time job or look towards a career with a design house in London. It’s a shame as I’m sure there are many talented designers in Norwich who could really put the city on the map in the field of fashion.”

Nuturing Norwich’s growing bespoke fashion scene is crucial for the city’s future in the business of fashion. Designers of clothing, millinery and jewellery came out in force to showcase at The Designers Show during Norwich Fashion Week at the beginning of this month to prove that the city has a wealth of fashion talent that harks back to the days when textiles and shoe production meant big business to our city.

And interest in original fashion made in Norwich is there. The Designers Show was streamed live over the internet to over 3,000 viewers, a sign that perhaps Norwich could rise from the ashes and become a city for fashion once again.

A major contributor in this renewed interest in bespoke fashion is that many people are concerned about where the items they consume come from. Stemming from the horse meat scandal in the food industry, an increasing number of people are also looking at where their fashion comes from – not just from the level of workmanship, but where fabric was sourced and dyed.

“Bespoke clothing enables you to follow the journey your clothes have made from the source,” says Katie. “I’m part of the Slow Stuff movement in Norwich which is a network of weavers, designers and makers that celebrate good quality workmanship while considering the impact the fashion industry has on people, animals and the environment.”

It’s movements such as these that are putting the production of bespoke clothing into practice. In fact Norfolk as a whole has a loosely knit clothing industry. From those that sheer Norfolk’s sheep population, to the spinners and weavers and textile designers that make the cloth, to the rising number of fashion designers and makers who turn this fabric into tailor made clothes that many now want to wear.

And if that wasn’t enough, Norfolk also has a soon-to-be inhabitant who spends her money on unique, made-to-measure pieces from lesser-known designers and dressmakers, and who instantly makes women want to own whatever she is wearing. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton leads an army of women who strive to have clothes that fit by seeking out this new breed of bespoke designer and dressmaker. Maybe with a celebrity endorsement Norwich could once again be on the fashion map.

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