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Belgian retailer LolaLiza announces winners of Fashion School contest: a conversation with the designers

By Caitlyn Terra

16 Dec 2022

Fashion |Interview

The finalists of the LolaLiza Fashion School contest. Image via LolaLiza

A few months ago, Belgian retailer LolaLiza launched The LolaLiza Fashion School. Belgian fashion talents could enter the competition and winners will see their designs made into real pieces and sold at LolaLiza stores. Designers Femke Thijs, Liesl De Ridder and Nanook Cools are the three lucky ones who won the contest.

The three were selected from a total of ten finalists. Each of these ten individuals received compensation for their participation in the competition. The finalists were welcomed to LolaLiza's headquarters for a two-day bootcamp where they worked on the final assignment with a coach. The designs by Femke Thijs, Liesl De Ridder and Nanook Cools were eventually selected as the best. The winners will receive a creation fee and get commission on the sale of their item. The winning designs will be available in stores in May 2023.

Liesl De Ridder. Image via LolaLiza

Liesl De Ridder

Liesl is 24 years old and currently lives in Borås, Sweden. She is studying at The Swedish School of Textiles. She has participated in several exhibitions in the past and she has experience in design, styling, production and costume design.

What can you already tell us about your winning design?

“My dress is airy and poofy, so women who wear it are able to move freely during the hot summer season. It is dark but with a bright colour print, perfect for going on holiday. It also comes with a super fun accessory that adds an extra touch.”

What inspired you?

“I was inspired by three strong ladies, three of the best women, three grandmothers. The sweetest grandmothers who inspired me to make my dreams come true and achieve my goals. With my designs, I wanted to highlight strong women, embracing who you are and self-confidence.”

What does this win mean to you?

“This win opens new doors for me. I am very happy and excited for what is to come. So far, it has already been a very fun and educational experience. I also hope to make my grandmother extra proud. Time and time again, I prove myself and get more confident about the future. This is a great start of something big. I am very grateful to the whole LolaLiza team for this unique opportunity and I am also extremely happy to embark on this adventure together with the two other winners.”

Femke Thijs. Image via LolaLiza.

Femke Thijs

Femke Thijs is 23 years old and from Ghent. She is currently studying at ESMOD in Paris. She previously won the Hat Trophy at Waregem Koerse.

What can you already tell us about your winning design?

“My design process generally stays the same. I do plenty of research, decide on the colour palette I am going to use, work out a concept and start on a drawing followed by a technical drawing. The chosen design was the very first design I worked out for this competition and, I believe, it was the strongest of the three.”

“The theme of party wear or occasion wear suits my personality very well. I myself love to wear volume and clothes that often have an element of surprise or drama. Quite directly, I asked myself what a woman would wear to a wedding, for example, and so I ended up with my little black dress, a garment that is very accessible to many women. What I think is important is to put your own mark on your designs, which for me is incorporating prints. And so I designed a matching cape with the print on it. The cape can be taken off easily and does give a dramatic effect for when you enter a venue on a special occasion. My prints are often based on elements of nature - flowers inspire me greatly. But more often than not I use an abstraction or blurred version of the flower. For this print, I started by holding the flowers in water and taking photos of them through glass. That way you get a kind of mirror effect, plus a beautiful distortion of the flower.”

What inspired you?

“For the shape of my designs, I often take inspiration from my own wardrobe, or silhouettes that have already been launched on the fashion market in the past. You can certainly innovate, but you can't reinvent hot water, unfortunately. That's my guiding principle. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by the past, but most of all you have to put your own mark on it and make sure it stays modern. For colour and textiles, I am guided by my feelings, I am very colour-sensitive, and often make surprising combinations. For me, colours and fabrics are like a jigsaw puzzle, you start laying it down until every piece falls into place. When I am working on my prints or fabrics, I keep laying out combinations until I feel warm from the intense focus. That's the moment I have found the key and it's right for me. In other words, I get inspired mainly by the colour.”

What does this win mean to you?

“Above all, it's a huge boost. I struggled tremendously as a fashion student and often lost the courage to keep believing that one day I would make it or could make my mark in fashion. Unfortunately, people continue to underestimate how very tough the fashion world is, and how quickly you can lose your self-confidence in the industry because of all the subjective reactions you receive. The key is to always put your own values first, and to know what your identity is.”

“Through this competition, I of course hope that many people can enjoy my design, that it gives women confidence to shine in the clothes they wear. I hope my participation can inspire young people to always believe that many things are possible. For myself, I hope this is a start or a further path to maybe one day having my own label or to collaborations with other brands. And it's a nice culmination of the years of work I have done, but it also is a pat on the back to all the lovely people who support me, from my parents Dirk and Marijke, to my best friends, and so many more people who have helped me over the years.”

Nanook Cools. Image via LolaLiza.

Nanook Cools

28-year-old designer Nanook Cools is currently studying costume design at the Belgian centre for vocational education Syntra. She has already graduated as a Fashion Designer from the City Academy (Stedelijke Academie) of Sint-Niklaas. She is also a stylist at No Babes Agency.

What can you already tell us about your winning design?

"I started from an illustration for the creation of which I let my imagination run wild, and then translated it into the LolaLiza universe. In short, a playful colour palette, a touch of rock and roll and, above all, lots of prints."

What inspired you?

"Cowboys, the LolaLiza woman as a protagonist in her wild western story. The female adventurer riding the horizon."

What does this win mean to you?

“"It gives me the chance to share my universe with you and to be seen as a young designer. A challenge to translate my creativity into a marketable product. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and can't wait to share the final result."

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.BE. Translation and editing from Dutch into English: Veerle Versteeg.