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When the idea becomes reality: academic projects turned into a brand (Barreira A+D edition)

By Sandra Bódalo Munuera


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Credits: Lahuerta Studio occasion wear collection

Valencia - Fashion has undoubtedly been a very fluctuating - not to say mistreated - industry in terms of education and professionalisation. With the exception of its most literal disciplines -such as design, tailoring or pattern making-, a few decades ago there were hardly any courses (let alone master's degrees) on fashion communication or marketing. Nor was there any talk of strategies or business plans. Internships in companies or the classic trial and error made up the ‘unofficial diploma’ of many professionals.

Fortunately, in recent years things have changed. Thanks, in part, to the sovereign law of supply and demand. The proliferation of students interested in this sector has contributed to the appearance of new courses and master's degrees specialising in the business of fashion. However, as with any unconventional career, the same question always arises: how many succeed?

’When the idea becomes reality’ is a new FashionUnited series to showcase some of those success stories. Specifically, those people who have managed to realise their dreams and turn what was originally a master's or bachelor's thesis into a real business.

In this first article of the series we will focus on six real projects from the classrooms of Barreira Academy of Art and Design (Barreira A + D), an official centre for higher education in Valencia, which offers a varied programme focused on craftsmanship, design, styling, millinery and fashion communication. For Elena Giménez, the Centre's Fashion Design Area Coordinator, one of its main academic objectives is "never to separate creativity from viability. Possibly this perspective means that there are more projects that can see the light of day and access the real market".

Avec Amour

Crédits: images of ‘Garden Affairs’ collection by Avec Amour

María Undo and Daniel de Villanueva founded this fashion label last year. Most of their garments are made from old fabrics and recovered stocks. At first their project was not clear, it was like a 'messy drawer' that comprised all their interests and hobbies such as photography, painting, ceramics... But they soon realised that, in reality, all these disciplines were the breeding ground for a project of their own: Avec Amour.

It was then in 2022, for their final bachelor project, when they presented ‘Teen Blush’, a capsule collection with five looks that "laid the foundations of what we understand as ‘Avec Amour’”. A final project that was developed with optimism and "the hope that it could become a reality", according to its creators. A goal that they never set aside, "carefully contemplating both the visual aspect and the brand image, and which has evolved since then without corrupting the original designs".

For María and Daniel, "the school was the pretext that forced us to materialise our brand", but it also gave the young entrepreneurs that necessary dose of ‘faith’ in themselves and in their proposal. Although less than a year old, their romantic and minimalist creations have been very well received internationally, especially in the UK and California. A fact that encourages them and pushes them to want to "focus on sales in Europe", even though they have just "left the nest", as they both described it.

Red Needle

Credits: Images of María Ramajo’s final master project Red Needle. Photographed by Ismael Nasrollah and styled by Federica Buysan.

Only two months have passed since student María Ramajo presented her final master thesis to the jury of 'Fashion Now', Barreira's Master's Degree in Fashion Communication and Marketing. However, the student from Toledo has had plenty of time to present Red Needle to the (digital) world. With a background in fashion design, establishing a brand had always been "a thorn in my side", she said.

It was during the first months of the pandemic that her mother and she began to create "her first business model", designing a series of solidarity gowns for the healthcare team. Soon after came the master degree, the aim of which was "to find my professional identity, what really made me feel fulfilled. And I think there is nothing better than creating your own firm. One in which you can give free rein to your creativity, but always with your feet on the ground", Ramajo remarked.

Today, her business project is very different from the one she started with her mother. "Red Needle is a brand of genderless handmade bags, with a "'Copencore' aesthetic, but with a creepy cute and sarcastic touch that connects with Gen Z", the young designer told FashionUnited. Beyond hackneyed slogans such as "less is more", its founder wanted to focus on centennials and "provide an accessory to this generation that is breaking the mould", she adds. According to the recent alumna, with her on-demand accessories, she "seeks to embrace that diversity, leaving aside the binary and going a step beyond the classic male-female dichotomy".

Secret Loom

Créditos: Secret Loom spring/summer collection

"CEO and owner, but above all a craftswoman". This is how Carmen Bonet defines herself, the body and soul behind Secret Loom, the handbag brand that makes handmade bags from jute, seaweed, hemp, cotton and other recycled materials.

The artist from Castellón, Valencia, studied the master degree in modern crafts at Barreira, because, as she explains, at a certain point in her life she discovered "a creative capacity that I wanted to channel and I felt very attracted to the idea of weaving and seeing things evolve". An uncontrollable force that was also closely related to her ties to her homeland, "my roots and my origins".

As a result of her final work, the idea for this artisan company was born. Her handbag designs are "full of passion and feeling, and inspired by the Mediterranean". Now fifty years old, Carmen says that "Secret Loom is a dream come true" and proof that it is never too late to follow your gut feeling. With a deep respect for the environment and social ethics, Bonet designs "for women who want to stand out, who are at the forefront, who choose and set their own style, who take risks and win, who are brave, enterprising and who leave no one indifferent".

Her creations are timeless and are not necessarily fashionable, although she admits that "her suppliers" do have a degree of influence and that affects her to a certain extent. However, she told FashionUnited that she will soon stop following the rhythm of the seasons and focus on "more traditional techniques" that require a time of their own.

Lahuerta Studio

Credits: Lahuerta Studio occasion wear collection

For Eva Lahuerta, fashion was not unfamiliar. In fact, she had previously studied design and dressmaking, and also had prior experience as a professional stylist. Later, the arrival of the pandemic made her reflect and encouraged her to create her own occasion wear label. Before launching herself into oversaturated offerings, the young Valencian wanted to specialise in communication and marketing and thus train herself in those aspects of the industry that she was still unfamiliar with. A journey that took her to this year when Lahuerta Studio finally became a reality.

Despite the high level of competition, especially when it comes to special occasions, "many of my clients come to me because they haven't found anything that makes them feel like themselves," she told FashionUnited. For her, personalised attention and understanding their demands are the key to what sets her apart.

Last May she launched her first collection and although she "would like to create two collections a year, the reality is that tailoring is something very labour-intensive, which requires a lot of time and dedication", she said. It's a painstaking, handcrafted job, adapted to each style and each body type, but "it's worth it when you see the end result". For now on Instagram "we are creating a community little by little, but word of mouth is what works best for us".

Studio Ysée

Credits: Founder Ysée Rocourt with one of her emblematic designs.

For Ysée Rocourt, studying in Valencia was the stimulus she needed to start her own brand. "I was learning so much during my master degree about the fashion industry, values, sustainability, visual imagery and more. Thanks to that, creating the label came very naturally," she confessed.

It was also during the pandemic, with "so much time at home", when she learned crocheting for fun and ended up sewing her first bag. A first design that was followed by many others. Always handmade and with creativity, craftsmanship and timelessness as the main pillars. "Studio Ysée defends slow fashion, in which the creative process is carried out in a calm manner and without exhausting the planet", its founder explained.

Ysée is aware of the revival of craftsmanship. "There are many people who no longer want to buy fast fashion and who understand that the prices of fast fashion are not realistic", she said. For her, the most important thing is that her buyers align themselves with the values of her studio and that she can work without restrictions or timetables.

Currently her sales occur mostly digitally, through her website, although "sometimes I have also participated in pop-ups such as the Flash Sale at Filipinas 5 and you can always find some of my designs in the shop at Yours Boutique Hotel in Valencia," she said.

Sol Mayordomo Preloved

Credits: Sol Mayordomo Preloved ‘Entropía’ fashion show, with Camila Miranda, during Circular Sustainable Fashion Week Madrid.

In Sol's case, it has always been clear to her that she wanted to make the transition from theory to practice. "I didn't know if it would be exactly as I had initially envisioned it, but I was clear that I wanted to do something" that united aesthetics and ethics, he says. In the end, the result was a range of services, from image consultancy and styling to Sol Mayordomo Preloved, a vintage brand based on the revival of clothes and accessories.

Her brand sources from private wardrobes and from flea markets, as well as from second-hand shops and "treasures found on trips", as the designer herself told FashionUnited. A lifestyle that has also led her to form alliances such as her collaboration with Colombian designer Camila Miranda at Circular Sustainable Fashion Week (CSFW) in Madrid.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.ES. Translation and edit from Spanish into English: Veerle Versteeg.

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