Ahead of the 2022 Graduate Fashion Week, YKK shares the alumni experience of two of its standout winners of the YKK Accessories Award in recent years, Ella Hall from the University of Brighton and the University of Northampton’s Natasha Finlay.
The YKK Accessories Award always delivers strong talent, and in 2020, Hall impressed judges with her adaptable fold-out angling tackle bag that transformed into a luxury menswear piece featuring interchangeable and modular features created by several chunky bespoke YKK zips. While last year’s winner Finlay took inspiration from her dreams to create playful padded monsters that were attached with industrial chains on her padded coats. Both Hall and Finlay will have their work displayed at the YKK London Showroom for four weeks. YKK chatted to Hall to find out what it meant to her to win at GFW, what she has been doing since graduation, why she is so passionate about accessories, and her advice for the upcoming Class of 2022.
What did it mean for you to win the YKK accessories award?
Of course, it meant a huge amount but particularly in the circumstances. Graduating with a fashion degree in 2020 during the peak of Covid disruptions was extremely tough. With no final show or any display of final collections, it was massively upsetting after 4 years of hard work. Having to make a collection from your bedroom wasn’t without its challenges so winning the award meant so much. Especially being able to attend the award show and having that level of in-person involvement with GFW was really exciting.
How has the award and experience of GFW helped your career?
Prior to designing my final collection at University, I hadn’t thought about making accessories. My inspiration was carp angling and one of my key pieces was a large fold-out tackle bag, which I adapted into a luxury menswear piece with a modular design and a number of chunky bespoke YKK zips. Winning the YKK Accessories Award for this piece inspired me to further explore accessory design.
We were still in the height of lockdown, so I started experimenting with what I had at home and developed a more commercial range of bags. I started working with a waterproof canvas focusing on more muted tones with the fabric, such as an earthy khaki and contrasting it with bold, almost neon orange webbing straps.
I have continued this experimentation with colour and switching out the bold strap colours for more muted tones, using these alongside brighter fabrics, which seem to be my most popular pieces. I began posting them online through my Instagram page and received great feedback, which encouraged me to open an Etsy shop and I have continued selling there, as well as through my Instagram page.
Since graduating can you share what you have been doing?
I have started a part-time job at a studio I interned at during my third year at university, which I’m really enjoying. The designer produces luxury womenswear so working with beautiful dresses and gowns makes a lovely contrast to what I do with my own work.
I have also continued making bags and selling them online through Instagram and Etsy, as well as attending Maker’s and Designer’s fairs in and around my hometown, Brighton. After the two years of covid disruption and isolation, I have thoroughly enjoyed these events and being able to network with other makers and designers, as well as being able to sell my bags in person and seeing people's responses to them. It has all encouraged me to continue making and carry on with organically building my brand.
How important it is for a graduate like yourself to work with a company like YKK?
Winning the award and being able to work with YKK massively boosted my confidence in my work as a designer. I'm not sure if I would have started creating a collection solely of bags if it wasn’t for the award, as it wasn’t something I had previously thought about. So being able to work with them opened up new ideas and paths for me and was a massive boost of inspiration and encouragement.
Why are you so passionate about accessories?
I think that making accessories is incredibly fun, I feel that I can be a lot more playful and experimental with colours than I am with my clothing designs, which makes it exciting. I think your accessories, particularly bags are such an important part of an outfit and can make a difference to your look. I also think that as well as looking good, a bag needs to be practical, which is another element I enjoy in the design process.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
In five years, I would like to be continuing to grow my own brand, to have broadened my product range and continued to develop new designs and ideas. I also like to think I would have expanded my range and be making and selling clothes alongside my accessories. Ideally, an outerwear range carrying through elements of my bag design such as the waterproof qualities and the merging of earthy muted tones with contrasting bold colours.
What advice would you give this year's graduating class?
My main piece of advice would be to keep designing. It is so easy to just stop designing after graduating. Looking for work in the industry is difficult, and it can make you feel very defeated at times but you just have to keep going. Continue to experiment and have fun with your designs, you never know where an idea might take you.