After graduating from Parsons and studying at Central Saint Martins in London, Laura Siegel launched her namesake womenswear collection in 2010, focusing on sustainable fabrics and eco-fashion. Her debut collection was a result of traveling the world and training with a knitter in the mountains near Chiang Mai, Thailand, embroiderers from the Red Hmong tribe in Sapa, and a leather smith in Hoi An, Vietnam.
Travel has been a big source of inspiration for you. Where have you gone for the SS13 collection?
This season has taken me to Peru and Bolivia allowing me to source amazing yarns and natural dye work as well as incorporate new knitting and crocheting techniques.
What are you most looking forward to about presenting in New York next week?
I am excited to introduce the new techniques and colors to buyers. The collection incorporates lots of embroidery as well as fun shades of neon.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where did you get some of your design experience? Which designers did you work for?
Over the years, I have been fortunate to spend time at Arthur Mendonca in Toronto, Luca Luca and Yigal Azrouel in New York, and Life with Bird and Megan Park in Melbourne. I also studied at Parsons and Central Saint Martins, and miss being a student!
What made you decide to launch your collection during Toronto Fashion Week initially?
Canada is very supportive of its own talent. Having grown up there, it was great to go home and have that be a platform for the launch. It was also an honor to be part of an event that also hosted some other designers that I look up to and admire.
Aside from inspiration how does traveling play a role in your collection?
Travel really plays a role in every aspect of the brand: the customer, how the clothing functions, the shape and process of how the pieces are designed. The people that I meet along the way plus being constantly surrounded by beautiful natural or man-made landscapes is truly inspiring. I usually reflect this through the materials I use in the clothes.
The time I spend working with artisans really gives me a reason to be building the line. Their crafts are so special and rare to see, so to be able to collaborate and be designing with these groups, to show more people what these groups are doing and give each individual out there an opportunity to help with sustaining these crafts, really makes the process a unique one.
Can you tell us about the local artisans you met along the way?
One of the families that worked on the collection was a family of Ajrakh block printers. They carve a design out of wood and we use natural materials to cerate the dye (we used indigo in this collection) and stamp the print on the fabric. The craft is 7,000 years old and the Khatris have been practicing the craft for 10 generations. Their two year old boy is already playing with the wooden blocks and mimicking his family.
The women of the Kutch region walk covered in embroidery work. Each group has distinguishing features to let people know at first glance where she is from. The region takes pride on its traditional crafts, and the embroidery encompasses these womens’ entire life. It’s a hobby, a dowry and social representation. The community I worked with, called Dhebaria Rabari, is a group that had the ancient craft banned only 15 years ago. Having the craft mean so much to these women, they now perform an extra step of appliqué work, which allows them to continue doing what they love.
As a designer on what level did you connect most with the artisans?
When working with the Dhebaria Rabri community, there were times when it was just me and the women, with no one that translated around, and we would work on embroideries. They would be teaching me how to say words like “scissors” and “yarn” in their native language (Kaachhii or Rabari). Our fascination with each others way of looking at design and culture really allowed us to connect in an interesting way. It was this excitement of learning about each others different perspective and how that comes out in our design practices that really built a great relationship for collaboration.
How did you decide to focus on sustainable design?
Before I dove into working with a focus on ethical methods, I was always wary of the fact that doing one small thing to help with sustaining the environment, culture and peoples lives is important to make a difference, but I was trying to prove to myself, that it is not too onerous of a task to be incorporated into designing and building a brand. It is my attempt at combining a love for design and people, by really keeping them in mind throughout every step of the process.
Is there a particular lesson you’ve learned from other designers?
Megan Park will always be a huge inspiration to me. I worked with her and had the opportunity to see her excel at her talent while maintaining excellent relationships with artisans, all while managing a great team back in Melbourne, where her head office is. She grows at such a respectable pace and I am proud to have had the opportunity to learn from her.
I’ve also been inspired by Donna Karan’s effort in starting Urban Zen, along with Suno for their involvement in employing artisans in Kenya.