Bottletop’s Flagship Store – A Symbiosis of Sustainability and Tech

I know I’m not alone when I say it takes more to get me into a retail store these days than ever before.  Shopping online is the ultimate convenience, so stores have to go bold and offer something really special to get shoppers through the door.  Enter Bottletop, the sustainable luxury accessories brand with a newly launched flagship store on Regent Street sporting a KUKA robot in the window along with films telling the story of their responsibly sourced and produced products projected onto the store walls.  When it comes to fashion brands, this isn’t your average sustainability story.  Let me take a leap back and explain exactly what makes Bottletop a sustainable luxury brand and how their ethos extend from the product, to the store and then the engagement of cutting-edge robot technology in the form the KUKA LBR collaborative robot.

Render of final store – Image:  Bottletop

The Bottletop Fashion Company journey began in 2012 with co-founder Oliver Wayman’s mum picking up an up-cycled ring-pull and crochet bag in Salvador, Brazil – a neat way to fuse readily available waste and the craft of crochet, making a light and strong bag – and led to a partnership with artisans in Brazil that has grown into an atelier producing the brand’s signature products and developing new materials for future product lines.  Bottletop bags are made from discarded ring-pulls sourced in Brazil, along with locally sourced yarns for crochet and responsibly produced Brazilian leathers that are certified ‘Amazon Zero Deforestation‘, guaranteeing zero impact on protected forests from cattle farming and grazing.  Underpinning Bottletop’s fashion brand is the Bottletop Foundation, founded in 2002 by Oliver’s co-founder, Cameron Saul, which raises funds for social enterprise initiatives across Africa, Brazil and the UK.

So what spurred a sustainable fashion duo to delve into the world of robotics and 3D printed interiors for the launch of their flagship store in December this year?  At least in part, for reasons mentioned in my opening paragraph – retail needs to offer customers an experience and tell a story – but also because they wanted to do something different and juxtapose the hand-made natural elements of their products with a very high tech interior, according to Oliver.  “Using natural, sustainable materials would have been an obvious thing to do” he explained, but they wanted to be more ambitious than that, and offer their customers something unexpected.  A brain-storming session between Oliver and a friend Paolo Zilli at Zaha Hadid led to a discussion with KRA– USE ARCHITECTS, who were already exploring robotic manufacturing, and inspired the Bottletop team to delve into this brave new robo-tech retail world.  The team of collaborators then grew to include AI-build who are 3D printing interior surfaces designed by KRA– USE ARCHITECTS and Reflow who created the 3D printing filament from 100% recycled plastic.  The primary purpose of Oliver and Cameron’s tech-led shop fit and KUKA installation is to use technology as a storytelling tool and to foster an understanding amongst consumers about the place that new technologies have in our world and within their business – in this case facilitating the use of a new and exciting recycled plastic material in their store design and build.

A 3D printed wall panel shaped to hold bag handles for display

The instore storytelling of the Bottletop brand begins from the window display, featuring signature Paco Rabanne-esque ring-pull ‘‘bellani’ bags and the enamelled ‘Mistura’ clutches developed in collaboration with Narcisco Rodriguez, amongst which moves a KUKA robot 3D printing bag charms from 100% recycled plastic.  This recycled PET plastic was created from plastic bottles rescued from the ocean and processed into a thin printable plastic tube – a 3D printing filament.  The concept is akin to Parley for the Oceans collaboration with Adidas, which used plastic yarn in trainers and clothing, but instead of spinning the recovered plastic bottles into a yarn, Bottletop collaborators Reflow have processed the plastic into a continuous plastic filament, which the KUKA robot heats and extrudes through a 3D printing ‘gripper’ attachment fixed to the end of the robot arm that prints the bag charms by depositing successive layers of molten plastic – known as additive manufacturing.

In store, working alongside the robot was Daghan Cam of AI Build, who explained that in contrast to usual 3D printing filaments made from non-recycled plastic (including PLA), the recycled plastic filament is trickier to work with and has slightly different structural properties;  And here lies the commonality between Bottletop’s sustainable hybrid ring-pull/crochet/leather materials and this new recycled filament  – the experimentation to develop these new materials is a long and complex process, requiring considerable R&D and bags (pardon the pun) of passion and perseverance.  Oliver and Cameron have it in droves and as they talk me through the store’s 100% recycled rubber flooring and show me samples of the interior walls currently being printed at AI Build, to the products themselves, their dedication to both sustainable hand craft and cutting-edge technology, symbiotically, is inspiring. See how the product is made here.

It was a fitting choice to select a KUKA LBR robot to 3D print the bag charms in the shop window.  Working harmoniously alongside humans in a collaborative manner is the exact purpose of the KUKA LBR, with its inbuilt sensors to stop on contact, preventing it from causing injury to humans and with the absence of trap hazards for human hands, allowing easy and safe collaboration.  We undoubtedly have a growing dependence on technology and robots (although they are usually behind the scenes, carrying out repetitive manufacturing tasks unbeknown to most consumers), so seeing the KUKA LBR used as a creative tool to produce 100% recycled (and recyclable) products was a lovely example of cutting-edge tech enabling sustainable manufacturing.

KUKA LBR with Daghan from AI Build

The store interiors will be installed over the coming weeks, acting as a live installation, punctuated by the official launch last week at the Regent Street Store.  Attended by Mira Duma of Future Tech Lab FTL, Livia Firth of EcoAge and Professors Sandy Black and Dilys Williams of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion amongst other instrumental fashion and sustainability pioneers, the launch demonstrated how fusing fashion, technology and sustainability requires a commercial, creative and academic effort.  It was an interesting and enlightening night, with Oliver and Cameron proudly declaring Bottletop the first sustainable luxury brand on Regent Street.

party shots Image top: Left – Oliver Wayman, Right – Cameron Saul.  Above, the Bottletop Store launch party

Oliver and Cameron are excited about building the interior walls as a live installation that shoppers can see evolve, and I went behind the scenes to see some of the 100 wall panels being 3D printed by the KUKA KR90 6 axis arms at AI Build in East London.  The panels each take 7 hours to print and are individually sanded along the edges before being joined to create a unified wall panel for the store.  700 kg of 100% recycled plastic are going into the printing of the interiors at what Oli confirmed was the equivalent of around 60,000 recycled plastic bottles.  I also saw a demo of the 3D printed ceiling structure which is embedded with reclaimed cans in the store and captured in the shots below.

Behind the scenes at AI Build

The interior installation in store is expected to continue into mid-January, so be sure to pop in and see it evolve, alongside the KUKA LBR busily 3D printing  bag charms in the store window.

Header image and all images not otherwise credited: Techstyler

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London College of Fashion Womenswear MA Class of 2017 Presents A Bold Textural Landscape

Tonight’s London College of Fashion MA class of 2017 were a group of ten womenswear designers selected from by a panel of judges including Natasha Jacobs, Head of Group Partnerships at Yoox Net-a-Porter; Melanie Rickey; Lucy Norris; Emma Hope Allwood and Susanne Madsen of Dazed Digital, alongside LCF Head of College, Professor Frances Corner and Dean of the School of Fashion Design Technology, Professor Jose Teunissen.

The show was underpinned by the bold and legacy-laden statement on the press release, encapsulating the London College of Fashion‘s position as a world leader in fashion design that has been nurturing creative talent for over a century.  “Students come from over 100 countries and develop fashion skills in many modes, according to the personal pursuit and leanings of each student, be they heritage, craftsmanship, high-tech practice, analytical skills, creative thinking or business acumen, amongst others”.

This show is the final, distilled expression of the students’ fifteen months of intense contemplation and creation in which a handful of pieces are chosen to speak for them as aesthetic storytellers.   The students were Vilu Du, Young Mi Kim, Wendel Heung, Hew Wang, Gergei Erdei, Katrina Wilson, Lorenzo Buzzi, Siyan Meng, Yuqing Lai and Chen.  Broadly speaking, an incredibly rich range of textiles were on show, and texture and colour were used powerfully by dialling them right up to brights and shine or down to nudes and neutrals.  The textiles had me snapping (photographically, rampantly) and it was a tightly edited visual feast that was over too soon.

Lorenzo Buzzi

Wendel Heung

Hew Wang

Gergei Erdei

Katrina Wilson

Siyang Meng

Yuqing Lai

Chen


I spoke to one of the MA students, Chen, after the show, and she talked through her journey from her undergraduate fashion degree in Shanghai, which she enrolled in after ditching an engineering degree just a few months in, only to realise now, in hindsight, that she has a hunger for technology and tools that transcend craft.  Tools that allow robust, commercial design.  Tools that allow complete professional creation and textile invention.  She found this in digital knitting.  She explained why quitting another degree part way through (an MA at Parsons, which she described as very conceptual and philosophical, encouraging social or political perspectives over aesthetics) to join the MA course at LCF was the right path for her.  Chen explained that her experience at LCF allowed her to take a grounded perspective on her design work, and root her point of view in aesthetics and the creation of honest, perfectly conceived and constructed textile 3D forms.


Excerpts: Chen Zhi portfolio

I enjoy hearing Chen’s perspective on design practice, and relate to her rejection of the conceptualisation of design over the celebration of aesthetics.  Why can’t clothing simply look and feel beautiful?  Does it have to have a philosophical leaning to have value, or to be ‘good design’.  “In modern art in the 1950’s, Picasso and others concentrated on form and aesthetics” says Chen.  “Why does current modern art so often overlook aesthetics for the sake of telling a story?”.  She goes on to explain that her work will be shown without the explanation of the design concepts and inspiration, so they must stand up for themselves, alone.  In utter admiration for her energy and verve post-show I bid Chen farewell and look forward to continuing this conversation with her after London Fashion Week.  For now, enjoy Chen’s collection.



In the next five years, LCF are moving to a new, unified home at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, heralding a new future for this historic institution.  As an LCF alumna, I am looking ahead and imagining a new era of  cross-disciplinary fashion practice and leaps forward for fashion tech, in particular.  LCF sits alongside UCL robotic faculty and Loughborough University Sports Science faculty, and will be located near the new Sadler’s Wells and V&A East, which are also setting up in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in the next few years.  These are exciting fashion times.

The work of the MA 17 graduates is on display at the show Found in Translation from 16th -26th February at the House of Vans, London.

Header image of Vilu Du: Techstyler

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London College of Fashion and Kering – Fashion Sustainability and Education in Focus

Professor Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion opened the 3rd annual Kering Talk with the comment that when LCF moves to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2020, all the faculties and facilities will be under one roof, giving the students and teaching staff “literally the space to think”.  There was a lot of thinking going on last night at this LCFxKering event and Professor Dilys Williams, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF, bookended Frances Corner’s comment when she later closed the event by saying she likes to think of fashion by flipping a Zadie Smith’s quote to arrive at “what is the point of making beautiful clothes if they don’t make you think?” 

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Frances Corner (L), Head of London College of Fashion, and Dilys Williams, Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, attend the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Frances Corner (L) and Dilys Williams – Photo: Dave Benett

To that end, this Kering talk was a platform to showcase the sustainable principles and practice of Stella McCartney, the designer and the brand.  Not the only designer and brand focussing on sustainability, but certainly the most well known, Stella attended the talk to perform a Q&A with a fashion journalist.  It was enlightening in so much as Stella candidly described the fashion industry as a whole as “old fashioned”, “getting away with murder” and in dire need of a new approach to materials and production methods.


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I was hoping to ask Stella about her desire or success to date in introducing sustainable practices and materials into her Adidas collaboration, but alas, question time was short.  She did mention that Adidas made her the first ever pair of vegetarian leather Stan Smiths and she then pleaded with them to make all of their Stan Smiths with this material and see if anyone notices the difference.  Consumers might not, but given that the vegetarian version costs up to 70% more to produce than animal leathers, and Stan Smiths are sold at an accessible price point rather than the luxury price points of Stella’s brand, the financial team at Adidas definitely would.  That’s not to say this shouldn’t happen, it’s just clear that for mainstream sports and leisure wear brands there is less pricing leeway than for luxury brands.  

On to the presentation of the 2016 Kering Awards for Sustainable Fashion, which followed Stella’s Q&A.  Awards were issued on behalf of Stella McCartney and Brioni, both members of the Kering stable, to a number of LCF students who had designed and created products, materials and digital platforms in line with the brands’ sustainability initiatives.  

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LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: (L to R) Dilys Williams, Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, award winners Elise Comrie and Agraj Jain, and Beatrice Lazat, Human Resources Director at Kering,attend the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Dilys Williams, Elise Comrie, Agraj Jain, and Beatrice Lazat – Photo: Dave Benett
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Stella McCartney (2R) poses with award winners Iciar Bravo, Anna Pasalic, and Irene-Marie Seeling at the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Iciar Bravo, Anna Pasalic, Stella McCartney and Irene-Marie Seeling – Photo: Dave Benett

It was difficult on the night to get to grips with the projects and research the students undertook as they were only explained in 30-second summaries during the talk.  I’ve dug a little deeper to get the inside track on the work of Innovation award winner Irene-Marie Seelig, who developed Amadou mushroom skin and proved its properties were workable in accessories, offering an alternative to animal suede and leather.

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Irene’s journey began with a focus elsewhere, on health and the medicinal benefits of mushrooms in treating disease, which led her to research the usability of a particular Transylvanian mushroom material as a leather alternative, supported by Jess Lertvilai.  Her focus was to improve the textile’s aesthetic, durability, circular supply chain and business model.  

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The vegetarian mushroom leather textile is a 100 percent renewable, biodegradable and compostable material.  Products that are made with this material decompose at the end of their lifecycle and enrich soil, supporting plant growth and feeding back into the ecosystem.  

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Irene called upon the expertise of SATRA to test the material with a multitude of finishes and experimented with varying treatments and worked the leather into various thicknesses, eventually using the optimal material to create a prototype shoe in collaboration with LCF Footwear and materials PhD student, Liz Ciokajlo.  She is now looking to develop the Amadou mushroom skin further and work with NGO’s to create a reliable and sustainable supply chain for this material. 

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The CSF website explains that the awards take place after the students receive three months of intensive mentoring from sustainability experts from Stella McCartney, CSF and LCF.  “Two prizes will be awarded for each brand: a monetary prize of ten thousand Euros to the project that displayed the most innovation and a three month internship with one of the brands to the student who demonstrated collaboration and rigorous research”. 

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Professor Dilys Williams engaged the audience with her closing speech, urging the crowd to consider the role education has in creating a more sustainable, responsible fashion industry.  “Changing education is the biggest change we can make…practices will then change and so will our culture and society”.  

The finalists of the 2016 Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion were: Irene-Marie Seelig, Iciar Bravo Tomboly, and Ana Pasalic for Stella McCartney; and students Agraj Jain and Elise Comrie for Brioni.

For an overview of the finalists’ work see the CSF blog : http://sustainable-fashion.com/tag/kering-award-for-sustainable-fashion/

For more information about the work of Professor Dilys Williams and the CSF click here: http://sustainable-fashion.com/

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London College of Fashion Sustainability Initiatives “Fired Up” by Professor Sandy Black

Fashion’s future is about looking forward, however looking back with Sandy Black, Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology at London College of Fashion, serves up a timely lesson for right now on running a fashion business and sustainability.

Professor Black provides the privilege of reflection – of pausing and drawing on decades of analysis of craft and technology and designer fashion businesses through her academic research and practice and asking the question ‘why has so little changed for fashion designers in terms of barriers to growing a successful business’?  Many of the difficulties Professor Black, a maths graduate from UCL (more on that later), faced when running her knitwear business in the 70’s and 80’s still exist today, especially in terms of financing production whilst investing in new collections and finding manufacturers willing to work with emerging brands in a dynamic and affordable way.  The conversation and landscape is changing, though.

Professor Black completed a maths degree at UCL whilst exploring, informally, her interest in craft and knitting.  Upon graduation she became involved in an artistic knitting movement that saw an explosion of her knitwear across the globe.  Sandy Black Fashion knitwear was stocked in boutiques in the US, Japan, Australia and Europe.  Her hand and domestic machine knitted pieces were intricate and painterly, reflecting a new creative and artistic approach to knitwear that thrust itself into the fashion realm, beyond its reputation as a domestic craft.

img_2117Coat by Sandy Black  Photo: David McIntyre

“Digital knitting began in the 70’s” states Professor Black.  The current knitting technology is an extension of, rather than a re-invention of, that knitting technology.  She forged links with Stoll, a world-leading industrial knitting machine manufacturer to have a machine installed at London College of Fashion, enabling students to immerse themselves in industry techniques and adopt new technology in their practice.

The excitement in knitting arguably lies in its fusion of craft and technology and Professor Black’s publications, including Interrogating Fashion, Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox and The Sustainable Fashion Handbook explore the impact of this fusion on fashion, in terms of manufacturing, sustainability and aesthetics.  Her recent work, in collaboration with a number of London College of Fashion-based academics, is an online platform allowing the exchange of information between fashion academics and the designer fashion industry to promote insightful, sustainable and collaborative practice for better business and environmental outcomes.

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The platform, FIREup, has fuelled debate around changing business models for sustainability.  It intends to unlock the potential of industry and academic collaboration, and is designed to help designer-fashion businesses in London access knowledge based in the university’s research centres and academic staff across three prestigious colleges: Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion and Chelsea College of Arts.  The FIREup initiative is now expanding across the UK. 

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Professor Sandy Black in discussion with Michelle Lowe-Holder, Martine Jarlgaard, Kiwy Huang and Ben Alun-Jones at the Creativeworks Festival, King’s College London – Photo: CSF

As part of the FIREup initiative, four projects were undertaken to allow designers to conduct research to inform their business decisions.  This research involved a sort of ‘forced reflection’ and contemplation.  Recent exits of high-profile designers from global fashion businesses (Raf Simons from Dior and Alber Elbaz from Lanvin) were allegedly, at least partly, the result of frustration at a lack of time and space to pause and reflect because of the relentless cycle of punishing product deadlines with no time for contemplation and development.  Although running a smaller business with fewer product categories is arguably less time-pressured, it is absolutely true that the pressures Professor Black faced whilst running her business and that often lead to added strain on small businesses have not yet been resolved.  It is the mandate of FIREup to allow designers space, time, academic support and funding to conduct reflective research and steer their business forward in a more successful and thoughtful way.  Christopher Raeburn is one such designer involved in the FireUp Catalyst Project.

Raeburn’s ‘REMADE’ products are crafted from re-appropriated military fabrics.  The jacket below was remade by deconstructing and shredding original German snow ponchos, the Schneetarn (German for ‘snow camouflage’) Parka.  A limited edition garment, it is one of a maximum of 50, proudly remade in Raeburn’s London studio.

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The women’s Ceremonial Biker Jacket is reworked from original British military ceremonial garments, traditional British military wear that have held the same design for the last century.  The jacket, typical of British cavalry, artillery and infantry, is also a limited edition piece (a maximum of 50) also remade in the Christopher Raeburn Studio.  Shop Christopher Raeburn here.

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Currently promoted on the FIREup platform, and being hosted by Professor Rebecca Earley and Dr. Kate Goldsworthy is the Mistra Fashion Future Conference on textile design and the circular economy which is part of their research aimed at creating the vision of designing for a circular future where materials are designed, produced, used and disposed of in radical new ways. “Circular Transitions will be the first global event to bring together academic and industry research concerned with designing fashion textiles for the circular economy.  The themes will explore the design of new materials for fashion with approaches ranging from emerging technology and social innovation to systems design and tools.”  For more information about the conference in London this November visit FIREup or Mistra Future Fashion.

It’s clear that Professor Black’s research and industry involvement, along with the work of her fellow academics at London College of Fashion, is helping shape the discourse around designer businesses and sustainability.  The broader discussion, encompassing the impact of our lifestyle choices (including fashion) on the environment has been explored by Professor Helen Storey in her recent Dress For Our Time project.  Developed in partnership with Holition, the dress digitally displayed data – extracted from a major study of the global risks of future shifts in ecosystems due to climate, which showed the impact of climate change on our physical world. It showed the planet as it will be, if we don’t do enough.  The film below demonstrates the shocking and compelling figures related to the refugee crises and displacement across across the globe projected onto the Dress For Our Time:

Professor Black and Professor Storey are both also instrumental team members at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) at the London College of Fashion – a Research Centre of the University of the Arts London based at London College of Fashion. Our work explores vital elements of Better Lives London College of Fashion’s commitment to using fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live.  In 2014 the CSF announced a five-year partnership to work closely with Kering to support sustainable practices in education for the fashion industry. The partnership is a three-way approach to ensure new ways of thinking about sustainability in fashion: The Kering Talks, The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion and The Empowering Imagination module for MA students at LCF.  This year’s Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion will be announced on November 14th and I will be attending and writing about the finalists, so stay tuned!

To learn more about CSF initiatives, click here

To find out more about FIREup and see current opportunities here

Header Image:  Christopher Raeburn, who uses re-appropriated military materials in his collections

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Edda’s Illustrative Fancies Make for Fashion Week Fun

I wrote about the work of fashion designer Edda Gimnes on Techstyler back in February and was curious to see where her penchant for large, sweeping illustrated textiles had taken her for this season.  Edda is an emerging designer beginning to navigate her way into the fashion industry, grabbing onto opportunities arising from winning the bronze award at Designer’s Remix in Milan in March and Germany’s ‘Designer of Tomorrow‘ award in July, following the launch of her label EDDA at Fashion Scout  seven months ago during London Fashion Week.

Edda’s speciality is her celebration of ‘naive’ illustration (she draws with her non-dominant hand) and her willingness to be led into creative territory by mistakes and asymmetry in pattern cutting.  Most western-trained fashion graduates are schooled to strive for balance in pattern cutting, with a focus on fit and silhouette.  Edda’s patterns are a canvas – at times literally – for her fun and figurative broad-brush stroke designs which are digitally printed onto textiles.  The result is graphic, bold and a whole lot of fun.

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Winning the ‘Designer of Tomorrow’ award following her SS16 collection launch has earned Edda the tutelage of Alber Elbaz, commencing in 2017.  She will create collections in Germany and expand her practice and understanding of commerciality and manufacturing during the year-long award, supported by Peek and Cloppenburg.  I joined Edda to view her SS17 collection in East London, following her presentation at Fashion Scout during London Fashion Week.  She talked me through her ambitions to develop more wearable pieces in this collection and create structured dresses with softer prints to balance her signature graphics whilst maintaining the fun and naive construction and idiosyncratic details.  She peppered the new collection with colour and also introduced cute illustrated canvas handbags.

s02_0798s07_1115 s12_1998s06_0926s11_1669Edda SS17  Photos: Yoo Sun

I was especially drawn to the graphic prints in this collection.  Trying on Edda’s clothes transports me into a Quentin Blake-illustrated Roald Dahl-esque world, exciting my imagination and wrapping me in fantastical childhood memories.  Who wants to be a grown up anyway?

Edda SS17 London Fashion Week presentation

Edda and I discuss fashion magic and she wholeheartedly believes in keeping the spirit and fun in her designs from concept through to the final product.  Arguably, fashion is most successful when it offers familiarity and fantasy at the same time – there is something that feels right (nostalgic or familiar) and something new about it.  Edda’s creations deliver that.  They are so authentic – like a child’s frank honesty – and carry with them the designer’s charm, making the clothes highly personal for both her and the wearer.

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I’m placing a personal order and look forward to experiencing this feeling every time I wear one of Edda’s designs.  I also look forward to seeing the response it elicits from others.  After all, fashion is a language best celebrated in dialogue and Edda’s graphic stories are the perfect conversation starter.

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