Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ashley Watson Show and Tell: Spring Arrivals and Morning Reading

Ashley Watson Plover in Rust (SOLD OUT)

Ashley Watson Plover in Forest Green

Ashley Watson Murre in Speckled Tan

Show and tell: We just unpacked our first Spring shipment from Ashley Watson.

And for your weekend reading pleasure and courtesy of shoppingsmycardio, you can read up on a recent interview with the designer:

shoppingsmycardio: Can you start by giving us a little bit of your background? How did you get started designing bags, and how did you come up with the concept of using recycled leather?

Ashley Watson: I have an interdisciplinary degree from the Nova Scotia College of Fine Arts. Interdisciplinary basically just means that I didn’t have to choose anything specifically, so throughout my degree I did pretty much everything—painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, textiles, and then in my last year, I took a couple of sewing and fashion design courses. I then came back to Vancouver and did a fashion design program.

After that, I started making the bags by fluke. I was living at my parents at the time on an island, and I wanted a new bag for something I was going to the next day. I am a pretty impatient person, and when I have an idea, I can’t wait very long to try it! So I cut up one of my dad’s old jackets and made a bag, and I ended up really liking how it turned out: the worn quality of the leather and the already existing pockets. I started to get orders and it went from there. I tried using new leather, but it didn’t have the same interest for me. I then went to New York and did an internship with Libertine – they use old clothes, sew them and screen print on them – so, although totally different, it was in the same vein as what I was doing. I did a lot of shopping for them, so ended up knowing where a lot of the Salvation Army locations were in Manhattan. Right before I left New York, I sold my bags at the Young Designers Market in Soho. When I came home I just kept going with it.

shoppingsmycardio: I have to be honest – I’m not the most “green” girl out there. So I love that I can wear one of your bags and feel like I’m doing a good thing for the planet, without sacrificing fashion or quality (hey, anything to justify a new bag purchase!). Would you say that being environmentally conscious was the driving force behind designing your line, or did you come up with the idea to use recycled leather pieces after you started designing?

Ashley Watson: I wouldn’t claim to be a raging environmentalist, but the fact that I use recycled materials has become very important to me. I definitely would say that it started as an aesthetic choice, but then grew into something more. Throughout art school there seemed to be a lot of waste just from creative experiments: ceramics that didn’t fire properly would just be thrown out, horrible drawings on tons and tons of paper wasted. So I always did feel some guilt, since that was purely for my own artistic exploration. I really grew to love that my bags are starting from an existing material. The jacket definitely did fuel the handbag though – it wasn’t like I looked at a plain piece of leather and wanted to make a handbag. The environmental aspect has definitely fueled my business as well, which has been huge. I started doing it at the right time. Everybody wants to make sustainable choices these days.

shoppingsmycardio: Since you use such unique materials, I’m really interested to hear about your design process. I have visions of you combing through bins at Goodwill, looking for great leather jackets! How do you come up with a bag style, and how do you go about finding the leather to use for each piece? Do you use one jacket for each bag, or do you mix and match pieces?

Ashley Watson: I come up with a bag style just from random things that have accumulated in my head, and then start to make a pattern…and then, usually that pattern totally doesn’t work, but something really interesting comes out of that. In terms of picking the jackets, we pick based on a lot of different things: the details (pockets, seams, vents, gathers, pleats, etc.), color, and quality. We do rummage through thrift stores which has become really important to me. Since most thrift stores are charity-based, I love that I am contributing to something by buying my materials.

It is becoming more difficult though, as I need more and more leather. I am soon going to have to have buyers in others cities in Canada because we seem to be cleaning out a lot of Vancouver these days. We do use one jacket for each piece and then sometimes there are leftovers that we use for wallets, etc. I haven’t yet done any mix and matching, but for my new spring stuff, I will be using some old remnants for zippers tabs and other things. It’s hard to explain, but you will see when it is done!

shoppingsmycardio: Since you’re making each bag by hand, from a unique jacket, I’m guessing there is an incredible amount of work involved. Can you tell us a little about your production methods?

Ashley Watson: I was doing everything myself (except I had one person working once a week) until August and then I hired 3 people because it was so insane. So now I have a cutter and a sewer which has been amazing for me. I am slowly able to start concentrating more on design which has been great. I still do a lot of the production but it is fantastic to not be doing it alone. I was really worried to have other people make my stuff, but the girls are amazing. They do such a good job and they often bring a really different perspective to the work which has been great!

In terms of production methods, we have patterns for each style, then we look at the jackets and decide which style they are best suited for. We then take the jacket apart to make it as flat as possible and cut out the pattern. As we cut out the pattern we have to decide which way we want the details of the jacket to be – for example, what angle the pockets are at, all while making sure we don’t run out of leather. We then sew it. Each bag has quite an extensive consideration process, since they are all one-of-a-kind.

You can read more of this interview at shoppingsmycardio.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Oh pretty green bag.