‘MLH is an accessories label by Michelle Lowe-Holder known for their intricate weaving and complex folding techniques. Every collection is conceptualised and designed in the London studio before each hand crafted piece takes shape.’
Tell me about your creative background. What lead you to where you are now?
My first degree was in Fashion Design at Pratt Institute in New York City. I actually didn’t do that much creative work after I graduated. I worked in the theatre costume industry as a freelance maker, did quality control in factories and oversaw production… all pretty gruelling. It was a great learning experience but I really wanted to get back into design and no one would hire me after not working in design for so long. I realised that I would have to start over again and re-learn and was lucky enough to be accepted at Central Saint Martins on the MA program. I moved to London from New York and studied knitwear which was an amazing experience. From there I went straight into creating my own label and a ready to wear line. In 2009 / 2010 the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion had just opened and I was invited in the first cohort to be mentored for a year. They solidified and supported many questions I had myself. In 2010 I designed my first sustainable accessories collection using cut-offs, heritage techniques and upcycling.
Alongside this, the photographer I had been working with Polly Penrose and I decided to create our “fashion portraits” series, which continues today. I am an avid street caster constantly looking for interesting faces that hopefully complement and add some meaning to each collection.
Each season has some aspect of sustainability and some are more than others. It’s difficult and almost impossible to be 100%. Some collections I use end of line scraps and upcycling, or bio-degrable materials like coconut and wood but will have hardware that is not sustainable. Other collections have been more ethical for example working with the Sewa Charity on beading that insures proper pay and allows women to work from home.
I have only just realised recently the collections always do the same thing – they explore layers, use large scale and are experimental in their use materials for fashion jewellery. It’s a weird market.
Why is it weird?
The pro is that it’s good for press and is great for editorial but the con is that customers do not necessarily understand the work that’s gone into making a piece and when your materials are not intrinsicly valuable – there is a ceiling in terms of pricing. This is one of the difficulties designers face making “fashion” accessories and jewellery but is also a bigger issue in fashion allover.
How do you think people can be educated?
I think there’s a lot of people working on it; if you look at someone like Orsola de Castro at Fashion Revolution, she’s amazing and created a whole campaign asking #whomademyclothes. I think we’ve all become so digital that we forget that there are humans behind the making the clothes we wear, often being exploited and that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. We have a voracious appetite as a society for fashion and the promises they give – without being aware. It is important for people to understand where their clothes come from and why we can’t keep buying £6 jeans and throwing them away.
CFS / LCF is also a huge champion of education and sustainability. I have been fortunate to be involved in several of their projects over the years. I am currently a mentor on the Kering Awards project for the third year running. This time the project is with Gucci and Stella McCartney, so exciting!!
Where do you sell your pieces? What places do you put them in so you know that you’ve got the right customer who understands your work?
Online is a difficult place to see the intricacies of your work. There’s only so much detail you can see on the screen.
Yes but you can reach a bigger audience and fashion like so many industries is changing; you have to be online now. I have been doing trade shows for years now and for the first time you have to question if they are really worth it ? Buyers are overloaded, they are not well attended and they are very expensive. It would be interesting to see what buyers think about trade shows now.
I’m interested to know more about how you define craft.
It’s about beautifully handmade quality pieces, made with skill. “Craft” is a learned and developed expertise over time. It infers slow durable and heritage fashion.
What kind of materials do you work with?
I am a total magpie when it comes to materials and each season is often inspired by the material. At the moment I really love birch wood however I have also worked with cork, stone veneer, glass, textiles, leather, tulle and metal. I’m interested in buying and using materials which are a bit unusual.
What other types of textiles would you like to explore that you haven’t before?
There are some bio resins and rubbers I would like to explore.
Do you travel a lot for inspiration?
The last couple of years I’ve travelled a lot. I’ve have been so very lucky to have been invited to work abroad and have focused on selling in New York and LA in the last couple of years. I have worked on some amazing projects in Norway, Portugal and just returned from lecturing in Venice. My brother lives in Hong Kong and my mother goes to Mexico every winter. These have been the most inspiring and dazzling places to me – both like no other places I have seen.
Who would you like to collaborate with that you haven’t before?
I love collaborating and am open to almost any project!!
What do you love about craft and what you do?
The design part; it is such a small part in the scheme of things in a small business but is still so satisfying and ultimately motivating.