The menswear designer celebrating British heritage
While many of the fashion designers we interview are inspired by foreign cultures and their travels, Sofia Clarke is inspired by the English heritage and uses it as a focal point for her collections. Having graduated from her BA in Menswear Design from Birmingham City University in 2016, her collections have earned her a wide array of accolades and was featured in London Graduate Fashion Week and Vogue. Visiting the city of Birmingham in January, our team was lucky to sit down with this talented designer and speak to her about her love for the countryside and what inspired her to go into menswear.
Why are you based in in the Midlands?
I love the Midlands, I'll do anything to be there. People ask me, you're in fashion so why are you in the Midlands? But my whole life I tend to go the opposite direction of what the mainstream does. I don't know anyone who would turn down an offer to be in London, except me.
What draws you to the Midlands?
I love living in the countryside. I am currently living in a coachhouse in a place called Tettenhall in Wolverhampton with my boyfriend, and it's absolutely stunning. We are completely surrounded by fields and it feels like I'm living in a fairytale.
What drew you to pursue a career in fashion?
My mother recently showed me a set of drawings of dresses that I had made when I was around seven or eight years old so I was clearly interested in fashion from an early age! What then drew me to actually study fashion at university was that I loved how it allowed me express my individuality.
Where would you say you get most of your inspiration?
I attend horse races a lot and love the way people dress up. I will just go to the races with my camera and take loads of pictures and get inspiration from the different fabrics. I just love the British heritage, no one can do tweed and get away with it like in Britain.
Would you say that you design for this type of audience as well?
Yes I would say so!
Why do you design menswear as opposed to womenswear?
I have always been a bit of a tomboy. When I go shopping, I purposely go to the menswear section as I like clothes to be a bit oversized and bulky.
What inspires your work?
My father being an electrical engineer on ships around the world has been a huge inspiration in my life and collections. I’m also a huge fan of NASA and industrial creations such as trains, planes, ships, and space rockets.
I was a lucky child that grew up travelling the world with my family, with Dad's job taking us on numerous adventures from Canada to the USA, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia, France, Spain, Germany, Malaysia, Morocco, and many more; my interest in culture and the outdoors continues.
My mum being Canadian, meant learning about Inuits the natives of Canada was a huge interest. In Canada they hunt, hunt for survival, this is important. My Uncle hunts moose, the meat lasts them all through the year. I understand people don’t agree with certain fabrics, but for some it’s a lifestyle. Be open to let people choose their own path, don’t ever shoot someone down for simply following their beliefs and the pathway that suits them.
Also country music has had an impact on my work. My fascination with country music started from a young age - my parents listened to it regularly at home. Western films about cowboys and Indians, documentaries and country-file are huge fascinations of mine. This is just a small selection of my daily influences.
Tell me about your graduate collection and the response it got from the public.
My graduate collection combined three different themes; football hooligans, British country-wear and indigenous tribes. The collection got a good response and went through to the final best of the best finalists and showcased again. This was in front of leading designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Christopher Bailey Head Designer for Burberry. I used real fur purely to signify the indigenous cultures. Looking back, I would definitely have used faux fur but I did not know any better or that this may offend those who disagree with real fur.
Where did the inspiration to combine these three themes come from?
They come from my own background. I was born in Central America and raised in England. I was very lucky to experience the life I was given, Dad being English Mum being Canadian, a mixture of culture was already there.
Have you ever been back to Central America?
Never. I did a lot of research about Central America for my collection and that's when I was inspired to create the large silhouttes and the leather straps, representative of what indigenous tribes used to carry their babies.
Has there been a time you struggled to find inspiration?
What is one of the most important characteristics of a designer?
To be individual. The minute you start looking at other people's collections to get inspiration, you loose your sense of identity as a designer.
Want to find out more about Sofia Clarke? Check out her Ocotur.