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My Fashion Life: Emma Shaw, design director at Fat Face

Fat face spring 18 (5)

Drapers speaks to Fat Face’s design director about her passion for product and the brand’s 30th birthday plans.

Emma shaw design director fat face

Emma Shaw

As lifestyle brand Fat Face prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary this year, design director Emma Shaw tells Drapers about her role at the retailer and how it is celebrating its anniversary.

How did you come to be working at Fat Face?

After studying textile design and design management at the University of Manchester, my first job was teaching trend forecasting and knitwear design to retailers and suppliers. I subsequently gained category and production experience working at various suppliers. This enabled me to adapt my handwriting to suit different markets and brands.

I moved into retail when I became design manager at George at Asda in 2004. This allowed me to focus on creating trend directions and product for a single handwriting. On the back of the success of the womenswear I was able to move to Fat Face as head of design in 2011. I have been design director since September 2017.

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What drew you to working in fashion?

Fashion has always been something I see as a way of expressing personality. My interest started with creating fabrics and prints from raw materials and designs. This developed into a love of creating garments. Looking for new inspiration and predicting what will be relevant in the future is something from which I get huge satisfaction.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration for me comes from a variety of often-curious sources – some very literal and some very abstract. As part of the design process, you have to allow yourself to be open to all new ideas. I’ve drawn inspiration for recent collections from colours used on traditional Shaker boxes, the quilting of a military vintage jacket, The Red House by William Morris, and the Dior window display at Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

What does your typical day look like?

To be honest no two days are the same. If I’m in the office I spend time with the team catching up on the progress of current designs, and working on the direction of future product ranges and brand direction. I am normally in a variety of meetings, from strategy, product sign-offs and board meetings.

On days outside the office I will be meeting with suppliers, working with external partners on new product initiatives, and travelling in the UK and abroad to develop new ideas for future seasons.

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Fat Face spring 18

How would you sum up the Fat Face style?

Many people have a pre-conception about what we are as a brand. We have definitely stayed true to our heritage, and we are still a casual brand that very much puts the emphasis on quality and unique design. However, our handwriting is also evolving to ensure we offer newness and innovation. In short I would say we offer contemporary, modern, clothing for a relaxed lifestyle.

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For the 30th anniversary you looked to the archive. What did you find?

When you look back through 30 years of archives, you definitely find some designs that were of the moment and should probably be left there. I’m not going to admit to some of them now.

However, there are many styles that have evolved and improved over time, and still feel incredibly relevant today. These are the ones that we have re-introduced into the range or pulled out for celebration to be released this year.

What other projects are you running for the anniversary?

This year I’ve worked on some projects that have allowed us to approach product in a slightly different way. On kidswear we linked up with Camp Bestival to create an exclusive range. We have developed a range using Liberty fabrics within our own label, Copper & Black. And we are proud to be supporting emerging talent through our exclusive T-shirt design competition with Graduate Fashion Week.

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It is our first time sponsoring GFW and it feels especially relevant this year as we celebrate our 30th birthday as a brand. Designers Holly Fulton, Christopher Raeburn, Henry Holland and journalist Hilary Alexander, along with myself, each selected a winning design to be announced at the Best of Graduate Fashion Week catwalk show and available to buy in store and online in June.

Is there anyone in the industry you particularly admire?

Miuccia Prada, who is a force within the industry, and her ability to constantly question the status quo in a creative, non-conformist way.

I’ve also been really lucky to work with some great people who have guided and helped shape my career. [Former Asda vice-president of own-label development[ Fiona Lambert has been a strong influence and currently Anthony Thompson [CEO of Fat Face], who is one of the most product-focused CEOs in the business.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Work hard, stay determined and listen.


Favourite clothing brand

Folk, Leon & Harper and Margaret Howell

Favourite places to shop

Merci in Paris, The Hambledon in Winchester and vintage stores

Last fashion purchase

Rose Gold New Balance trainers – I love a shiny shoe

Last holiday

New Zealand

Last book you read

Ruby Wax’s How to be Human

Last film you watched?

The Last Jedi – again – on DVD with the kids on the sofa for movie night

First job

Face painter

Dream job?

Costume designer for theatre

What would we find you doing at the weekend?

As we’re heading into the summer: a few festivals, hanging out with my kids and catching up with friends

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