Parisian designer and recipient of British Fashion Council NewGen sponsorship since spring15 is making a name for herself as a purveyor of beautifully crafted handwoven denim. From her studio in Hackney, east London, Steinmetz spins, dyes and weaves all her own fabric, opting for premium natural fibres that reflect her sustainable fashion ethos.
Demand for her handcrafted pieces is rising and in 2015 she attracted the attention of industry heavyweight LVMH, which shortlisted her for its Young Fashion Designer Prize. Sold in retailers including Browns, Dover Street Market and Selfridges, prices range from £145 for a white top to £5,000 for a hand-embroidered denim jacket.
How did you start out in fashion?
I began my studies at Atelier Chardon Savard in Paris, where I studied for a BA in fashion design before moving to London in 2010 to complete my masters in fashion at Central Saint Martins, under the guidance of the late Louise Wilson.
Where did you learn how to weave?
I taught myself by watching YouTube videos, as well as buying craft books from a store in Finsbury Park in north London. It was just something I became interested in after I had finished my MA. When I started the label in 2013, I felt at the time that everything was so flat and I wanted to make garments with amazing texture. I found this was possible if I wove my own materials.
What is it about denim that appeals to you?
It’s so recognisable. Denim has meaning for everyone and you can play around because of that. I really enjoy working with natural fibres and I find cotton is an amazingly versatile material.
How long does it take to construct a pair of jeans?
The time really depends on the piece. The spinning and dyeing process usually takes two to three days, depending on how quickly the yarn dries. After that, the fabric can take another four to five days to weave before it is ready to be sewn. One of the first pieces we created was a pair of jeans made from mohair. We spun the yarn ourselves using a traditional hand-powered yarn spinner we found online.
Once the yarn had been spun, we dyed it in a large pot before handweaving it on one of our looms.
How big is your team?
There are just two of us working full time on the label from our studio space. We also work with London-based freelancers, most of whom I’ve known for some time. I’m based in east London, so I wanted my studio to be here, as it feels like home. We’re currently moving into one of the studios in the Centre for Fashion Enterprise space at the London College of Fashion on Mare Street, Hackney.
Where do you find inspiration?
A lot of my inspiration comes from old lady craft books that I collect. I have a whole shelf of them. As the label is all about hand-making techniques, many of my ideas come when I’m looking through them.
What are the standout pieces in your latest collection?
The hero piece for spring 16 is a denim jacket with hand-embroidered ivy leaves. At our London Fashion Week show, lots of people didn’t realise that the flowers weren’t real. The whole piece took us close to a month to complete because of the tiny yarn we used to embroider the leaves. The jacket is the most expensive piece we have made (£5,000).
Do you attend any textile shows?
I find textile fairs really interesting to go to, even though we make a lot of our own fabrics. For the label to be able to grow, we will need to start branching out more into ready-made fabrics, so it’s just a case of finding the right people. For spring 16 we worked with Spanish denim manufacturer Tejidos Royo for the first time. Sustainability is very much at the core of that company, and together we were able to develop a fabric using recycled denim and US cotton
I began working with Cotton USA for our spring 15 collection after we were approached through its UK representatives to learn more about how we work. As a young label, it’s been a massive help to receive the Cotton USA sponsorship, as it allowed us to invest more money into developing the collection. Having access to its network of suppliers has been really great.
Do you think sustainable fashion is becoming more popular?
I think a lot of fashion labels are becoming more conscious of their responsibility and acting on it. Obviously there are the likes of Stella McCartney, who have been doing it for some time, but young designers are now starting labels with sustainability at their heart. We are currently part of Selfridges’ Bright New Things initiative, which is championing sustainable designers.
In truth, without consumer demand, it will never become the norm for the industry. But I do feel there has been a shift and shoppers want to know where their clothes come from. I also think there is more pressure on bigger companies to become transparent, which can only be a good thing.
What can we expect from Faustine Steinmetz in 2016?
Hopefully things will keep going as well as in 2015, from being a finalist at the LVMH prize to being nominated for a British Fashion Award. Those were things I would never have imagined happening at the start of the year.
We’re trying to focus on doing things right and expanding the label. We have plans to launch an online store later in the year, so I’m excited about that. The plan is to offer our pieces made to order, allowing customers to select from our archives.