“Sarah, just DO something about it!”
Last November, feeling overwhelmed by bad news after the Trump election, I woke up and told myself off. I’d already spent the months before and since June raging and howling into my Instagram account about the danger of the Brexit vote—I live in London. Cassandra that I am, I had a dread foreboding that Trump was going to get in—the whole poisonous wave of racism, homophobic, anti-immigrant feeling which has been stirred up in Britain would take America next. Then it happened. Yet what good was I doing by firing off my political pensées—even though my friends and likeminded others were heartily agreeing? I march, I protest, I can donate to causes. But one day I woke up and decided to use the positive power I might have through my Instagram account @sarahmower_ to shine more light on the brilliant creative people I find in my travels through the fashion world.
Using the hashtag, #sarahslist, I started calling out the talent I rate. My work as a fashion critic for Vogue, and as a scout and mentor for young designers at the British Fashion Council takes me all over. I meet students in class, designers starting up in their studios, in showrooms, and exhibitions—people of many nationalities. What excites me most is finding and understanding the people who will shape the future—in the ways they produce things, think about the environment and ethics, and basically add to the human sum of delight in
the world by making beautiful, surprising things.
My mental #sarahslist is dedicated to trying to show the corporate world how they can benefit by commissioning, hiring, and learning from these people—freelance jobs, consultancies, paid gigs, and philanthropic helping hands are what all independents need to keep their missions going. My main fear in these darkening times is that their struggles, often alone, would worsen.
To my absolute astonishment, Liberty
of London responded. This month, they’ve asked me to bring in a group of #sarahslist designers to sell in a dedicated area on the first floor womenswear department. They came with an open-to-buy budget. For the first time, I was going on buying appointments, with Alexandra Gordon, the new Liberty head buyer who has made over the whole of the womenswear floor. And this week, it’s real. A thrilling dream-into-reality opportunity puts the spotlight on seven new and recently established independents who are doing things differently. Each one makes clothes or accessories that are exciting to buy and wear—pieces which are specially-commissioned, rare, and colorful; sometimes they’re hand-made one-offs.
Richard Quinn staged his brilliantly printed debut show at Liberty during London Fashion Week. What makes him even more special: He’s also a community entrepreneur, having set up his open-access print works in Peckham in South London, for students and other designers to share.
is an American student at Central Saint Martins
who makes clothes out of repurposed fabric. I was astonished when I saw his Instagram of his first-year “make a shirt” class project; it was so good I went to see him. He got a bit busy at the end of April when he made Adwoa Aboah her Met Gala dress, also from a school pattern he’d made for his first year “white project.” Liberty gave Conner a bunch of scarf-scraps, which he diced up with found charity-shop silk scarves to make a series of patch-worked shirts—his retail firsts.
Kitty Garrett takes worn boots and hand-paints them like a Charleston artist. Liberty is her first splash since she graduated from the BA Central Saint Martins class of 2017. I’d seen her work when she came up to apply for a BFC Education Foundation Scholarship, which she won basically on the grounds of the wild boots she was wearing, a spot-on nine-month-ahead preview of the patterned-boot trend which hit the Spring shows we’ve only just seen.
Sam McCoach is a Scottish designer who mines her national heritage to make an authentically hip label for young women, Le Kilt. She’s another of this admirable generation who act responsibly and build community-supporting personal relationships behind the scenes. McCoach sources kilts and knitwear from traditionally skilled workshops and small factories, and she makes organic denim jeans with a small London supplier. After presenting her ambition to teach sewing skills to young people in Scotland, she won the British division of this year’s Woolmark Prize.
Born in Poland and educated at the Royal College, Marta Jakubowski is a young feminist designer I met when she was a student who impressed me with her conceptual mission to speak about the bonds between generations of women. With its glamorous going-to-the-club tailoring—and the puffa jackets to wear on the bus to get there—her latest collection was a breakthrough.
Richard Malone is an Irish designer with an uplifting flair for vibrant color and pattern. His flared jumpsuit was just picked out by MoMA for its current exhibition, Is Fashion Modern? What’s incredible beyond that: Richard’s sourcing. His fabrics are woven by a community-supporting organization of women weavers in Tamil Nadu in southern India. Children are able to go school because of their mothers’ incomes. And those dazzly colors? Natural dyes.
Sopho Gongliashvili is a Georgian jewelry designer whose work has stuck in my mind ever since she won a commendation at the International Fashion Showcase for emerging talent that we have hosted annually in London since 2012. Sopho’s bold enamel rings and outsize cuffs use traditional Georgian craft-skills and turn them into explosively chic accessories.
If I’m confident about anything, it’s the fact the future will be shaped by people like this, who are concerned about the human impacts of fashion production, who think about waste, and believe in the power of giving uplifting meaning to beautiful things. It’s the extra-factors which make these #sarahslist designers. They all have super-inspiring personal stories, culturally new, spot-on relevant, and resourceful ways of working.
To me, this generation represents the now and the future of the value of creative arts and crafts. In a strange way, it feels like the closing of a beautiful loop that their work has a home at Liberty. When Liberty’s founder Arthur Lasenby opened his store in 1875, he had a mission to go out into the world and bring back the most original and exceptional pieces of hand-made fashion, amazingly-patterned prints and textiles for his customers to show off as their permanent treasures.
It turned into a self-generating Liberty culture and a movement where people really honored the artistic hand and creative enterprise of individuals. Call me an idealist, but wouldn’t it be great if the future could look like that?
#sarahslist designers are on the first floor at Liberty, Great Malborough Street, London, for the next month.