Has growing up in Tottenham, north London affected the way you view the world and in-turn your designs?
For sure, growing up in Tottenham has impacted my view on many things. It’s a tough place to come from and I think being surrounded by people who represent a tougher side of life, it has filtered into my aesthetic, and the way I see the world. I am really proud to have come from there, it wasn’t always pleasant but it certainly gives you an education in life.
Can you tell us how your struggles inspired you? My mother was a teenage
parent and faced many obstacles, judgements and prejudices, so as a kid watching her just try every avenue to provide was eye-opening and overwhelming. Her resilience and ability to succeed, I believe, is the foundation of the Wesley Harriott woman. I found a lot of escape in comic books and manga, paying close attention to the female heroes. I really reveled in fantasy and worlds that depicted things so differently which is still a safe space for me. I feel my view point in women is cemented in the correlation of my reality and fantasy escapism. I fee ll live my life between both.
Do you feel that the fashion industry is accepting or did you have to fight for your place to be in it? I have had to
work for, not so much acceptance, but understanding, and I am still working on it. I used to really crave acceptance from certain areas or people, but I think working as hard as I do, I just want to keep surprising myself and making sure I like what I do, because no one judges me more than me and being that way keeps me focused and working hard.
Your designs are influenced by streetwear and feel very wearable and pertinent right now. Why do you think streetwear has become so relevant to the fashion industry? I actually don’t
think my garments are streetwear, or at least it’s not something I set out to communicate. I think that energy is just in the DNA of where I come from. I tend to reference sports and military more so than perhaps streetwear but I always find the streetwear comparison interesting. I think the fashion industry has seen the pull of brands like Supreme and Palace and wants a slice of that monetary gain. It’s smart, but I feel it will wear thin. I think consumers will soon start to seek craftsmanship and innovation in their garments because as time goes by, you will naturally begin to question an investment in that £700 (Dhs3,300) hoody you ‘had to have’.
How did you feel when you found out both Kylie Jenner and SZA wanted to wear your designs? I always freak out
a bit when people of such influence want to wear what I do. It means the world to me. Kylie Jenner looks incredible in everything, so it was really cool to see her bring one of my pieces to life in a way only Kylie can. SZA is one of my favourite singers. She inspires me so much so I really love creating for her and with her in mind.
How has winning the ASOS prize enriched your career as a designer? Winning the AS OS prize has
allowed me to access better resources, and really think on a bigger platform of how I can present my ideas. I also am really into the mentoring that comes with the prize. I love to learn and really welcome the help of their experts showing me ways to develop and move forward. It’s really changed my life for the better, I am so lucky.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Is there a career moment that you hope to achieve? I have
so many goals I want to achieve but naturally I aim to take it one step at a time. I am having my first presentation with the British Fashion Council during September Fashion week. That is a huge moment for me. For the future I look for natural progression in my career, being stocked in my dream stores and working with people who I admire – I could write a huge list, but for me right now, I want to really focus on sustaining my brand.
How important is sustainability to your brand?
Sustainability isn’t something we should think about practicing, it should just be. My garments at present are all made in London with fabrics sourced locally so I am really hands on in knowing that all the inputs into what I do come from safe and environmentally-friendly resources. It still shocks me how much sustainability is a new concept.
After being a fashion editor for five years, was designing a natural step for you or did you find the transition challenging? The
problem was transitioning from a fashion editor to a start-up company owner; the editor to designer transition was relatively smooth and organic. It involved learning a lot of new skills but those were all natural and pleasant challenges, unlike becoming a founder, owner and CEO of a small, fast-growing business. That was and still is a real challenge which takes up 90 per cent of my time.
You seem to have a plethora of skills; design, styling and photography. How young were you when you discovered you had a talent to create? Thank you! I didn’t really analyse
whether I had a talent to create, but I would scribble and try to draw as soon as I could hold a pencil.
Where do you think your natural artistic abilities came from? My mum was an
amazing illustrator and would make most of my clothes herself when I was small. As for my dad, he was one of the best accordionists when he was young, but he gave it up for a career in medicine. I hope I do take after them a bit!
What are your thoughts on the way social media has impacted the fashion industry and do you agree with the influencer/ celebrity culture? On the one hand there is
a massive amount of inspiration in terms of imagery available on social media and I feel that it’s used and shared in a very generous and positive way. But I also feel that it distorts and degrades a lot of concepts and ideas, and devalues the hard work and effort that goes into garments and general product-making. As a business owner I have to say that the influencer/celebrity culture does help sales. However, if the product is truly right and of the right quality and price and targeted correctly to fit its audience - it will sell itself.
A.W.A.K.E. is an acronym for All Wonderful Adventures Kindle Enthusiasm. Where were you when you came up with this for your brand name? I always liked the concept
of the word ‘awake’, both its literal and nonliteral meanings. For me it means to be aware, open and perceptive, to live consciously, with intention and attention. But also, one can be very awake and still a dreamer. Each collection is a bit of a dream, a story to be told. As for the acronym meaning of awake, I had to do something as the word was too generic for a brand name, so I put dots in between each letter and made each letter mean something. All Wonderful Adventures Kindle Enthusiasm seemed dreamy and fairy-tale like.
With the likes of Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West championing A.W.A.K.E. how do you think this has impacted the brand’s significance in the industry? I feel that the
brand’s significance in the industry became apparent only a year or two ago. Before the brand was really under the radar despite the fact I was lucky to have Kim Kardashian wearing A.W.A.K.E. My strong conviction is that it’s still the product that makes things happen for us primarily.
A.W.A.K.E. is available at Boutique 1 in Dubai and is very welcomed amongst fashion enthusiasts. What are your thoughts on women in the Middle East despite the stereo typical view? I think
women in the Middle East are very true to themselves; real, dashing, vibrant, feminine, warm and courageous. They are true fashion enthusiasts with great taste and a love for experimentation and all things new.
Is there anything about this region that inspires or interests you? Primarily
the beautiful women! Layering, colours, the weather, food, architecture, too many things...
Being London-based, what do you think it means to be a British designer today? I would say being true to
oneself. This probably applies to any designer, not just the British designers. But for some reason I feel that British designers in particular have a very distinctive quality of following their own very specific path and style.
Your presentation was beautiful. Can you describe the story behind the collection and what inspired you to create it? I was inspired by Soviet sci-
fi films and American cowboys. I made nude colour scuba all-in-one-piece tops and dresses with gloves imitating space uniforms and paired them with cowboy jackets and Texas-made, exaggeratedly ruched cowboy boots. There are also bits and pieces from the 70s, like brown corduroy trousers mixed with big shoulders from the 80s. I re-watching the 90s Twin Peaks when working on the collection, so there were a lot of elements coming from there too.
All A.W.A.K.E. pieces are available at Boutique 1 in Mall of the Emirates and online: boutique1.com
“I always liked the concept of the word‘ awake ’. For me it means to be aware and perceptive, to live consciously, with intention and attention”