Katie Roberts-Wood, a graduate from the Royal College of Art in London, founded ROBERTS | WOOD right after winning “Collection of the Year” at ITS 2014 with her Masters collection ‘SYNCH’, as well as the Vogue Talents Award for the designer’s technically innovative techniques which question the basic fundamentals of construction. Following its debut, the brand was immediately picked up by Dover Street Market in London, New York and Tokyo.
ROBERTS | WOOD is a design studio – in residence at the Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation – focusing on an innovative approach to textiles and construction. Katie and her team are committed to developing sustainable, flexible production methods, valuing a hybrid of technology and artisanal making. For Katie a collection represents a crystallised moment in an evolutionary design process; a pause in the continual exploration of textiles, construction and silhouette. Drawing on themes of repetition, nature and mathematical patterns, the aesthetic is instinctively beautiful yet chaotic and at times unreal. Her brand represents a determined femininity that blends tactile poetry and dreamlike curiosity with structure, strength and form.
It has been a while since the last time we had the opportunity to talk with Katie and in this quick Q&A we got the opportunity to recall her beginnings, her approach to fashion and her visions for the future. As well as words she would tell an ITS Arcademy audience…
ITS: Your background is pretty much scientific… can you tell us a little bit about who Katie was before approaching fashion design, and when and why you decided fashion would be your profession?
KRW: I was studying medicine at the time that I realised I wanted to pursue fashion, so you could say my background was pretty much as opposite as you can get from where I have ended up! Having said that, my scientific brain has definitely influenced the type of designer I am, and helped me along this journey. I love the most technical aspects of design, especially pattern cutting and engineered textiles… also scientific areas of study, like anatomy, still influence my research and design to this day.
ITS: How much has your design approach and philosophy changed since winning ITS? Have you solved problems you were still struggling with in 2014?
KRW: I think that my fundamental approach to design remains the same – the idea of challenging the ‘standard’ way that things are done in this industry and challenging the whole existing approach to making or engineering clothes. Also the hybrid approach of technology combined with the hand-crafted. This hasn’t changed, but I think if anything my approach has become more focused. I think the focus has become more ‘how do I use innovation to create a more circular, intelligent and emotionally engaging design?’ Rather than the pursuit of something completely original just for the sake of originality – which I think was my obsession when I started!
ITS: Where is design leading you, what are your challenges in the coming years?
The biggest challenge, I think, is building and maintaining a business in a way that is sustainable (in the many meanings of the word). I think that when I started out the messaging for new designers going into the industry was all about growing and growing, selling and making more and more, bigger and bigger. This didn’t really feel right to me and I just don’t believe this is right for all businesses. More than ever I appreciate being a small, independent, agile business that can respond quickly to challenges, and commit fully to pursuing a sustainable practice. I hugely value my own autonomy, which I think would be harder to achieve the ‘bigger’ your company grows.
I am definitely focusing on using my strengths as a process-driven designer to innovate more sustainable processes. My latest collection featured garments made entirely from my studio’s previous production waste fabrics, using a new innovative technique I have developed using digital embroidery. As a small designer it’s challenging to invest in these processes but it’s so important. My immediate aim is to make my own practice more circular, using intelligent, innovative and creative processes.
ITS: Picture yourself speaking about your experience at the ITS Arcademy to an audience of teenagers who are passionate about design and about to decide what their next step will be after High School. What message would you like them to go back home with?
You have an incredible opportunity – as a community of people who are more environmentally and socially conscious, and more open-minded than the previous generations who have gone before you… you have the unique opportunity to design a better world and I’m so hopeful to see what that will be. Don’t be intimidated by all the problems you see in the world – creativity and design can have such a big impact – pour your passion towards that. Don’t accept boundaries and challenge everything! I would also add that a future career path can take many twists and turns so don’t be too anxious about what you pick to start with, backgrounds in diverse areas will be valuable to you no matter what kind of design path you take, whether through experience working in a company, or further education or though your own practice. There is no ‘right’ path.