Europe's International Woolmark Prize finalists revealed

Woolmark announced the four winners of its International Woolmark Prize's European semi-final on Tuesday in London, ahead of the final heat to be held in New York later this week.


Semi-final winners Daniel Fletcher and Nicholas Daley


The winners were two UK-based menswear designers Nicholas Daley and Daniel Fletcher, plus Edward Crutchley, who creates both women’s and menswear, and Sweden’s Saif Bakir and Emma Hedlund of Cmmn Swden.

The European heat had also seen designers taking part from France and The Netherlands.

The Europe winners join two Chinese designers Zhi Chen of I-Am-Chen and Angel Chen, as well as Japan’s Yohei Ohno and South Korea’s Mooyeol Lee of Youser, who won the Hong Kong semi-final last week.

The designers will all now work on their collections for the final that takes place early next year.

Speaking after receiving their semi-final trophies from Jefferson Hack, Daley and Fletcher seemed genuinely shocked by their wins, but excited at the prospect of going on to develop their concepts into real products.

“It’s overwhelming, I wasn’t expecting it. So far we’ve just created designs, with fabric swatches, so I’m looking forward to the next stage,” Daley said.

Meanwhile Fletcher was a little starstruck. “I can’t believe it. It’s great to see that the judges could see what I can do, to know that those people who I've respected for so long believe in what I can do.”

PROGRESS, PRESTIGE AND POSITIVITY

For both, the really important element of progressing further in the competition is what it can do for their fledgling businesses.

Daley launched his label four years ago and Fletcher only three years ago, each of them just out of university (Central Saint Martins in both cases). 

“Programmes like this are really important. What this is going to do is give me some freedom to develop the collection,” Fletcher explained, adding that the everyday life of an owner-designer is less about creativity that many people might think. “When you’re working, there’s always so much to do and I don’t always get time to experiment as I can [for Woolmark].” 

But another important side effect of working on the competition is the aura of prestige when it comes to dealing with suppliers.

“Doing the proposal I had to do so much research, I had to research so many mills,” Fletcher explained. “And all those suppliers wanted to work with me because they knew it was Woolmark. It’s opened new doors for me. That alone has been important.”

Daley agreed. “The prestige of being part of the Woolmark event in terms of the profile is huge. Winning this would mean expanding my name in different markets. 

“Obviously the finance would be great, but the outreach is so important too. It would allow me to develop my creative ideas further and maybe develop something that I wouldn’t have done outside the Woolmark competition.”


The International Woolmark Prize has now had two semi-finals with only one left

And as well as progressing with his business, Daley is also keen to leverage his rising profile to be as good an example as he can be, both in terns of “trying to champion something and to represent what menswear design can be in 2018” and in being a positive cultural role model. He wants young men of Afro-Caribbean heritage to see positive life paths in a world where the news headlines are more often about negative events such as street violence.

“This is all about professional growth and creative growth,” he said, “but there’s personal growth too and trying to use these awards to push positive role models.”

Both designers certainly qualify on that front, They each found themselves at the helm of small companies almost by accident after graduating and not being completely sure of what to do next but finding that the industry came calling. Fletcher, for  instance, saw his graduate collection being bought by Opening Ceremony. Several years on, both are fully committed to their businesses, but they also have their concerns, one of the biggest being the UK’s imminent departure from the EU.

“Brexit is scary,” Daley said. “It’s a difficult situation we’re in but we have to push forward and work around the difficulties.” 

He wants people to know that Britain is still open for business. “I use a lot of British manufacturing and fabrics, pushing UK craftsmanship, and with the musical element I include, UK culture too. I’m trying to show a different side of Britain in 2018.

"When there’s change it usually comes from youth so it’s up to us to try to challenge what’s going on that will affect us and the next generation.”

For Fletcher, the biggest issue is about the UK’s access to creative and business talent. “From interns to my studio manager, being part of the EU gives us access to so much talent,” he said. “It will be a huge risk if I can’t access that any more but not just for me, for the UK industry as well if Europe can’t access our talent. It would be a huge blow to the UK, and as people in the business and creative world, it’s up to us to put our views out there and tell people how important it is for us to have access to Europe.”

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