June 13, 2012

Interview: Josie Ryder of Frances Baker

Photos courtesy of Frances Baker

Frances Baker is an independent, hand made clothing line based in Melbourne, Australia and is designed by Josie Ryder. Josie might be the sweetest person I have come in contact through the wonder of the internet and I'm am so thrilled to have Frances Baker as a sponsor this month!

I can't quite remember when or how I first came across Frances Baker, but I do know it was love at first sight. I fell hard for Josie's simple silhouettes that are reminiscent of another time and the lovely, delicate fabrics she carefully selects with not only function and quality in mind, but also the environment.

I have been following along with Josie's blog, but I recently had the chance to delve a little deeper to what Frances Baker is all about, where Josie got her creative bug and who out there in the independent fashion world she truly admires. Check out our little chat below!

Tell us a bit about the history of Frances Baker and what prompted you to take on designing full time?

I have wanted to sew and design for a living for a really long time. Right out of high school I knew I wanted to do something to do with fashion, but I didn't see how I could make a living out of the kind of fashion I was interested in; I wanted to make things myself, by hand, not work for a big corporation or have things made in a factory. I felt like the fashion courses on offer were really focussed on that kind of industry direction, and I was worried that such an environment would make my beloved sewing feel like a chore! I had also never heard of Etsy or anything wonderful like that then, and didn't have a great deal of confidence in myself at that stage either, so I went to Uni and pursued other interests.

A few years ago I took a 9 month trip overseas, where I travelled around Europe and America. That trip had a huge effect on me, because I was both inspired by all the amazing things I saw, and frustrated by the effects of globalisation. Sometimes I felt like every city was starting to blend into the last, with the same styles and the same chain stores appearing wherever I was. I think that trip really cemented my passion for small scale, independent crafters and businesses. In every city I visited, I started seeking out the places where people were doing something different or particular to their city. I loved coming across shops that sold handmade shoes, or some kind of artisan product. To me, it was the unique nature of these places, and the fact that the handmade things these people were selling could not be found anywhere else in the world, that made them truly special and worth owning. After that I was pretty certain that I wanted to do something along those lines. Following other handmade labels online was also really inspiring, and made me feel like handmade clothing was a doable thing. In the end, it took being stuck too long in an uninspiring day job that convinced me to finally take the plunge and have a go at living my dream of selling my own creations.

Looks from Frances Baker Summer 2012

When did you first learn to sew and did any of your friends/family nurture your creative leanings?

I don't know how old I was when I first learnt to sew, but I know it was pretty young! My Mum was always pretty crafty, and was always setting my sister and I up with craft projects and encouraging us in our different hobbies. I first started using Mum's sewing machine to make clothes for my dolls, and then began teaching myself to make my own clothes too. While we didn't have a huge budget for new clothes when I was growing up, a trip to the fabric store gave me a chance to try and put together the outfits that I was dreaming up in my head, as did altering hand me downs and things from the dress up box! It definitely gave me a big appreciation for what you can achieve with a little recycling and creativity.

I love that you focus on making unique pieces of clothing, while still creating something that is timeless so it can be worn through the years. Was this always your goal or did something prompt you to start designing with that in mind?

I think with sewing for myself, my approach has always been that if I am going to spend all that time working on something, I want to make sure that I am definitely going to get a lot of use out of it! I would generally put a fair bit of effort into planning out the details of a garment: choosing colours that would work with other stuff in my wardrobe, and trying to pick shapes I knew I felt good in. I don't like the idea of throwing things away, so I want my clothes to be lasting favourites!

I am also really passionate about the environment and reducing the environmental impact of our lifestyles. Fashion by it's very nature is inherently wasteful and bad for our planet in many ways, but I think by becoming a bit more concious of where our clothing comes from, the impact it's manufacture has had, and aiming for quality over quantity when it comes to making new purchases, we can at least make better choices about the clothing we buy. I have a horror of trends, and of poorly made high street clothes that just end up adding to landfill at the end of the season. So I guess that my aim is that while I'm indulging my sewing habit and attempting to make a living from my passion, I also want to do my best to ensure that the garments I make are going to last, and will hopefully get plenty of use too!

Sarah hand printing fabrics for Frances Baker Fall/Winter 2012

Looks from Frances Baker Fall/Winter 2012

You printed some of your own fabrics in your Autumn/Winter collection - What was the process like and is it something you enjoyed and think you'll explore more in future collections?

The prints in my Autumn/Winter collection were designed by my friend Sarah Adkins! When I was designing the garments, all my illustrations had fabric with autumn leaves or acorns or things like that on it. In my collections I try to use solely eco-friendly fabrics such as bamboo and organic cotton, and unfortunately I've had a really hard time finding these fabrics in prints that I like. So, Sarah and I decided to create some prints ourselves! Sarah designed the leaves and acorns for the prints, which we then made up into stamps. These motifs are then hand stamped, one by one, onto the fabric, before I cut it out and sew it into a dress. I absolutely love the whole process, as well as the creative possibilities that creating your own prints opens up. Not to mention the fun of getting to collaborate with a dear friend!

I am worried about the cost involved though, as I obviously have to pay Sarah for her time, as well as myself for the time it takes to make the garment, and so the price of the garment mounts up very quickly! Handmade clothing is unfortunately always going to be more expensive than sweatshop items, but I still want to try and make Frances Baker clothes as accessible as I can, so costly embellishments like hand printing might not be a sustainable option for every collection.

Where we're from and where we live definitely influences how we all dress. What parts of Melbourne do you think get translated into Frances Baker?

I definitely always have my eyes open for inspiration as I'm walking about the city: seeing what others are wearing and window shopping in my favourite shops are both things that I find get the creative juices flowing. I have no idea how to describe or sum up Melbourne style in particular though! They say Melbournian's wear a lot of black, but I'm not sure that's it. I have often heard people say that Australian style tends towards the relaxed and easy-to-wear. I know that personally I favour relaxed shapes and comfortable styles to wear myself, and I think that comes through a bit in the clothes I make for Frances Baker too.

Where do you draw your inspirations from? Are there any lines or designers that you admire?

A great deal of my inspiration comes from the past. For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with history, costume dramas, anything that creates a link or can help to conjure up the sense of another era. I guess part of the fascination comes from the fact that we can never experience the past for ourselves! I believe that for many people, fashion is quite an evocative and emotive experience: clothing can create moods and inspire emotions. For this reason I think that vintage clothing can be a way to access or connect with lost eras, so I am always fascinated by historical clothing styles.

In terms of contemporary designers I am most inspired by my favourite independent and handmade designers of the web, such as Nadinoo, Katie-Louise Ford, The Loved One, Blooming Leopold, Alexandra Grecco, Leah Goren, and Ann-ya. These ladies are not only great designers, but are business ladies too, and have had great success at following their dreams and doing what they love. Basically, they're my heroes!!

What do you see for Frances Baker's future?

My big goal for this year is to be able to quit my part time job and focus on Frances Baker full time. That would be a dream come true! Creatively I have lots of ideas floating around in my head: ideas for a range of eco-friendly little black dresses, plans for a new collection, and ideas for one off garments to make from my vintage fabric stash.The challenge is always to find the budget and time to make my dreams come to life!

A huge thank you to Josie for taking the time to answer my questions. Hope you all enjoyed her interview! You can shop Josie's collections on her Etsy and on her web store now.

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