Designer profile: Clara Vuletich

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I am super excited to introduce the first designer profile on Art Matters Now:

Clara Vuletich is a textile designer, researcher and consultant who explores the intersections of fashion and textile design, sustainability and well-being through creative practice. Clara is completing a PhD funded by the MISTRA Future Fashion project and University of the Arts London, investigating textile making and thinking in a sustainable fashion context. Her main research interest is exploring the ‘social’ rather than ‘technical’ role of the designer in creating systemic change in the fashion industry – the new roles, skills and methods for socially-engaged design practice.

Clara has an impressive background – taught and lectured within the UK, Hong Kong and Australia, exhibited her textile work internationally, and visiting PhD Fellow at University Technology Sydney (UTS) from 2013-2015. She is now based in Sydney, Australia.

I first met Clara in Melbourne in 2010 when she gave a talk at Harvest Textiles (now closed). I was hugely impressed with her commitment to the way in which design can be used to create much needed change in the fashion industry.

So I asked her to respond to a series of questions for Art Matters Now.

Why does art/design matter?

To me art and design matters because it is a full expression of our creativity and what it means to be human. I believe that all humans are fundamentally creative and one of my favourite thinkers on these ideas is Ellen Dissanayiake. She is an anthropologist and has studied traditional societies and how they express themselves through dance, painting, music etc. She also explores the bond mothers have with their babies and suggests that this very intimate relationship is the beginnings of our creativity – we are biological predisposed to all participate in creative expression!

Tell us about your design practice. What does it consist of now? How has it evolved?

I have an unusual creative/design practice, in that I didn’t officially train as a designer until my late 20’s. I had always done art at school, but on graduating I did a Communications degree in Broadcast Journalism.

I then moved to London, worked in the fashion industry, and decided to re-train. So I went to Chelsea College of Art and did a printed textile design degree. I spent 3 years immersed in learning the art and craft of dye, print, mark making, drawing, pattern and decoration that comes with textile design. It was during this time that I became very interested in the environmental (and social) impacts of textiles and fashion. I then worked as a Research Assistant at the Textiles Environment Design (TED) research group at Chelsea, while also developing my own designer-maker practice. My creative practice has always been quite collaborative and social. I have always taught others – whether its teaching screen printed textiles; patchwork/quilting/ or the theory of sustainable fashion/textiles. I love running workshops, sharing skills and dialogue. Sometimes I think that mantra ‘You teach what you need to learn’ is very true for me – I almost need to teach the creative act in order to allow myself to do it!

I am almost at the end of a creative research PhD in sustainable fashion/textiles and that has evolved my practice even more. There were four projects included – two in which I made textiles or other creative projects; and two in which I facilitated other designers in a sustainable design training programme. So again, I moved from being a facilitator and consultant in industry; to me in a studio hand-stitching for weeks or collaborating on a range of fashion pieces. I was interested in exploring the practice of a fashion textile designer who moves ‘beyond the cloth’ into new roles such as facilitator, steward or activist. I am now setting up my own consultancy practice to guide fashion companies through the sustainability space and feel that my textile making will become more of a sideline project for the time being. I am passionate about textiles, and will always have them in my everyday life and I still quilt/patchwork, so we’ll see what happens!

What ideas are at the heart of your work?

I’m very interested in textiles from a material culture perspective and how they reflect human society and values. I am also very passionate about the power of fashion (and textiles) as a force for change in the world. The industry employs so many people, and brings such pleasure, but it has got so out of hand with the ‘fast fashion’ model. So I am interested in the role of designers in transforming this situation into something positive. I also recently trained as a Kundalini yoga teacher and have become very interested in well-being and mindfulness. So, I am also interested in exploring the role of (textile) craft in psychological wellbeing.

What motivates you to create?

I think I am motivated to express myself and my ‘truth’. It feels like an itch that I have to scratch, or an impulse to propel myself out of the mundanity of the everyday. I read the other day that some cultural theorist describes how creativity is essentially driven by a compulsion to play and a craving for non-rational thought. This seems about right to me!

What advice would you provide for someone who told you they really don’t know how to go about understanding art/design?

To look beyond the obvious, material representation of art/design. It’s equally about the immaterial – the concepts; the ideas; the symbols or metaphors. The meaning is deeper than what you can see with the eye.

What are your top tips for getting into the creative zone? 

Calmness, meditation, nature, surrounding yourself with your favourite objects and ‘paraphernalia’ (for me this is vintage textiles; car-boot finds and books).

Thanks Clara! You can watch Clara’s recent (and totally inspirational) TEDx Sydney talk here – How to engage with ethical fashion (presented 14 June 2016).

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