Third-year Sportswear Design student Matilda Shields reached the finals and made the top 10 of the 2020 Woolmark Company and Helly Hansen performance challenge.
Over 350 participants from 20 countries responded to Woolmark’s live brief, which asked entrants to create a sustainable garment that would suit the challenges of ocean sailing. With a view to reducing the impact on marine environments, entrants were asked to consider how merino wool could replace oil-based fibres in modern, highly technical sailing clothing. The challenge was set against the news that as much as 35% of micro-plastics in the marine environment are fibres from synthetic clothing.
Congratulations on your recent success, tell us about your design journey and your time living and studying in Cornwall?
I moved to the South Coast of Cornwall at the age of three and learnt to swim in the sea probably before I had even started to walk. I’ve always had respect for the sea and an appreciation of the water. My mum and dad are both creatives and I spent my formative years in their studio and workshop with projects on the go.
I competed competitively at national level and obtained titles in three different sports but until I had found my passion for surfing nothing enabled me to express my passion for creating. 7x world champion Stephanie Gilmore once said ‘surfing is like drawing on the face of the wave.’ Surfing helped me to align both my desire to create and move. Studying Sportwear Design in Cornwall continued this alignment. I can design the gear for the sports I love so much, I even get to design wetsuits!
From your point of view what is the Woolmark Challenge?
The Woolmark Performance Challenge is an excellent opportunity to challenge and further yourself as a designer. It gave me the opportunity to speak to incredible industry professionals. It exposed me to fields of design I would not have previously considered. To also be selected alongside a very talented cohort was such an honour.
What did the brief ask you to do?
The Woolmark Performance Challenge brief invited participants to consider ocean racing and this often harsh and demanding landscape as the catalyst of their design process. The brief also centred on how product designers can contribute to the long-term health of the planet, designing performance garments with consideration for the outdoor environments in which they are created to be.
In a time where plastic pollution in our oceans is one of the greatest challenges, sailors are looking for alternatives to oil-based clothing to keep them warm and dry. The 2020 brief asked us how we would envision merino wool replacing oil-based fibers in modern highly-technical clothing, applied in one or more locations in a layer structure or case layer, insulating layer and protective layer. Finally, how could we design garments to suit the challenges of ocean sailing.
What were your initial ideas and thoughts?
It wasn’t my intention to incorporate surfing into the brief but as it is my passion it found its way in. I was reading Wavelength, a Cornish surf magazine. I found a tribe of people who sail to their surf destinations to reduce carbon emissions. Which later I discovered women in Falmouth who do the same, and they build their boat too.
“A multipurpose bib and brace that is designed by women for women, with the female boat builder and sailor figure in mind it has increased mobility without compromising waterproofness. With functional inspiration drawn from the female boat builders of WW2.”
What are your design values?
My ethos has always been designing for longevity, and design to reduce the need to consume. Everything I design I hope to be timeless in aesthetic, versatility and durability. I’ve been very inspired by the heritage of Carhartt workwear. To this day I wear my mums Carhartt dungarees that she wore in her very early stages of pregnancy with me and I wear my dad’s 20-year-old Carhartt Detroit jacket. I love the concept of how the longer you own a garment the greater it’s value and the stronger your emotional connection to its functional use.
What are you hoping to after University?
I hope to follow my passion for design aligned with surfing and being a RNLI beach lifeguard.
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