MEET | Paul Castro
FASHION DESIGNER, MELBOURNE
MEET PAUL CASTRO, THE LOCAL DESIGNER GIVING SURPLUS FASHION ITEMS A NEW LIGHT. SINCE GRADUATING FROM RMIT'S MASTERS OF FASHION DESIGN PROGRAM, PAUL HAS GONE ON TO BE RECOGNISED AT THE ID INTERNATIONAL EMERGING DESIGN AWARD and launched an ongoing project: amassment. WE ASKED ABOUT HIS CREATIVE PRACTICE, DESIGNING SUSTAINABLY, WORKING WITH SURPLUS STOCK AND WHERE HE'S HEADED NEXT!
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR INDUSTRY BACKGROUND AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO FASHION?
I am originally from Quito, Ecuador, where I did my first Diploma in Fashion Design. I did not really intend to study fashion, but once I started, it all made sense! I remembered my Mum used to have a seamstress and I used to come with her and collect little bits of fabric on the floor. All the textures and colours fascinated me.
Later, I studied fashion in Montreal and more recently, I successfully completed the Master of Fashion Design course at RMIT in Melbourne.
I’ve worked in sportswear, womenswear, made to measure and costume design in four different countries: Ecuador, Montreal, The Bahamas and now Australia.
Currently I teach in the Bachelor of Fashion Design at RMIT and am developing a sustainable fashion business.
BRIEFLY EXPLAIN YOUR MOST RECENT COLLECTION CONCEPT:
My latest collection, which was also my postgraduate project, explores the idea of upcycling pre-consumer surplus and adding value to these garments through design. I’ve called my collection ‘Amassment’, which is also the process I used to create my designs. It is based on the principle that one single, utilitarian object is banal and unnoticeable, whereas and accumulation of these objects, in a particular configuration, becomes aesthetically exciting.
WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN PROCESS WHEN BUILDING A COLLECTION? WHERE DO YOU START?
Working in this space of repurposing/ upcycling, was a completely new experience for me. You see, I have been used to the traditional trend research – design – manufacture – deliver process. Working with existing garments requires a particular set of creative and technical skills. It is very labour intensive and therefore hard to mass-produce. Instead of having an idea, an ‘inspiration’ and then making it happen, one has to start by working with what material is available.
DESIGNING FOR SUSTAINABILITY
SUSTAINABILITY APPEARS TO BE AN UNDERCURRENT THROUGHOUT YOUR COLLECTIONS. WHAT BROUGHT THIS ABOUT?
Well, I have been aware about sustainability issues in the fashion industry for a while. However, in the last few years, they have become more and more critical. The impact of our industry on the environment has become increasingly negative. And media attention has been increasing. I believe that it is our responsibility as designers to create better products. Beauty in a product to me is not only about the aesthetic dimension; it has also to do with the impact of the object/ design on our planet.
WASTE IS A HUGE PROBLEM IN THE FASHION & TEXTILE INDUSTRY. HOW ARE YOU ADDRESSING THIS IN YOUR OWN PRACTICE?
Definitely a big problem! Australians are the second largest textile consumers (after the US) and one of the worst polluters: 85% of textiles is sent to landfill.
In my case, I address this issue by working with pre-consumer waste, particularly surplus or dead stock. Unfortunately, there are no statistics about this specific problem in Australia. A lot of companies recycle their surplus or send it to charity. However, a big chunk of this surplus secretly ends in landfill.
I want to break this cycle by completely reworking these garments and reinserting them into the fashion system. It is not an easy task, but I hope that companies can see the potential in this initiative, as it could strengthen their green credentials.
WHAT ARE SOME INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS TO COMBAT WASTE YOU HAVE COME ACROSS IN YOUR RESEARCH?
I think the major innovation I came across is the actual design. Coming up with a very particular and unique handwriting. On many occasions, I have heard people referring to my collection as ‘elegant’, and that was exactly my intention. I want people to be intrigued by and to love the clothes purely for their aesthetic first. The way they’ve been conceived using surplus is the ‘add on’ value.
IN THE REALM OF SUSTAINABLE FASHION, WHO IN YOUR OPINION IS DOING IT RIGHT?
There are lots of companies/ brands/ designers who have embraced the sustainable movement. I hope it is not just a trend. See, I believe more in companies like Stella McCartney’s who admits that only 55% of her offer is sustainable. I think that’s great - every step counts. It is very hard, though to really find the source of every single raw material involved in the process of manufacturing a garment.
However, if I have to mention a brand that seems to be doing it right, the first that comes to mind is Patagonia. They really seem to be directing all of their efforts to make their products more sustainable.
WHAT ARE YOUR GO TO RESOURCES IN THIS AREA? WRITERS, PUBLICATIONS ETC
I don’t have particular ‘go to’ resources. I have read many articles and books on the subject. There seems to be more and more articles around it in the newspapers, online, etc. It’s a hot topic at the moment. And being a teacher at RMIT is great, because you have access to a lot of material online and at the library.
WHERE TO NEXT
YOU’VE GRADUATED CONGRATS! WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
Yes! Thank you!! It is a big achievement and I’m very proud of it. Doing the Master’s Degree was the best decision I could have ever made.
When I started my project, I had no plans to start a brand or anything like that. However, the collection has had such a positive response and has raised so much interest, that now I’m in the final stages of starting a small business selling products that are made out of surplus. All products will be made to order, as I want to avoid having my own dead stock. I want to continue creating garments that are unique and different. So, stay tuned, as it’ll be out soon!
AN AMAZING FEAT RECENTLY BEING RECOGNISED INTERNATIONALLY FOR SUCH A PRESTIGIOUS COMPETITION. WHAT OPPORTUNITIES HAVE COME FROM THIS? WHAT HAVE YOU TAKEN AWAY FROM THE EXPERIENCE?
Absolutely! It was such a wonderful surprise! Normally, these ‘emerging designer’ competitions have an age limit. The iD International Emerging Design Award has no restrictions at all. I was thrilled just to be one of the 30 finalists out of 150 applicants from around the world! But to then win a prize was a total bonus. The experience was incredible and the feedback I got from experienced designers was so positive and encouraging - it made me want even more to go ahead with starting my brand. The main take away for me has been that it is never too late to change directions in life.
THE AUSTRALIAN INDUSTRY
WHAT DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH WHEN IT COMES TO AUSTRALIAN FASHION? WHAT IN YOUR OPINION SETS US APART?
I think Australia has some very good design in general, and in fashion, some really fantastic independent designers. There is a certain aesthetic in Australian design in general, which is evident in all areas of design. I think in terms of clothing, though, there is this cool ‘nonchalance’, that is the most prominent characteristic of Australian fashion.
AS AN EMERGING LABEL, WHAT DO YOU FIND SOME OF THE KEY CHALLENGES ARE?
Well, I think the biggest challenge to me will be finding companies that are willing to give away or sell their surplus. I know this is a very sensitive topic, as most brands don’t want to admit they have surplus or think that openly admitting they have excess production, will affect their brand perception. However, I see it as the opposite. Consumers increasingly demand of their brands to be more transparent and what better way to improve their image than saying they’ve donated their surplus to an emerging designer!
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE AUSTRALIAN FASHION INDUSTRY HEADED?
It is really hard to predict where the industry is heading. Only in these last 10 years, since I’ve been living in Australia, I have seen so many shifts. When I first got here, Zara and H&M did not exist in Australia. They definitely changed the landscape and I believe they are still affecting the local brands.
I can see a future where customers will get tired of seeing the same things everywhere, which is what unfortunately is happening now. I think they will look for originality and individuality, but I hope they will also be increasingly demanding transparency in the industry. This, in turn might help local production and small businesses. However, there must be more help to encourage independent designers.