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GFW19: Meet Tihara Smith, the designer celebrating black British culture

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Last year, fashion designer Tihara Smith unveiled her Windrush collection at Graduate Fashion Week. A year on since we first wrote about Tihara’s ground-breaking collection, I caught up with the designer to find out how her career is going. 

Image courtesy of Tihara Smith 

Black British culture

A big part of Tihara’s collection is staying true to her identity and making sure that black British culture is represented throughout her work. She explains why she chose to do this: “It is very important to me. Firstly, because it’s a big part of my identity, and I love to create and design things that have a personal touch.”

The under-representation of the Black British community within the industry was also a big motivation for Tihara to make sure she used her collection to shine a light: “I also think it’s important for me to represent Black British culture or Black culture in general, in the industry because it’s often not represented. I also think fashion and the creative industries are a great space to learn and educate people about Black history. I’ve definitely learnt a lot about my culture and identity through researching for my final collection and I hope to continue simultaneously learning and sharing what I’ve learnt through my online shop!"

The Windrush generation

Her final collection was based around Windrush, and it's also a huge theme of her new collection of prints and accessories that are available on her online shop. It was Tihara’s personal connection to this that prompted her decision to make this part of her work. “When I was deciding on what concept to use for my final collection, I really wanted to choose something that was personal to me and that I was really interested in learning more about. The idea of looking to the Windrush generation as inspiration came initially from my grandparents, as they are both parts of the Windrush generation. 

“It was really interesting for me to research into the Windrush generation, and the experience of Caribbean people that came to the UK post 1948, as it made me appreciate what they had to go through, such as racism and discrimination, and helped me to appreciate the opportunities that I have now grown up in the UK because of what they endured and fought through.”

Raffia bags, £60, TiharaSmith.com / Image courtesy of Tihara Smith

Power through slogans and design

In her shop, Tihara has created several bags and prints which display different powerful slogans. The slogans include ‘Wind Rush’, ‘Black and Beautiful’ and ‘You called. We Came’. So, what inspired her to choose these particular words to use in her collection? “When I was researching for my final collection, I looked at a lot of photographs taken from 1948 onwards that documented the Black British experience. 

“Some of the photography that I looked at, by photographers such as Neil Kenlock, focused on protests by the British Black Panthers who held up signs and banners with powerful slogans. So that inspired me to feature powerful slogans in my own work.”

Her bags are made using raffia woven with bright colours, this was a deliberate choice which was inspired by the Caribbean. She says: “The idea to use raffia came from researching into the West Indian Front Room, particularly the book written by Michael McMillan. A lot of Caribbean people decorated their home with souvenirs and crafts from the Caribbean, such as fans and bags made from raffia and straw materials. So, this inspired me to experiment with using raffia to make clothing.”

Made in London

All of the products are made in London, which is important to Tihara: “I want to create products that are of high-quality and individual, which is difficult to create with mass-produced products. As an industry, businesses and consumers are re-evaluating our production and consumption habits as it’s become more and more unsustainable.”

This way of making her products has also meant that Tihara’s brand is sustainable. She says: “Producing handmade ‘slow-fashion’ products is a good first step to making fashion a bit more sustainable. But when it comes to sustainability, there’s always room for education and improvement, so I’m always open to learning how I can be eco-friendlier in the way I design and make.”

The importance of University

Tihara is a graduate from University of The Creative Arts Epsom. She cites this as a very important part of her career and learning to become a designer. “I think it’s definitely a great place to start. You get the opportunity to learn and develop technical skills in sewing, pattern cutting, CAD and illustration, whilst also getting to explore who you are as a designer with the guidance of experienced tutors and technicians.”

Going to university also allows you to mix with other students who can be great to collaborate with. She says: “It also can be an inspiring creative environment, as you get the chance to also learn from your fellow students, from all different creative courses.”

Raffia bags, £60, TiharaSmith.com / Image courtesy of Tihara Smith

The future

So, does Tihara have any more advice for students who want to start a career in fashion? “I think the best advice I can give is to find a path in the fashion industry that you really enjoy and are interested to learn more about. I can say from experience that studying fashion can be extremely difficult at times, but if you are doing something that you really love and enjoy, it’s so worth it! “ 

So, what does the future hold for her online shop? Will she return to clothing in the future? “I would love to also start selling my clothing online, that is definitely in the plan!”

To read more pieces from our 'Behind the brand' series, visit this link.

Lead image courtesy of Tihara Smith

 




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