Tuesday, 16 November 2010

One To Watch: An interview with Amber James by Calum Ross

Creating products which outlast highstreet brands and reduce the levels of waste at all stages of production is the driving influence behind Graphic Designer Amber James' work. Mixing her formal training in Adobe Creative Suites with traditional hand crafted techniques, she creates tactile products with contemporary aesthetics. Amber talks about her aspirations for her label Bambooteak and the core values which inspire her.

Tell us about your label Bambooteak:

Well I guess it all started in secondary school when a friend suggested I use the lexicon 'bambooteak' (stemming from an old nickname: bam and boutique) as a name for all the things I was making and giving to people as presents. That gave me the impetus to develop the traditional craft practices I was enjoying as hobbies, and the identity of the label. During my degree in Graphic Design I began to incorporate the craft element into the work I was producing and in turn my craft work became more 'graphical'. It is this relationship between the tactile and the visual that I try to explore in the work I make now.

Do you have any core values which seperate Bambooteak from the rest of the market?

For me, quality is paramount, I have always valued the hand-made over the high street and believe that clothing should be made to last. It is well known that the fashion industry creates a huge cycle of waste, discarded with each passing season which means buyers only look at the price not the quality or method of production. The time and skill put into well made products is what needs to become more important to consumers so I try to provide them with that option.

What is it about using traditional craft techniques which appealed to you?

I find it very difficult to throw away anything vaguely useful so I have always had a cupboard full of odd bits that get cut-up and remade. In trying to work out how to make something better by altering or fixing it I developed the craft skills I use now.
When I look at a piece of fabric or a ball of wool it speaks to me, I see what it could be and what it could be combined with to become new and unique.

Is there a particular product you specialise in, or do you like to be diverse?

The variety of products I have at the moment is the result of many years of experimentation with materials and techniques, getting familiar with them and building up a skill-set. Even though I could never settle on one craft I am now starting to specialise in print patterns, knitwear and accessories. I think as the label grows I will bring in others to share the responsibilities, but to successfully manage others you need to have an awareness of every aspect of how the business is run. I love learning new skills so at the moment I am enjoying the process of discovery involved in establishing a design label. 

Do you see the label expanding beyond its online presence?

Oh definitely, there is a very long list of wonderful things I want Bambooteak to be in the future but at the moment I am focusing on getting my existing products seen online. Next year I would like to get into some boutiques, find some other designers to do collaborative projects with, and later in the year I plan to launch a winter clothing collection.

You use a lot of pattern in your work, where does this inspiration come from?

I came up with my most recent geopattern designs after doing some research on The Bauhaus Weavers and german quilting patterns from the 1960's. I was inspired by the use of geometry and saw how it compliments many traditional crafts because they both depend upon the unit in an overall structure. I enjoy the challenge of trying to find a visual interaction where all the elements fit together and are evenly balanced, pattern design and the use of patterned fabrics in clothing relies on this balance.
Are there any other designers you liken yourself to?

Well if there are I wish I knew where to find them, I would like to sit them down and discuss knitting patterns. Crafty people tend to hide themselves away down muddy lanes in Wales.
In terms of design, I aspire to have the same playfulness and variety of MM Paris, and the magic touch with style that Maison Martin Margiela has.

Visit the Bambooteak online store: http://www.bambooteak.com/

First published  23rd November by jotta.com

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