Hello there, honey!
Young British designer Martha Ellen is a bit of a magician. She has managed to combine beautiful traditionally woven fabric from Bali and Java with cool modern designs to create clothing that is beautiful, striking, and stylish. Martha took some time out to chat with Honeycombers about her unique label.
How did you go from rising advertising star in London to Jakarta-based fashion designer?
I made a decision to break out from what was the “expected” career route to fulfill my dream of creating something that was all my own. I started studied design whilst working in London at Central Saint Martins, then did an intensive year here at ESMOD Jakarta, gained experience from doing internships with great designers like Ali Charisma and Jeffry Tan, then started making my own clothes with the help of local tailors.
I left the UK almost five years ago, and started my own label in 2012. I started working from home, managed to rent part of this space and then expanded bit by bit by perseverance, exploration, curiosity, support, and hard work.
Why did you decide to settle in Indonesia?
For it’s an emerging market. There is an abundance of creativity, collaboration and collective desire to make Indonesia stand out in the world as a centre of creativity, art, and fashion design.
Why did you decide to focus on the woven ikat fabric?
Ikat is a handmade craft, and something worth preserving and making more accessible to international market. Also when I was planning my label, I knew I wanted to build something that had a positive effect on local communities and celebrated their culture.
The process to make the ikat fabric is really long. It starts with threads of pure white cotton, which are dyed but only after the motif has been made. As colour is one of my specialities, especially graduation, the dying process can take months for just one piece. I am currently building my first collection which will have more scope, as you can imagine its taken some planning to fit it into the traditional fashion cycle. You can see a bit of the ikat-making process on the label’s Facebook page.
Where do you source your ikat from?
I have suppliers in Bali and Java. It’s been a continuous exploration project to find the right groups to work with to produce a unique fabric that works with my design palette and ideals. Working so closely with the producers you really get an idea of where the material is from, the complex process behind it, and the culture that comes with it. You want to know where your materials are coming from, who is making it, and what their work conditions are like to make sure it fits in with the brand ideals.
How would you describe your design philosophy?
I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a fashion designer or entrepreneur. I think I always knew I would do something a bit different and have always been interested in art and design from a young age. My philosophy is about making a beautifully made clothing that has style and edge whilst being wearable and classic. It’s about making clothes for, at the risk of sounding cliché, “real women” that work, some who are mothers, that travel, that are independent, that have a story, and appreciate something of quality. There are three main areas that I focus on during the design process: one, how to make the most of the motif or colour of the ikat; two, what would be different, or a creative way of using the fabric; and three, what silhouettes would be most flattering to a range of body types and occasions.
What is the story behind the names of your pieces?
The clothes are named after friends and people who inspired that piece or if the piece just really suits that person. It’s great I’ll never run out of names and creates a nice catalogue of memories.
What are some of the things from Martha Ellen that we have to look forward to?
At the moment I’m focusing on building my first more “commercial” collection, which will launch Martha Ellen as a ready-to-wear fashion line, this will be the culmination of all of the development of the last two years and is set to launch in September. Also, we’re doing sales overseas to the UK, Australia, and the US, so hopefully expanding on that. And I’m exploring the idea of online retail!
Images courtesy of Martha Ellen.