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MA Womenswear student Adela Babinská wins BFC x British Library Research Competition 2021

Red plastic material layered onto paper
  • Written byJ Tilley
  • Published date09 April 2021
Red plastic material layered onto paper
MA Womenswear: Adela Babinska BFC x British Library Research Competition 2021

MA Womenswear student, Adela Babinská, has been crowned winner of the Judges Award at the British Fashion Council x British Library Research Competition 2021. The organisations held a collaborative Virtual Awards Ceremony on 22 March 2021 to celebrate the results and outcomes of this years' incredible submissions. We caught up with Adela to find out more about her approach to the task, given the global covid-19 pandemic stopped her from ever visiting the British Library in person.

Congratulations on winning the BFC X British Library Research Competition! How does it feel to win?

Thank you. I still cannot believe it, but of course I am very happy and grateful.

Tell us about the process; what were you required to do for your application?

We were asked to use online British library database as a source of research, and to pick 5 touchpoints to create a fashion story. Consequently, we were asked to develop our research into a collection. There were two categories to choose from; Identity and Disruption. It sounds pretty straightforward, however, there is a catch in it. I am from Slovakia and I came to London only a couple months ago. Unfortunately, due to lockdown, I haven’t had a chance to visit the physical library yet. Which also means that my access to the online database is limited, since I am not a member of the library as I could only register in person.

I still wanted to participate in the competition. I realised that what I have is actually a unique point of view one can only have before experiencing something. A fickle moment that disappears the moment I enter the library. Therefore, I decided to base my fashion story around the idea of how do I perceive the library without the possibility of ever visiting it? Instead of searching for the answers, I decided to use questions that I had about the library to guide my designs. And I used the play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett to contextualise my design development - the play that 'prompts many questions and answers none of them' (Power, 2017). Suggesting that the mere act of not knowing can also be powerful.

For example the only figure I met from the library was via chat-box and their name was Paul. Paul became a sort of enigmatic persona that I was designing for. I could only access parts of the books, certain pages, fractions of information. Therefore, I used fractions of red tape to define the silhouette. I was also curious about how the library sounds, and I found a record of the library’s foyer on Spotify - I could hear an echo of people talking, but I could only guess what they look like. That is why my silhouette is held together by using magnets - we can mix the parts of the silhouette as nothing is certain or final, we can only guess. I was definitely having a lot of fun working on this project!

Tell us about your general brand ethos – what do you do and what do you represent through your work?

I picked a few touchpoints from my manifesto that I strive to bring through everything I do.

  1. I believe in being fearless, for innovation requires courage.
  2. I believe in research, for innovation requires wit.
  3. I believe that everything is in a constant stage of development. Ever evolving. Therefore, it is vital to benefit from changes and disruption, to be antifragile.
  4. I believe I am in a constant stage of searching. Searching for newness, I believe newness is possible.
  5. I believe in enjoyment of the process. For nothing is to be taken for granted, and it is a great privilege for me to work in fashion.
  6. I believe in integrity.

For only truthfulness to my audience, to the idea, to material and to myself can make designing so natural, that it becomes effortless. At that stage design gains its purpose to me. The purpose to be in harmony with nature and with people. Because ultimately, I believe I am not designing just for me, but mainly and most importantly for people, for you.

Woman modelling clothing made from red plastic tape
MA Womenswear: Adela Babinska BFC x British Library Research Competition 2021
What do you believe makes for a successful womenswear brand today?

I do not have a brand or work for a brand at the moment, so I cannot know for sure. But I believe a successful womenswear brand today should have the ability to design for people with empathy, truthfulness and courage. Empathy has the ability to identify what your audience will feel, desire and need and give them that experience through clothing. Truthfulness and honesty to yourself as a designer, or a design house, for that speaks loyalty. And courage, for I believe it is important to be able to respond to change as well as to be able to innovate and both require bravery.

How have you found working from home with such a hands-on practice over the past year?

At first, I found it difficult. However, our course leader guides us and encourages us to not be scared of the unexpected, quite the contrary. He teaches us how to benefit from disruption and how to see potential in everything. Therefore, after months of thinking about this, I honestly feel that there is no place where I would rather study than here, especially throughout these difficult times. Because thanks to the support we have from our course leader and all the other tutors, not only I do not mind working from home, I find it quite stimulating, liberating and fun.

What will you take away from the past year? Have you had to learn or unlearn anything in particular to help you?

The pandemic has been a painful situation for all of us. Therefore, looking at the bright side of it sometimes feels a bit alien.

Among the many things I learnt though, I believe it has been a very natural way how to understand sustainability better. You know before I heard about sustainability and I thought I was implementing it into my own practise but I was just fooling myself. I had always had enough fabric to make something, a mannequin or a friend to try it on and if I did not have that I could simply earn money and buy that (of course I mean materials, not friends). However, with the pandemic this has become more complicated. I got to the point where I really had to rethink my design process from the very beginning –  I started to read more and make less, and if I produce something tangible then I try to use every piece of information that can be gained from that object. I believe I started to appreciate things more and I think that helped me a lot.

Sketchbook work work showing mannequins wearing red plastic materials
MA Womenswear - Adela Babinska BFC x British Library Research Competition 2021