Q&A with Thomas Davidson, promising denim graduate
The PCA Vision 2018 design competition that encourages students to “express their unique creative flair with cutting edge, stylish and functional workwear” highlighted the design talent of Manchester Fashion Institute graduate Thomas Davidson, who won the Cordura Durable Design Award for his innovative workwear outfit designed for a plumber using denim.
After his win at the Park Plaza Hotel in London, FashionUnited sat down with the talented graduate to find out why he’s so passionate about denim, the inspiration by his impressive workwear design, what he enjoyed about his course at the Manchester Fashion Institute, as well as his plans for the future.
Can you tell FashionUnited readers what inspired your PCA Vision workwear entry?
Thomas Davidson: “It came from my own love of denim and as the project was workwear, I just thought about the fact that vintage denim was workwear and the main fabric used, so it was about bringing it back.
“The fact is when workwear was denim, people were proud to wear the garments, they were very bold, now we don’t have that same thing any more, now it is such a chore just to go to work, so part of my design was creating something that people would be proud to wear as workwear, as well as bringing back denim to provide something functional and stylish.”
What challenges did you face bringing your PCA Vision design to life?
“As the main briefing was to solve a problem for a very specific job role it really helped using my Dad as inspiration and his trade as a plumber, as I got to ask him personally about what he wears to what his problems are, and what he wishes his clothes could do – like is there any discomfort.
“He said that comfort was one of the main things, so I had to try and think about that in the design, as well as the wear-and-tear of his clothes, they were getting ruined within weeks, which is why I thought of doing a boiler suit with the panels placed in his most used areas so it would last longer.”
Was it not more difficult to use denim?
“The denim I used was actually comfort stretch denim so it stretches with the wearer. Most workwear uses quite rigid fabrics, which could be uncomfortable for some people – and that was my biggest challenge to solve around the body, like the way a plumber moves, positions they lie in.”
What is it about denim that you love so much?
“We might be here for 3 hours [laughs]. The main thing is how denim tells a story of the wearer. Through my work placements, I have been able to collection vintage workwear pieces, and they always show the wearers movements, like, I have a vintage Lee trucker jacket where you can see how it he’s bleached one arm where he has had his arm out of the truck in the sun, and I have a french workwear jacket where the back is bleached from the sun on his back from his job.
“The denim tells a story, which I don’t think you find with most other fabrics, you know that from the sun bleaching his back he was working in the fields with the sun behind him, and he was obviously on his knees a lot from the stains and wear.
“I just love the details in denim as well, down to stitch colours, seams and reams – these techniques were created over a hundred years ago and are still getting used today, like wearing a pair of jeans is so common now but we are influenced still by the stories and designs of 50 years ago, which are being brought back to the high street.”
Did the competition help boost your denim credentials?
“After doing my placement year at Lee this project came about and I just thought workwear was denim, that is what it is known for, it wasn’t used for anything else, and I wanted to have a go at doing something a little different.
“I think a few of my lecturers were surprised I wanted to enter this competition as a few more creative projects came up, but I wanted to showcase denim and bring it back as a workwear fabric, and after finding out that Cordura had developed a denim specifically for workwear I knew I wanted to work with it in my design.”
What is so special about the Cordura denim?
“It has all these different properties, so it doesn’t wash down as much as normal denim as it has been specifically created for work wear and if I hadn’t done this competition I wouldn’t have ever known this denim was a thing.
“I wanted to show that denim is something to use in workwear, rather than how it has been pushed to the side, and if people are developing it, why not use it more. And obviously jeans, everyone has a pair of jeans, so why not workwear jeans.”
How does making denim sustainable affect your designs and does the damages that denim has on the environment not put you off the industry?
“Of course, by working within it, I’ve seen the things that denim does, like the blue river in China, it is bad for the environment but I have also then seen people like Jeanology and Arvind who are pushing so many ways to try and get sustainability in denim to Levi’s who are trying to go water-less.
“Jeanology and Denim PV showcased laser technology, which does everything that the washing machines does to denim to create the wear and abrasions, and they have o-zone machines, which reduces energy, so where I have seen how that’s possible to be more sustainable in denim it has made me excited.
“Even at Wrangler where I’m interning it is much more about thinking about the environment, such as using fabrics created from recycled denim, but it still so new, people are still developing sustainable methods and I feel that in the next couple of years they will all start coming out.”
What was it about your course at the Manchester Fashion Institute that you enjoyed? Would you recommend it to others?
I would 100 percent recommend it, just by talking to friends on other design courses they just don’t have the same level of attention from tutors and programmes, like illustrator and photoshop as we do. I know of people who have tutorials every couple of weeks, whereas our tutors see us every week, they are constantly wanting to know what and how we are doing, check whether they can help us, which really helped us progress.
We also have access to specialist lecturers, teachers and illustrators, which just taking to friends they didn’t get that on their courses, and photoshop and illustrator is what you use when you leave and it makes sense to get attention in that.
We also have a placement year, I was at Lee jeans, which was an amazing year, I learnt so much I didn’t feel like a placement student, no one treated me like an intern, I was basically part of the design team.”
How did your work placement come about?
The placements are all offered by the university, our lectures are constantly emailing us opportunities, as so many companies want students from our course, and that’s because our lecturers have so many contacts within the industry. I got my Lee placement as my design tutor is a friend of the head of design at Lee and when I got there it turned out there were a three or four people in the team that had done the same course. So they know the university, they know the quality of the course, and the skills we are taught, so they want interns from MMU.
And by doing a placement at Lee it has led to me getting another internship now at Wrangler, through making contacts while on my year placement, as I 100 percent want to work in denim.”
What’s the goal? 5 years from now?
“My main goal is to have the big three on my CV, so the big three within denim is Lee, Wrangler and Levi’s, so I’ve only got Levi’s to go now, to go to San Francisco would be amazing, but they also do have a base in Amsterdam.
“Just to have all three on my CV would be a personal achievement for me. And then to have a good menswear designer job within one of them would be my personal goal.”
Who inspires you in fashion?
“My fashion heroes would have to be Aitor Throup and Demna Gvasalio. Aitor for his functionality within his design and the way he tackles the design process and construction of garments – I have tried to replicate this in my university work as he almost looks at clothes more as objects than garments.
“Demna, however inspires me for the way he sees fashion. I feel like his shows mainly as Vetements have always been my favourite for the past couple of years due to their completely out there take on a collection, with it being almost more of a collective of outfits than a running theme or inspiration.
“I also found that Charles Renee Macintosh to be an inspiration, since my early teens, due to this story and also I feel how ahead of the times he was in the way he designed and how secretly clever his buildings are down to the smallest details.”
Images: courtesy of Thomas Davidson / PCA Vision 2018