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Meet the Alumnae: Rare Thread, Kirsty McDougall and Laura Miles

28 March 2018 by Roger Tredre in Alumni Stories, Fashion

Kirsty McDougall and Laura Miles on their stand at Première Vision Designs, September 2017

Kirsty McDougall and Laura Miles, two TexSelect alumnae with exceptional track records, have joined forces to set up a London-based studio, Rare Thread. It’s established an international reputation within two years. They told us the full story.

They founded Rare Thread just under two years ago, following an inspirational conversation at Première Vision. At the time, Laura Miles was creative director for Vanners Silk mill, based in the main halls, while Kirsty McDougall was showing at Maison d’Exceptions, showcasing the hand production skills of her studio.

During their conversation, they came to the conclusion that it was time to develop a new kind of studio that combined their skills and experience as well as working with other designers and collaborators. The result – Rare Thread.

Textile created by Rare Thread

Tell us about working together and how your respective design skills complement each other.

Our style of work is almost the polar opposite, although over the years we have both learned to work within whatever style a client throws at us. Laura’s work has a real creative precision and a sense of minimalism whereas Kirsty works in a more chaotic and maximalist vein.

We both have a strong but very different sense of colour and yarn that appeals to different clients. The other designers we work with, such as Ruth Greany and Karen Nicol, bring other qualities to the portfolio that broadens the appeal of the work to a range of different clients, from fashion designers and brands at all levels to architects and artists.

In terms of skills, Laura has worked extensively in textiles over the last 20 years, from founding the successful Woven Studio and collaborating closely with mills and manufacturers. Kirsty has worked alongside Guy Hills to build up Dashing Tweeds through design and manufacture, and worked on development and handmade projects through her own studio for a varied range of clients.

We are both very driven and hardworking in different ways, and this works very well for the multitude of directions we are taking the business in.

And how was Première Vision this season?

We had a great Première Vision. There seems to be a renewed interest in woven textiles. Sales were greater than they have been before, exceeding expectations. And a number of consultancies and projects have come out of it which is really exciting.

Textile created by Rare Thread

What are your memories of Texprint [now renamed TexSelect]?

Kirsty: I think Texprint was one of the most pivotal moments in my career. I remember really wanting to get in, and then being completely overwhelmed when I won the weave prize. In London and Paris it introduced me to some of my first clients and, importantly, really helped build my confidence. Selling work made everything a reality and made me think ‘I can do this!’ Apart from that, it helped form a good part of my textile network and I had a lot of fun.

Laura: Texprint was a great kickstart to my career. It helped me build on the contacts that I had made at New Designers [the exhibition for emerging designers held in London]. I sold quite a bit of work to mostly Italian mills that went on to become regular clients. It was also great fun meeting the other graduates. I remember the hangovers getting progressively worse as the week went on!

Where are the opportunities in the market for you at the moment?

The opportunities are broad and far-reaching. Our markets range from handweavers to industrial mills and fashion and couture brands. We have also started working more in the interiors market to develop upholstery qualities and one-off luxury interior products. We are busy working on a new fabric range as a converter and also looking at launching a product in the near future.

We are a very global studio and have many contacts throughout the world that we have collected in our respective careers. We’re enjoying seeing how they can fit with the new studio model.

What projects have you been working on recently?

We have just finished a very interesting season working with companies including Calvin Klein, Christopher Kane, Matty Bovan, Nike and Esteban Cortezar. Each project was completely different but all started with a woven design. We have to be able to work quickly and effectively within the time frame – each project has a different character and process depending on the team we are working with.

We have also started to represent the amazing work of Karen Nicol who produced incredible embroidery with Schiaperelli through Rare Thread. We are beginning a lot of new collaborations – it’s all very exciting.

Our day-to-day projects involve working with trend agencies, with mills on consultancy projects, interior product development, CAD textile work for large brands, hand weaving for couture or catwalk, and sampling for new collections and mill woven collections.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration comes from so many different sources – art, fashion, science, new materials, colour, friends, photography, other designers and weavers, landscape, the market.

What advice would you give to a young textile designer starting out now?

Work hard, be flexible, keep developing your skills, develop your networks. Be tenacious, be inspired. Whatever you create, if you are inspired when you make the work, it will have a market!

Being a textile designer with your own business is really a way of life and can involve lots of travel and sometimes difficult hours. A ‘can do’ attitude is really important.


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