Helen Kellock meets Annalisa Simonella, an Italian designer living in Scotland. Her background is in architectural engineering and she has applied her knowledge in materials and thermal comfort to create multifunctional and technological fashion which is also stylish and sustainable.
Tell us a little about allenomis and how you go about creating your designs.
Allenomis is a womenswear brand combining sustainability with enhanced functionality. All garments are either transformable or modular, they are made with eco-friendly materials and manufactured in Scotland.
I created allenomis two years ago from the desire to add extra functionality to garments. When I was living in London I realised that I wanted more from the clothes I was wearing. I was away from home for most of the day and I was moving from one environment to the other both in terms of physical conditions (climate, temperature) and in terms of social context. What I chose to wear in the morning may not have been suitable for working in an office, taking the tube, going to a party or to the gym but I didn’t want to carry a suitcase with me. This is where the idea for allenomis started; creating clothes that make the wearer feel comfortable with changing conditions.
My engineering background has somehow shaped the way I approach design: I basically start from trying to solve a problem, for example keeping the wearer comfortable when the temperature changes or giving extra pockets to carry objects. Then I look at the fabrics available and then that shapes into a garment. The style of allenomis gives a nod to Japanese design and to retrofuturism, clean lines, strong colours with a focus on the fabrics’ textures and innovative pattern cutting.
How has your background shaped your work?
I’m a building engineer specialised in the performance of the building envelope, I help architects designing the right proportion of transparent and opaque wall surfaces and choosing the suitable materials to make buildings more comfortable for the occupants and energy efficient.
My background gave me the initial ‘base’ for allenomis: I drew a parallel between the occupants in buildings and the ‘occupants’ of clothes. Many materials used in construction are also used in textiles and the purpose is very similar. Often I think about an apocalyptic scenario where energy is scarce and most of the buildings we inhabit are not efficient. Clothes then become our protective shield against weather.
Do you find it easy to juggle your time between working as an architectural engineer and a garment designer?
Sometimes it’s quite challenging, not just because of the time management but in particular for having to change mind set. Designing clothes gives me a complete view over the whole process, from concept to completion, which I still miss in my engineering work. Working on large projects with a lengthy timescale and many people involved in the design does not allow to see the start and the end of the process.
What are you working on at the moment?
The end of last year has been dedicated to the preparation for two pop up shops which run in December and for a new stockist (Factory 45). I’m now thinking about some new designs, for which I have been looking into materials and suppliers of ethical fabrics, also local ones.
There is an on going intention to extend the ‘functionalities’ of my creations to the expression of identity and how clothes can influence the interaction between people – I’m currently researching into the social aspects of fashion.
Your pieces invite the consumer to take part in the making of the garment; is this how you see fashion moving in the future?
The allenomis modular fashion system allows both customisation and upgrade: it is a top with buttons at the armholes and waist to attach different types of sleeves and skirts. The consumer can select specific attachments at the moment of buying the outfit and therefore create an individual look. They can also buy further attachments in the future to upgrade the outfit and have the opportunity to transform it.
I think that giving the consumer the opportunity to customise and upgrade their clothes is essential when considering the concept of slow-fashion. When someone buys a garment intending to use it for a long time they may want to interact with the design to adapt it to their own needs.
Fashion is increasingly making use of technology to help creating the garments to the customer’s needs, giving them the perfect fit (e.g. 3d body scans in shops) or allowing them to choose fabrics, colours and features by means of online applications. This is reproducing what happened in the past when clothes were made to measure by the local dressmaker or tailor and there was a personal relationship between designer/maker and consumer; we are now using technology to recreate a similar experience.
You are originally from Italy, you then worked in London for a number of years and are now based in Glasgow. Has working in Glasgow brought any specific benefits or challenges?
Glasgow brought me lots of positive things: I love the underground art buzz and the ability to easily connect to people. It’s affordable: I wouldn’t have been able to take some time off work to develop my ideas if I was living in London. On the other hand as it’s a smaller city, it doesn’t have the same variety of offering that London has, satisfying every ‘niche demand’.
All of fabric you use is responsibly sourced and you are passionate about promoting an ethical approach to consuming. How can we do this? Can you point us towards any good websites/resources?
In addition to using eco-friendly and ethically-made fabrics, the flexibility and functionality provided by transformable and modular fashion can be a reason to keep and use garments for longer – one outfit can cover the function of several garments reducing waste significantly.
We need to be more aware of what happens behind the scenes in the clothing industry. There is a huge amount of work, kindness and often sacrifice in creating a finished garment so we should be aware when we choose what to buy. Consumers should move from fast to slow fashion, from buying many cheap clothes, which will not last for more than a season, to carefully select few high quality pieces that they will keep for longer.
There are many resources for more information on sustainable fashion: an excellent one is the Ethical Fashion Forum http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com/ , an organisation created to promote sustainable fashion, of which allenomis is a member. Authors such as Sandy Black, Sass Brown, Kate Fletcher to name a few have written essential books on sustainable fashion. Blogs such as ecouterre http://www.ecouterre.com/ or Eco Fashion Talk http://www.ecofashiontalk.com/ raise awareness about clothing production while providing style ideas and featuring new brands. The Love Your Clothes initiative http://loveyourclothes.org.uk/ helps consumer to extend the life of their clothes while the Ethical Consumer http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/ ranks brands and retailers.
Where can people find your work?
Last month we started selling through a new shop in Glasgow Factory 45 and we are preparing to launch on an online boutique in the next few weeks, please check the website (www.allenomis.com) for updates. Our collection is also manufactured on commission, made to measure in approximately 4 to 6 weeks.