Fashion Insiders: Weaver and Fabric Designer Hollie Ward

Photograph  Fanny Sutus

Photograph Fanny Sutus

The fifth interview in my Fashion Insiders series is with the incredibly talented weaver and fabric designer Hollie Ward. I’ve been a massive fan of Hollie’s work for years; I love getting an insight into the story behind her work and we have a shared love of all things indigo!

I’m always fascinated by the start of the production process, particularly when there’s a strong history behind it. The rise of makers and artisans like Hollie has meant that we are able to trace every part of creating garments; something that Hollie is passionate about.

I’m excited as she’s now started a brand called HVW; a collection for men and women that utilises her handwoven fabrics. Now based in London, what’s important to Hollie is incorporating craftsmanship into every part of her life, including her work. It’s clear that she has a deep dedication for what she does and her mission to create products that people have a connection with is certainly one that I support. I look forward to seeing where her journey takes her next.

Hi, Hollie, it’s great to speak to you as I’m a huge fan of HVW.

How do you describe HVW?

I think I do a lot of mumbling the first time I try to describe it to someone! The brand is about making garments that have a story, that can tell a story, they exist to make people feel. I think we live in such a consumer ridden society that we all have throw away morals towards clothing, food etc. I want people to feel a connection to the garments. The brand is about amazing fibres, textures, feelings, it's an element of luxury in how I feel we should surround ourselves with things we love. The reason I use a lot of wool is because it has so many amazing properties for looking after our bodies.

My customers vary from people to people! A lot more men buy my clothing than women, or at least they have so far. I think what makes them unique is they all have so much passion for clothing. They really do want a garment that tells a story, something unique that has been made with love and passion by a small group of people and they can tell the garment has been made out of passion.

Photograph  Jack Fairey

Photograph Jack Fairey

You hand weave each of your fabrics. Are there any unique challenges and benefits to this approach?

It's a very long process but I see that as a positive. Each garment is completely unique and has been created with someone watching over it from start to finish. Each warp thread, threaded by hand and each weft thread thrown across by hand. It means each garment takes a very long time to produce and also they can have natural flaws within them that aren't always easy to hide, some people see this as a positive and some as a negative. The Japanese have the term "Wabi Sabi" meaning to accept transience and imperfection. I don't ever aim for imperfection if anything I am for perfection within my work, but the handwoven process doesn't always allow for that.

How long did you have the idea for HVW before you started working on it?

Honestly, I'm not sure. I guess it had been in the back of my mind for quite a few years. I've always had this obsession with making things from start to finish. Being able to trace every part of the production and having as few people involved as possible. Craftsmanship is so important to every single thing we do in life. And I think surely if we can, we should incorporate craftsmanship into every single element we can. Be it cooking, clothing, travelling, make everything as enjoyable as possible. I figure it came from me wanting to know where materials are from, where things are made, how they are made, and once I discovered all those things, I knew that’s where my work had to go.

Photograph  Fanny Sutus

Photograph Fanny Sutus

How did you feel before you launched the brand?

I'm quite a placid person in day to day life. My mood rarely changes away from that and I naturally find it quite easy to just get on with things. But that equally means I lack excitement sometimes! Or maybe I lack showing it. It has all felt like a very natural process and something that I need to do and have wanted to do for a long time, and I think because of this, the whole process was just enjoyable. There are of course things that can go wrong but in the grand scheme of things they are insignificant. If something goes wrong, you fix it or start again and work through it. It feels very natural to be making for me, and I'm very lucky to feel like that.

Have there been any challenges with having your own brand?

Working alone can be extremely hard, sometimes I really need someone to just tell me what to do! I guess part of that is having worked for various people in the past. I have worked for a couple of weavers as an assistant before who normally work alone and it was incredible to be trusted to produce their work whilst they were in the studio or not and in turn, they passed on a lot of skills to me. It's lovely having my own creative freedom and I get a lot of satisfaction from working alone on entire collections and projects. It allows me to really work through my ideas and thoughts and to make sure I am executing them exactly how I wish, with no other input. Equally, working as a team is incredibly supportive, I guess I'm lucky I have a bunch of people around me who will sit and listen to me talk about weaving for hours on end!

Tell me a bit about your fashion journey so far…

It's all a bit of a cliché, I grew up around my family being very creative and I'm sure that influenced my decisions and progress in life. My grandad was a painter and I used to love going and looking in his studio when I was younger and admiring the space. I always wanted to be a painter! I tried so hard to be a painter but I think I always needed something technical I could get my hands into. I was always encouraged to be creative, my mum definitely still has my GCSE paintings somewhere! I got interested in fabric when I was about 15, me and all my friends grew up listening to punk and hardcore music and a group of them put on all the shows in Hull (where I grew up) and I think that was when I first noticed how important fabrics were in terms of subcultures. A lot of perseverance and belief in what I do has allowed me to get to this point, for me there has never been another option other than to do what I love. I've never wanted to live life and not enjoy it.

Photograph  Jack Fairey

Photograph Jack Fairey

Is there anything, in particular, that’s helped you most on your journey? Perhaps a piece of advice or a quote?

There is a Josef Albers quote "At the beginning the material stands alone" - which has always pushed me and encouraged me. It's relative to anything, ingredients for cooking, wood for carving, the material itself is so important to the end product. This is why I use pre consumer waste yarns and British wools and have spun my own yarn in the past.

How does it feel when you see the garments you’ve made worn on your customers?

It's a mixture of overwhelming, confusing and rewarding. I think there is an element of shyness about it, I get incredibly shy when people ask about my work in person which I think stems from being quite a private person. It's incredibly rewarding to see people wearing the garments and styling them as people have such unique approaches to wearing them.

Do you have any tips for someone wanting to start their own brand?

I think passion is the most important thing. It shows so clearly within a brand. It is everything everyone says it will be. All the bad bits and all the good bits. But is ultimately the most rewarding and satisfying thing to be involved with.

Do you use freelancers/outsource any roles to help with your business (graphic designers etc)?

I only ever use photographers. I do all of the branding and styling myself. I love working with other people and seeing their vision. Seeing how a photographer has chosen to shoot my work is always so exciting and makes my heart feel quite full!

Which social media outlets are most important to your brand and how do they work differently from each other?

I only have Instagram and my website. Without Instagram, I doubt I would be where I am now. Or at least my path would have been very different. It allowed me to gain press through my initial project weaving the first denim I wove here in Yorkshire and got people writing about my work online which was pivotal. It has also allowed me to meet so many amazing and inspiring people!

Do you feel a lot of pressure as the owner of your brand?  

No, because I only do this out of passion. Every part of the brand is within my control and I will only ever allow the brand to be what I want it to be. It's very important for the brand to stay true to its roots with small and local production and being the owner of the brand, it means I can ensure all of this is possible. If anything, it's exciting!

Photograph  Fanny Sutus

Photograph Fanny Sutus

Do you think it’s easier or harder to start a brand these days? 

It's definitely both. It's very easy to start a brand and create a following and presence. It’s so easy now to make a website look amazing and use social media. I would certainly assume it has made life easier in the grand scheme of things to get your work out there, but equally, it has lost half of the charm of discovering brands through unique concept stores and outlets. We all have a perception of most brands from online before we ever see them in person and have formed our opinion, and that will always impact your feelings when you finally experience them. I guess the element of discovery has been lost slightly in terms of touch and look, which I think is a big shame.

What do you do to unwind? 

I enjoy always knowing I am going somewhere! Having a trip booked always keeps me inspired, I find a lot of satisfaction from leaving the UK. I think it's something mentally about leaving the island we live on that I find very freeing. I enjoy eating out, probably too much! I spend most of my time I'm not weaving surrounded by friends and try to be as social as possible, London is such an amazing place to be with so many great restaurants and exhibitions etc. And lots of lovely parks!

What/who are your biggest influences?

So many things! Food! I enjoy eating out a lot, I enjoy the experience of new places, service, styling of food, flavours, analysing meals and cocktails and whisky and environments. People are a constant inspiration, from people I speak to daily to people on the tube. I saw a man the other week in a off pink linen suit and he looked amazing! But equally living, the way we live inspires me and influences me greatly. Hearing about different cultures. The way people live their life. I'm really interested in sleeping patterns and repetitions and the different levels of sleep. I listen to a lot of music and I'm sure subconsciously that influences me through affecting mood/ feeling.

What does HVW have in the pipeline over the next few months?

We have just received some samples of weaving yarn made from British wool that we will be sampling alongside with some wool we brought back from Iceland, all undyed and very lovely. I plan on spending the next couple of months working with these fibres and another trip to Iceland to spend some more time there.

HVW is now available to buy. Follow Hollie on her Instagram @hollieward_