Chloe Dougan is one seriously up and coming Belfast fashion designer.
Despite graduating just two years ago with a degree in Textile Art & Design with Fashion at the University of Ulster, Chloe has already achieved great things.
From her Residency position in the Fashion Department at the University where she mentors final year students; to showcasing at Belfast Fashion Week; Chloe even won Artist to Watch 2015 by Culture Northern Ireland.
Having just debuted her latest collection at the fabulous Merchant Fashion Teas, Chloe took time out of her hectic schedule to tell us how she got her start in fashion; the unlikely inspiration for her new designs, and her strong feelings towards all things leather, suede & lace!
“It was terrifying starting out at first! I had no experience, no money, and no clients! Suddenly you’re putting your ideas & your brand out there to the world!”
“I only realised in the second half of final year that this is what I really wanted to do. From that point onwards I really focused on myself and gave it 110%. I received a really great response. We have an end of year show at the University of Ulster which is open to the public where I sold a few things, and met Petra Wolsey – my first customer!
“Petra helped me by getting me on board to show my collection with her own jewellery line – APD at The Merchant’s Fabulous Fashion Teas. This brought me some of my first customers, it was a big launch for me! That’s when people started to know who I was and what I was about as by then I’d created a brand for myself.”
Going To The Fashion Teas
“The Merchant obviously has quite a reputation of quality and five star, and suddenly I was involved in it – so I knew I had to rise to the challenge! It was stressful the first time, but this time round I’d done it before and was more prepared, more organised – and a lot less nervous! I was able to enjoy it.
“I love the pop up shops at The Merchant Fashion Teas because it allows you to grow that customer base and get to know your clients! It’s definitely helped me grow my base and awareness. This time around people recognised my work and approached me for bespoke outfits.”
“Work experience with Una Rodden is how I learnt to run my own business; from the fitting process with customers, to buying & selling.
“Working with bloggers and photographers has really helped get my brand known. Shops began approaching me asking to stock my range. The first shop to sell my stock was Studio Souk in the city centre; but it’s also available in: Una Rodden’s; the Vault Boutique in The Spire Mall; as well as Lotus Boutique.”
Quirkiness is key
“”I believe if I don’t want to wear it, nobody else is going to want to! My ethos has always been ‘if you like it you like it, if you don’t – you don’t!’
“I’ve never tried to be commercial and I’ve been lucky enough to find quirky people along the way who love it and have stuck with me and really bought into the brand.”
Quality is vital
“My style might not be for everyone, but I love working with leathers, suede, and lace. I do have expensive taste – I’ll not buy cheap quality fabrics. I believe in taking the time and sourcing great quality products online and from London to get the most exciting materials.”
I go hell for leather
“I source the leather and suede from a company in London that uses them as a bi-product of animal food waste. So the animal is being killed for meat for us to eat, so instead of binning the skin, it’s treated and dyed. We wear leather shoes; sit on a leather sofas; so why not wear a leather skirt? The animal has been killed for a function – not fashion. I appreciate everyone’s take on it is different but I believe this way is ethical.”
Game of Thrones inspires my warrior style
“I love leather and metallics! I’m definitely influenced by Game of Thrones, I love warrior influence. The embroidery on Tyrion Lannister’s leather waistcoat is stunning. Leather and embroidery is something I definitely want to work with in the future!
“I love working with foiled suede. It’s very expensive material which is why it costs that bit extra, but you would spend the same price at M&S for something that is mass produced.
“That’s why I made the metallic chain-mail dress. It’s so striking, but I don’t understand the point of making things that are boring! You want to shock, wow and attract people. Making those more avant garde pieces means stylists will want to lend them and you’ll become renowned for a certain look. It gets lots more attention; people are much more engaged!
Catwalks are meant to entertain
“During catwalk shows you don’t want the audience to be bored! They will remember a metallic chainmail dress as opposed to bland material. You want to put on a show, to entertain.
“I design with different sizes of women in mind. Sometimes I like designed something really tight, feminine and sexy; but other times I want to show off the drape of the fabric, or the elegant fall of the material which becomes the highlight of the dress.”
My client doesn’t want to blend in…
“My clientèle is confident, quirky, and don’t want to blend in. They want something no-one else has! They want to show up at an event and make an entrance. Most importantly they have the confidence to pull off anything – and that really is the most important thing!”
“I just love working and I’m happiest when I’m in my studio or meeting new clients. That’s what motivates me and keeps me going.”
I put out what I want back
“I’m a great believer in what you put out comes back to you. I know I’m only at the start of my career and at the start of what I can potentially reach but the harder I work the more it pays off.
“I’ve got a five year plan to be bigger, badder and more exciting. It’s all in the woodwork. I’ve planned for the future and I’m going to keep chipping away!”