Katrina Wilson is the designer and founder behind KATRINA & RE, a slow fashion brand with colour, sustainability and design at its core. With a Masters from the London College of Fashion, Katrina started the brand after becoming disillusioned with the waste of the fashion industry and being made redundant during the pandemic. Determined to give life to second hand textiles, and to create a truly ethical and sustainable business, Katrina repurposes discarded textiles, mixing them with her own prints, to craft unique, limited edition pieces that will last the test of time. I sat down with Katrina to find out where her inspiration comes from, how she named the brand and the benefits of slowing down and having the right mindset.
“Creating something one off with a story behind it is the absolute opposite to fast fashion and I find that so exciting.”
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Bold, playful and contemporary. I love creating exciting, stand out pieces that make a colourful statement but still feel easy to wear.
You’ve previously worked for luxury fashion brands. What prompted you to start KATRINA & RE?
I lost my job early on in the pandemic and this gave me time to think about what I wanted out of work and what’s important to me. The job market was very quiet, particularly for design roles and the majority of brands hiring were the fast fashion giants. I had been building up in my career to ensure that the next brand I worked for was prioritising sustainable fashion so I felt frustrated that this was now not an option. This gave me a real fire in my belly to create something for myself! I had played with the idea of launching my own brand when I studied my Masters but on entering the industry I realised how fast paced and sales driven the process is which put me off. However, I think the pandemic and redundancy helped me to realise that no job is ‘safe’ and that if I work for myself then I can set the rules on how I want the brand ethos to be. Looking at other small businesses and creative startups was very inspiring as it showed a different template to the classic ‘designer struggling to get into London Fashion Week and in Vogue Magazine’. That pathway just didn’t feel relevant to me anymore so it was great to see small businesses leading change in the slow fashion community!
Where does the name KATRINA & RE come from? Did you find it difficult coming up with a name?
It is tricky thinking of a name! I knew I didn’t want it to be my first and last name as that felt too formal. At first I played with a lot of words that weren’t my name at all, focussing on the theme of circularity and reusing what already exists on our planet. I started looking at the words re-born and re-love as a description for upcycling second hand garments and fabrics. When I put together KATRINA & RE it felt right as I liked that the ‘&’ means it’s not just about me, it is me working with the planet, like a partnership.
You use second hand materials in your collection. Can you tell me about your passion for ethical and sustainable fashion, and where it came from?
I think my passion and commitment to sustainability has grown quite organically over the last few years as climate change issues have become more prominent. I grew up with a deep love for all animals, from as early as I can remember I wanted to be a panda rescuer! I’ve always felt that it’s important to treat our planet with respect and as I learnt more about the damage that fashion does to the environment it became uncomfortable to carry on as if I didn’t know. Over the last few years I’ve been transitioning towards a slow fashion model in my personal life, consuming less and investing in pieces that I really love, from brands that care about sustainability. This led to a divide between my personal and professional life and I knew there was a limit to how long I’d be able to work for brands that didn’t reflect my values. I also volunteered in an Age UK charity shop when I was a teenager and this really inspired my love of thrifting and sourcing second hand. I’ve never liked having the same things as everybody else so finding pieces in charity shops and on Ebay has always been part of how I shop for myself. It wasn’t until I started KATRINA & RE that I actually started repurposing second hand textiles into new garments though! Its led to such an inspiring journey and I’ve fallen in love with the upcycling process. Creating something one off with a story behind it is the absolute opposite to fast fashion and I find that so exciting.
Can you tell me about your design process? You also design all your prints. What usually comes first, the print or the cut?
Usually the cut and the shape of a silhouette comes first. I’ll start by researching, either into a concept to create a design story or it might be that I know I want to do something specific. For the first K & RE collection, I knew I wanted to design one staple wardrobe item so I researched into different shapes and built up a library of design details and silhouettes. I love looking at vintage references for techniques and I have loads of photos from past vintage sourcing trips at markets and also vintage books from the London College of Fashion library. Next I’ll create a colour palette and fabric story, this is when I start getting ideas for prints and probably my favourite part of the whole process! I find fabrics very inspiring which is why sourcing second hand is so exciting because the fabric is usually the starting point as you don’t know what you’ll be able to find. Often the feel of a fabric and the way it behaves will dictate the design. I’ll sketch my ideas and also drape with fabric on a mannequin as I like to experiment with things in 3D and it’s a good way to get fresh ideas. The great thing about working on my own brand is that I’m sewing the toiles and trying everything on myself, so I can really get to know the garment design and construction inside out. Once I have the shape in place I’ll play with adding different prints and colours in photoshop to see what works.
Who or what inspires you?
It’s quite a broad range of things really! I find it helpful to always have an eye out for interesting things I like and to save them for the future. I find Pinterest really useful and I’m constantly pinning things I find inspiring on instagram or while I’m shopping or travelling. For colour and print I find art a great starting point. I like to pinpoint one piece of art, pick out a few key colours and then experiment by adding accent and pop colours alongside these. A few of my favourites for inspiration are Sonia Delaunay, Erin Armstrong, Lee Krasner and Matisse. The stamped giraffe print that I drew for my first collection of K & RE shirts was inspired from a collage by Cecil Touchon and Tanya Ling’s brilliant line paintings. I also love visiting libraries for inspiration, particularly the London College of Fashion & Central Saint Martins university libraries in London. If I want to create a concept and don’t have any ideas I’ll visit the library and always leave with lots of possible themes. Vintage shopping and fabric sourcing are also very inspiring for shapes, details and techniques! There’s always something to take and learn from a great vintage garment.
“However, I think the pandemic and redundancy helped me to realise that no job is ‘safe’ and that if I work for myself then I can set the rules on how I want the brand ethos to be.”
What do you like most about working for yourself?
The freedom to plan my days and have full transparency and control over the sustainable practices behind KATRINA & RE. It’s also great that the wins and achievements feel very personal, this gives me a real drive, motivation and excitement to keep going. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than hearing that somebody loves your pieces and finds them inspiring!
A huge part of starting and growing a business is having the right mindset. What are some of the things you do to stay motivated?
Definitely agree, mindset is everything! I love listening to podcasts from other small biz owners and coaches. I also find it important to listen to ones that have absolutely nothing to do with fashion or business to have a break from work topics! Getting outside and walking everyday is really important for my motivation and energy levels. I worked with Kira Matthews who’s a manifestation business coach and that was amazing and really transformed the way I think about my brand. I’ve learnt the importance of focussing and checking in with your goals, making sure you’re putting energy into what you want to achieve and not spending time worrying about the what ifs. It’s also really important for me to block out time in my calendar for friends and family and not to get caught up in constant working. I sometimes find if I don’t book out time for the fun or relaxing things in advance then they won’t happen.
What’s your advice for someone who has an idea but hasn’t yet started?
Don’t worry too much about the future and how the business will work further along the line, do what works for now as things can always change and adapt. Ensure to prioritise yourself and your mindset and invest in this wherever you can as you are going to need to be the driving force behind everything. I realised that the hardest thing is keeping going through the early stages when it feels like people aren’t listening and the future is so unknown. If you can power through and maintain your energy then I think that’s half the battle won! In terms of the actual idea, I would say make sure it’s something you’re passionate about and feel energised by. This will help others to connect with your story and make the evenings and weekends spent working much easier!
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on my new Autumn/Winter collection which is so exciting! I released a couple of new pieces last week and I’m planning to drop more over the next couple of months. I’ve been sourcing vintage woollen blankets to create these big patchwork scarves and I’m just obsessed with them! I absolutely love mixing different fabrics together, creating an unexpected colour combination and a total one of a kind piece. I also have a few new markets lined up between now and Christmas! I had a stall with A South London Makers Market a couple of months ago and it was so much fun to actually meet customers in real life! So I’m always on the look out for more in person events to get involved with. I would also love to collaborate with a vintage brand on future upcycling projects. This is something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while so I’m going to focus on making it happen this season!