Alumna Stories: Sarah Podlesny, The Aviary Studio
24 January 2017 by Elli Weir
Texprint alumna Sarah Podlesny has worked at Zara Home and designed for many famous names. Now she has set up her own weaving and design consultancy, The Aviary Studio.
She only launched The Aviary Studio in 2016, but it’s already built an impressive list of clients from Gap to Calvin Klein. British weave designer Sarah Podlesny has particularly caught the eye of the American market – and now has an agent in New York selling her designs.
On a chilly morning in January, she takes the train from her studio in Essex to meet us at Central Saint Martins, the college where she studied textiles. Her years there were a rush of creativity and technical innovation culminating in an eye-catching graduate collection.
However it wasn't until after Central Saint Martins, with the help of Texprint, that she started to focus her career. She won the Breaking New Ground Award at Texprint back in 2010 – though starting her own business has been a long time coming. "It was always the plan, but it’s difficult to start a business. You need money behind you and experience, so I waited until after I’d had the Spanish experience. During that time I was able to save up enoughmoney.”
The “Spanish experience” was her spell at Zara Home as a weave specialist, lasting two years. ”I’d only ever worked for a very small, creative company, and I knew that if I wanted to start my own business I first needed to see what it was like at the other end of the spectrum, to get an all-round view of the industry."
Before Zara Home, she spent four years working in London at WOVEN Studio,started by another star Texprint alumna, Laura Miles, who recognised Podlesny’s talent.
At Zara Home, the learning curve stretched from understanding the technicalities of fabric structure to dealing with large-scale production. Another takeaway from Zara Home was the process of research. "I was spending a lot of time gathering information on trends, from the runway, from various exhibitions, books, artists, and from visiting antique markets.’’
This research process helped curate Podlesny's unique style, such an important part of The Aviary's success. "Everything that’s going on in the world informs the fashion industry. I know that the clients I’m selling to are taking inspiration from so many things other than textiles."
Weaving a length commissioned by Rare Thread www.rarethread.co.uk
Podlesny notes the importance of maintaining a balance between inspiration and practicality. "I have to try to make swatches that can be easily reproduced, because the way that fabrics are woven by hand is totally different to how they are produced at a mill. Then there are other clients who buy purely for inspiration – they might put the swatches on their mood boards and then design their collection around them.’’
Making it on your own is no small feat in a hugely competitive field. Podlesny's advice? "If you want to start your own business, don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen straightaway. It’s taken me years of planning, years of saving, and of acquiring experience in different job roles. Nothing is going to happen overnight, it takes a lot of work."
That may be an understatement. Hand weaving is a time-consuming craft. Podlesny’s method straddles a line between the old and the new. "The loom is operated by a pedal underneath which lifts the correct sequence of warp yarns. I insert each weft manually, one by one, beating in each row as I go. It’s quite basic and slow but the difference is that the weave structures are fed into the loom via computer, which helps a lot."
Sampling on the loom
Crafting is in Podlesny’s blood. Her family’s weaving connections go back four generations. And she puts huge passion and energy into her work. "With commission work, there’s often quite a tight deadline, and your blood, sweat and tears really do go into it in the most literal way. When I hand the work over to the client, it’s like they’re taking away all of my stress!”
Working under her own brand remains a dream for Podlesny. “I’m still right at the beginning, but I can see that things are progressing and that’s good enough for me right now."
Where would she like to end up? "I would really love to make fabrics for Balmain,” she admits. “But also I have an interest in companies that are using smart materials, such as Nike.”
Sampling on the loom