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Texprint alumna’s story: Laura Miles, WOVEN Studio

15 May 2015 by Cezary Koralewski

Laura Miles on her stand at Maison d'Exceptions, Première Vision February 2015

Texprint 1997 alumna Laura Miles founded WOVEN Studio at a time when the modern weaving industry appeared to offer few opportunities and few places to intern. After more than 15 years developing her own business, she’s built a formidable reputation.

Christopher Kane, Roksanda, Erdem and Michael van der Ham all have something in something – they have worked with a textile designer based in a small studio in Bethnal Green, east London.

It’s surprising how down-to-earth it is, despite tens of thousands of pounds worth of couture fabric swatches everywhere. “We work really hard,” says WOVEN Studio’s founder Laura Miles. “We can’t swan around in designer dresses. Actually, we just sold a fabric to Topshop – and we’re excited we can now buy something to simply wear.”

Shortly after Laura Miles graduated from Brighton University, she sold her final collection to Donna Karan and was selected by Texprint, showing at Première Vision in Paris. “Texprint puts you where people can see you, and that gives you a head start. It continues the momentum,” recalls Miles. She went on to sell designs to Italian mills, buy her own loom and open a studio.

Photos: WOVEN Studio

Miles found it tough at the beginning. “Big fashion companies were not really hiring many weavers. It was very easy for a printer or a knitter to find a job. Weavers were kind of forgotten about.”

She produced swatches of her designs and made contact with whoever had shown interest in her early work. “It’s a bit weird because in the beginning you’re weaving on your own,” recalls Laura. She now employs and mentors a team of young textile designers working at her studio (including an intern from Texprint 2014). “Now I’m never on my own.”

Her work has chimed with the mood of the times in the high-end fashion market. “Developing the fabrics is such a big part of fashion now. Every big brand has their fabric development team. They don’t want the same materials as someone else,” says Miles, whose thorough technical grounding has given her confidence to make the most of the evolution of the market.

Important to her work has been a long-term collaboration with Vanners, a silk mill in Sudbury, Suffolk, with a 275-year-old tradition. Spending one day a week in Suffolk, Laura oversees production of her own designs – and thus Vanners, at core a heritage brand best known for traditional neckwear silk, now finds itself manufacturing textiles for fashion houses such as Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga.

Her ability to handle both design and sales is a great strength, Miles acknowledges. “Designers appreciate working with a salesperson who is technical as well.” The difficulties of her job are part of the appeal. “Designers always try something different. That’s the challenge of it. And that’s why people work in fashion.”

The development of Laura’s designs never really stops, undergoing many turning points. “The thing in designing a fabric is that you never know what it’s going to become,” says Miles, whose textiles have been used for dresses worn by the likes of Michelle Obama and actress Helena Bonham Carter.

She tells good stories, including how Michelle Obama’s Thakoon dress used the reverse of her fabric. “It’s often not what you think they’re going to do with it,” she notes, laughing.

Laura and her team have become used to dressing the stars. “It’s nice when you can show it to your mum – and your granddad actually knows who the person is.” Although her name is rarely mentioned the press, Laura knows that is part of the deal: “If you want to be famous, you don’t get into textile design.”

Constant development keeps her enthusiastic. “I like finding new techniques and yarns and making something that didn’t exist before. I think that if I retired, I’d like to be a textile artist.”

She is rightly proud to be producing high quality fabrics in England. “When we recently went to PV and showed our fabric collection to Chanel and Lanvin, they said we look like an Italian mill now. That was the biggest compliment. You wouldn’t have come to England before for [these kind of] fashion fabrics – it’s always been about Italy.”

She loves starting from basics. “The thing I like about weaving is making something from nothing. You design a fabric from scratch, then put every single thread in it,” she says. A true pioneer of modern British textiles.

Laura talking to students studying fashion journalism at London's Central Saint Martins

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