Dr. Kelsey Ashe
Textile Visionaries - Innovation and Sustainability in Textiles Design By UK Author Bradley Quinn
This article appeared in the 2013 Book ‘Textile Visionaries – Innovation and Sustainability in Textile Design’ – featuring 36 Textile Practitioners worldwide at the forefront of their field. Published by Lawrence King Publishers UK.
-The Cover motif and end papers were also designed by Kelsey Ashe.
The hand-printed fabrics designed by Kelsey Ashe are sumptuous textiles in all their splendour, adorned with motifs that comment on the relationships between culture, humanity and the environment. ‘Ashe fabrics worship nature,’ says the designer with a smile, underlining her commitment to sustainable design. ‘Wherever possible, I try to source fabrics that are organically grown; or that are produced using sustainable methods. The hand-printing processes I use do not include any chlorine or formaldehyde, and dyes with toxic metals are totally banned.’
From her studio in Fremantle, just south of Perth in Western Australia, Ashe seeks fibres and fabrics from stocks that are certified ‘organic’. She also enquires about the conditions in the country of origin, and refuses to buy any textiles from areas where child labour may be used. ‘I am mindful of claiming to be “eco-friendly” in an industry which is renowned for waste product,’ Ashe says. ‘However, what I can do is make a personal contribution through choosing environmentally friendly fabrics where possible, avoiding toxic processes and recycling printed off-cuts to minimize waste. This mindful approach guides me to make small, but hopefully significant, changes.’ In recent years, Ashe has seen the demand for eco-friendly fabrics rise dramatically, and noticed that consumers are increasingly concerned about fabric’s origin and life cycle.
Image: Ashe creates some of the most beautiful textile motifs made in Australia today, so it’s no wonder that she has a following far beyond the country’s borders. The hand-printing processes she uses do not contain toxic chemicals, instead eco-friendly inks are chosen along with organic fabrics wherever possible.
‘Today, terms such as “hand-printed” and “eco-friendly” are synonymous with a set of values, which include authenticity, artistry and sustainability,’ she says. ‘Fabrics made from organic fibres and printed by hand have a powerful appeal to modern urban individuals. Such consumers seem to want to wear fabrics which are signifiers of their conscience, and they help the wearer create their own environmentally aware identity.’
Ashe’s ideology motivates her to take her commitment to sustainability to deeper levels, even leading her to make prints that address environmental themes. Issues such as river pollution, urban litter, environmental disasters and the destruction wrought by plagues of introduced species question humankind’s respect for the environment. ‘The narratives are too subtle to be obvious at first glance,’ Ashe says. ‘I start by using the overall beauty of the print as a seductive device which will draw the viewer in.
A closer look at the decorative detailing reveals hidden motifs, showing litter, polluted water, deforestation and landfill scars, acting as gentle prompts to cause consumers to contemplate how we treat the environment.’
Image/ Ashe’ print catalogue consists of hundreds of patterns, some of which have been licensed to leading fashion labels. Ashe draws each by hand, then uses computer applications to reconfigure them for printing on fabric.
The striking beauty of Ashe’s designs, which often draw on the rich textile traditions of Asia, have attracted interest from Australia’s top fashion labels, who have commissioned her to create prints for their collections. Several of them have become sell-out fashion designs, many others have adorned garments worn by celebrities and socialites. Ashe decided to launch her own label ‘Ashe’ in 2002, creating new prints and motifs for each collection. ‘I never intended to be a fashion designer,’ Ashe says. ‘I studied textiles as an art practice and not as part of a fashion course. My conceptual approach to design prompts me to dig under the surface of an idea and address issues I’m passionate about.’
Kelsey Ashe takes sustainability to deeper levels, designing prints that address issues such as river pollution and the destruction wrought by plagues of introduced insects.
IMAGE / It’s rare to find a single designer who demonstrates such a broad range of styles and techniques. Ashe’s work is wide-ranging in scope, and she is always focussed on sustainability in her choice of materials and manufacturing processes. The motifs shown here reveal the breadth of Ashe’s work: the natural, the exotic and the traditional.
With a few media-acclaimed collections and a reputation for making elegant, distinctive and exotic designs, Ashe’s fashion label has become a great showcase for her printed motifs. ‘My fashion work evolved out of my textile practice,’ Ashe says, ‘and the garments are made with the same commitment to sustainability. No garment is intended to be a seasonal trend. Each is designed to be long-lasting, and some items, like my hand-printed silk gowns, have become collector pieces.’ Ashe actively promotes a move away from the culture of ‘throwaway chic’ by crafting small runs of garments intended to be timeless in appeal and made from precious fabrics that are durable and long-lasting. ‘My garments have always carried the slogan “to collect and cherish”,’ Ashe says. ‘I often tell my customers that when they buy an Ashe dress they can look forward to handing it down to their daughter, and will perhaps even get to see it worn by their granddaughters.’