Photo: Donald Chambers
Model: Designer Aisling Camps in the ‘Aisling‘ collection
Tell us where you are from, the early years of your childhood and what influenced your direction towards fashion?
I’m from Trinidad and Tobago, born and raised. I grew up in West Moorings and Bayshore, about 15 minutes away from Port of Spain. I have two brothers, one older one younger. I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid, made my mom rent the VHS every time we went to video store. I pretty much thought I was Ariel.
I’m the only girl so naturally I bonded with my mom over clothes. She would always watch style with Elsa Klensch on CNN. It was first window to world of fashion back in the 90s. My mom is someone who spends a lot of time putting together unique outfits and getting ready, she still does. She’s the biggest style influence and definitely introduced me to fashion with her infectious enthusiasm for clothes.
Where did your inspiration stem from or the mood you wanted to set in the design of your line.
It’s funny because I’m usually not thinking of clothing when inspiration hits. It usually starts with a color palette. I would see a random object or some sort of landscape. I would see interesting colors and that would trigger the beginning of ideas. Usually after that I would look at a lot of old vintage knit pieces and do a lot of research. I play with shapes and draping things. Next I would start sketching. Usually make a huge mood board and edit it until it becomes concise and makes more sense. Sometimes the yarns would inspire me and I would work backwards and design a garment from there. I am definitely one of those designers that designs for themselves. I think if I have a really strong gut reaction and excitement over an idea on paper, that usually means that I’m on the right track.
I’ve definitely had some people give me funny looks when I said I was going to give up engineering and go into fashion. Some were even more skeptical when I went into knitwear. I didn’t care though. I just did it anyways. People that have known me for a while know that I have always been drawn to fashion taking risks with my personal style, trying to do something a little different. For them, I suppose it made sense that I decided to go into design.
What would you say to those who don’t have the positive reinforcement of family or and friends when pursuing a passion?
I would say that it’s your life and you can only count on yourself for feeling happy and fulfilled. I was super lucky to have my family be 100% behind me, but I know that if I didn’t I would’ve found a way. You just need that one cheerleader on your side encouraging you. Reach out to people who have already had success in that field and build relationships with positive encouraging individuals. Once you decide to go for it however time management is everything. When I first started thinking about going into fashion, I started taking classes on the weekend when I was working as engineer. Did 3-4 classes and squeezed it into my hectic schedule and made it a reality. I know it’s a lot easier when you have support, but it is possible. If you know you really want it, you make it happen. You make the sacrifices not excuses and take the steps towards achieving your goal.
You are the face of your latest line campaign, how was the experience of being in front of the camera?
Terrifying. I’ve been behind the scenes on numerous photo shoots for internships and my own line. I am a bit of an impersonator and joker so it was easy for me to make fun of how models would position their bodies and the facial expressions they’d make. I was making fun of how I thought models would act and ended up making those same faces and gestures quite easily. If you look at all the photos from that day, they go back and forth from me “giving face” and laughing hysterically about the whole thing. It is so funny to me to see myself in that light. I needed to be talked into it by my photographer but I was on a budget. I didn’t willingly model my stuff, I didn’t want it to be all about me.
What does fear mean to you?
My mom used to refer to me as agent intrepid growing up. I am a pretty fearless person I just go for everything that I want to do and I have this sort of innate gutsiness that I’m doing the right thing. I guess the scariest thing for me is when you do all the supposed right things and it still doesn’t work out and you still don’t have any control despite all your efforts. I find that to be scary, trusting the universe to make things right when things are beyond your control. In 2013 I had to leave NY after I finished my degree at FIT because I couldn’t get a work visa. That was the scariest time of my life. 9 years of making somewhere your home to be turned away just like that. All my worst fears had materialized. I had to go home and start over again but look at all I was able to create! Fast forward a couple years, I win the green card lottery and I move right back. Facing your fears and overcoming them can be truly empowering.
Suggestions or advice for those who are afraid to take the first steps in building a business?
Just get over it and start somewhere because nothing is going to be perfect. Your tags aren’t gonna come in the way you wanted them to, the font on your business car is not going be right. Nothing is going to be perfect and you can’t put off taking steps because you’re waiting for perfection. You Just have to go for it. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail and try again with a different approach and you can always edit and improve later. Taking first steps is hardest most crippling part. You have to put all obsessive qualities aside and just take that step. Giving yourself deadlines is pretty important as well. You could work on a project for forever and it’ll never be finished. You have to give yourself a set time, prioritize and at a certain point you just have to move forward. It can feel overwhelming but make lists of small tasks and you will be surprised at how quickly those add up and you will see progress quicker than you expect.
What is the best piece of advice or life lesson you have learned regarding your work?
Trust in your instincts, be prepared, and have faith that things will work out when they’re supposed to. Be patient with your progress, it doesn’t happen over night.
How do you define success?
Financial security, having a healthy balanced lifestyle and freedom to travel and have adventures. With regards to my business, I would love for my knitwear to be in several boutiques across the globe and have a constant stream of orders. I would consider that success. Perhaps one day I will have my own store.
What keeps you motivated?
I’ve been listening to the new Toro y Moi album and I’ve been discovering how amazing Grace Jones is recently. I was also super excited that D’angelo had such a great comeback album last year. Who doesn’t love a comeback story. I’m not a huge music buff, I usually find out about stuff way afterwards. My favorite book? I’d say the most quotable book I’ve read was East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I read it a couple years ago and it really spoke to me. So many good life lessons and sage like advice. It’s so well written. I really should reread it soon.
Favorite restaurant and dish you would not want to live without?
I don’t have a favorite restaurant especially in NY. There are so many good ones to choose from. I guess the food that I get most comfort out of in winter time is a good ramen, the spicy tonkutsu ramen from jin ramen got me through the winter of 2012/2013 before I went back to Trinidad. And of course because I’m Trinidadian I would have to say a doubles with everything (that’s a range of chutneys and yummyness) and slight pepper preferably served on the side of the road at Curepe junction at 4 o’clock in the morning after a party.
Do you have a workout/exercise routine? If so, what is your routine?
I did in Trinidad but I’ve been pretty less strict since I’ve moved back to New York in May. I’m still trying to get into a routine. I was fortunate enough to use my mom’s trainer Milagros 2 times a week in Trinidad and did a mixture of free weights and kettle bell workouts and plyometrics. But since I don’t have her here, I don’t have the discipline. I hate the gym but for the last month I’ve been doing 30 minutes of yoga before I start the work day. What I did do in Trinidad was a lot of water sports; wake boarding, boogie boarding, surfing, paddle boarding but my favorite is hiking in the forest to a remote waterfall, that’s my ideal workout.
You really are a one woman show, which is incredible. Explain the process for us…
After I select my sketches I start making a graph that is specific to the yarn, tension and stitch I am using for the garment. I make a small swatch or fabric about 6”x6” and figure out the stitches per inch and the courses per inch. Next I print out customized graph paper specific to those ratios and I draw my pattern on it. This tells me how many needles wide I would need to make the garment to my specifications and how many courses to get the right length. After that, I follow my graph and knit out the garment and hope for the best. Sometimes I get it in the first shot and other times I have to go back and tweak the graph a bit. Next I steam all the pieces and crochet them together all by hand.
Set the mood of your work space; do you listen to music, enjoy silence, turn off your phone etc…
No my phone is always on. I work absolutely alone all the time so I am usually grateful for communication from the outside world. I used to have my pet parrot Cocotte with me in the studio in Trinidad but I don’t have the luxury of a studio pet in my small NY apartment. Recently I’ve been watching a lot of nature documentaries and playing those while I work, maybe it’s in the hopes of looking up and seeing a parrot every now and again. When I’m in the design phase of a project I’ll play background music and ask my friends for some good recommendations. If I have a crazy number of orders to fill, I know this is kind of weird, I put The Lord of the Rings trilogy on. I just know those movies inside out and it gets me going. All that epic music and shit just works for me. If you walk into my studio and you hear the horns and drums of Isengard, you know I mean business!
I always wanted to be in Opening Ceremony. They always have the coolest up and coming designers in there. Celine is the brand that I look up to the most. It is the epitome of chic in my opinion. Phoebe Philo does this understated, cool sophistication thing that I can’t get enough of.
I just finished selling exclusively at a boutique called addō on 7 Main Street Sag Harbor. I was completely overwhelmed with orders this summer, which is fantastic. I also just made a custom wedding ensemble a couple weeks ago. Right now I am still testing the market and working out the kinks since I have only been selling my things in the United States for a few months. I finally got my online store up and running this week which was a bit of a learning curve and a process. I made it myself with square space. I got a lot going on especially with no business partner, not even an intern, I really need to be better about reaching out for help. I will be designing new pieces this month. I went yarn shopping for cashmere this week to get the ball rolling. Cashmere feels so good and I can’t wait to make some super luxe pieces for the winter.
What is your favorite life lesson
Have faith that things will work out, maybe not at the time that you want it to work out or in the exact way you want it to work out, but everything does in its own time. You just have to keep working until things fall into place.