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Fervent View: Sustainable Designer Tricia Langman

I did a recent studio visit for AIGA Portland's Women Lead, to talk with designer Tricia Langman and learn more about her work. -------

Kicking off AIGA's Women Lead Profile series we did a visit with Spoogi Studio Design Director Tricia Langman to learn more about what it’s like crossing over from the world of fashion into the world of independent textile designer. Tricia is the creator and educator behind her own line of batik throws, pillows, and other textile products – some of which will be for sale at the upcoming Women Lead Pop-Up.

She was raised in London, and after residing in Paris and New York, working for fashion brands such as Ralph Lauren and Nicole Miller, she settled in Portland, OR where she’s been working with apparel brands such as Nike and Pendleton while sharing her passion for education by teaching at the Art Institute of Portland and Airbnb, (where you can sign up for her individualized textile class).

Climbing the three stories up to Tricia’s home work studio, you immediately have a sense of walking into a living, breathing space. It’s one of those studios where you feel like you’re peering into a beautiful creative laboratory filled with tools, materials and a little bit of magic. It’s not so unlike the feeling of awe one gets walking into a forest canopy, only these woods are entirely human made. Stacks of original art and printed floral textiles sit atop drawers filled with art, hundreds of brushes lay in carefully placed piles around the room, and containers of colored dye wait patiently for their next dip; this is a studio in use.

WL: You’ve had a great journey in fashion design working for some very well-known companies like Calvin Klein, Anthropology, and Kashiyama. Can you share what your career path has been like and what it was like working in Europe and New York for some of the world’s best known fashion brands vs. being an independent designer?

TL: I think I have been lucky, somehow opportunities have appeared at the right time so my career has seemed to flow very naturally. I studied Textiles in England at Brighton University, an amazing four year Fashion Textile course, in the third year of the program you had the opportunity to have a year-long internship, so I interned at I-D magazine, then I went on to Paris to work as a fashion forecaster and finally to New York for six months to work at a couple of design studios.

An artist friend in New York gave us (my now husband and I) their loft so we decided to start our own textile studio in it. When we began our collection it was very conceptual, we burned on distressed fabric and most mass-market companies didn’t understand it. Our first appointment showing our collection was at Ralph Lauren, they bought some distressed pieces of fabric that I had created to look vintage. Eventually, we took on sales people and at one point I was directing around twenty freelance designers!

Our travel schedule was crazy, we had to be in Europe or LA regularly for shows and to see clients. I loved every minute of it! I had great opportunities to work with really creative people on projects but it was exhausting and at the back of my mind I thought I would really like to make something of my own, I wanted to get back to the fundamentals of drawing and painting, instead of counting invoices. Gradually the industry began to change, textile designs started to be created by computer, it became the standard. I think lately there has been a bit of a backlash against digitally created designs, but fashion runs in cycles, so there will be time again when digital designs are in high demand again.

A couple of years after my son Henry was born, after a brief visit to Portland, my husband Neale said, “We should move there…”, he told me, “…it’s a small creative city with lots of independent designers.”. It seemed perfect. It was close to Japan and L.A and we could get back to New York easily. So I said, “Let’s do it!”. As soon as we moved, an opportunity came up for me to create a hands-on textile course for the Art Institute of Portland, where I would get to teach students how to dye fabric, screen print, and Batik fabric. This is how I discovered my love of teaching.

The logistics of traveling were a bit challenging initially because my husband Neale spent a lot of time in New York and we were in San Francisco and L.A four times a year, but gradually opportunities opened up here in Portland, culminating in me being a guest artist for Pendleton. This gave me the opportunity to collaborate on a line of Batik throws for their home collection. We continue to have our Spoogi textile studio, and I continue to work with companies on projects, while I am also concentrating on my own designs, and really enjoying having my own product. It’s great to have control over all aspects of the creative process and I’m looking forward to showing some of my new collection at the [AIGA Women Lead] pop-up.

WL: It looks like the different types of work you create build bridges between the handmade and the commercial market. Can you tell us about your process, why handmade is important to commercial industry and why it’s significant to you as a designer? Because of your experience on both sides, do you have any insight you can share with us on the corporatization of creativity?

TL: I think it’s important for creative people to not to be afraid to work across disciplines, many artists have expressed themselves through more than one media, the artist Schnabel paints and makes films, Picasso sculpted, I know a ton of musicians and actors who paint. The point is if you are creative you will eventually need to find an outlet for your various talents. I guess there’s a lot of corporate companies that want to pigeonhole you but I have been really lucky, I have worked with many VP’s who do other things like design jewelry or paint so they understand the creative thinking and how expansive it can be.

I think the role of designer has changed dramatically over the last 15 years. When we started our design company in New York, it was a guerrilla operation, we were working out of an old loft in Tribeca with a dodgy lease, there was no social media so everything was word-of-mouth. Friends would pass your name to other friends at parties, there was less need to brand yourself. I still get a lot of projects through friends but I must say I have had some amazing opportunities come to me through social media. The Links Inc. and Portland Art Museum scholarship I created, and mentor for, came about because of the web and social media. Today as a designer you are expected to have some sort social media presence to show your brand. I still think it’s amazing that someone from Japan or Australia can just instantly see my work, it’s great to have the opportunity to work with people all over the globe.

My thoughts on the corporatization of creativity? A lot of brands set out with good intentions, they give their designers freedom to push and disrupt, but in a lot of cases they just get too big and everything becomes diluted, designers eventually become beholden to sales, merchandizing, and the bottom line, their creativity becomes stifled, they become disillusioned and eventually leave. It’s really important for brands to remember to keep the design team inspired, so they feel compelled to create something new each season. I think corporations really need to understand that.

“I think the challenge in the design industry today is to make something beautiful, functional and sustainable.” – designer Tricia Langman.

The textile industry is responsible for polluting a lot the earth, we really need to find a way to do things better. Designers and corporations need to find a way to think about sustainability at the beginning of the creative process and factor in sustainability and the impact on the environment instead trying to figure it out further along in the manufacturing process. Artisans working on one-off pieces that are designed to last can help this issue in a small way by changing the narrative. I’ve developed a design workshop to help designers explore design function and sustainability, which I hope to get up running next year.

WL: You’ve created a beautiful home collection for a lifestyle brand and hand-painted fabrics for designer gowns, but you have also created elegantly patterned packaging designs for Clinique. I found this to be a unique and refreshing departure for your work that totally makes sense. Do you ever feel How do you think the role of the designer has shifted from 10 years ago to now?

TL: When I worked in New York, my job was all about ideas, we would essentially sell design textile ideas to other companies. A company like Donna Karan would buy our printed textile ideas, they would mass produce the fabric, and that idea it would be theirs forever. At the time I would always wish I could be involved with the whole cycle of the design process, which is why it was so satisfying working on runway projects, you would see your designs turn up in garments instantly and see the designer’s creative vision come to life. I think I eventually realized that I wanted to make something of my own and be in control of the process. My collections are geared toward home textiles, people’s homes are their sanctuaries, it’s one of the few places where you can put your own creative stamp on a space. I love the idea of the handmade, one-off designs, I don’t see the need to have thousands of the same thing.

There was a time, that was pre-industrial revolution when you would go to a tailor or dress-maker, and clothes were little bit more expensive, so you had fewer outfits but you took care of them so they lasted a long time. I think the idea that you have something unique appeals to many people. I love working in my studio knowing that I am making something special and that someone will buy it, and enjoy something I created. When I created the Batik collection for Pendleton, I hand-painted and individually, I only did a limited run, and each piece had the same design, but because they were handmade each was different. They had different tints and different hues, and while I made them I thought about different things while I painted each one. The suede embossed pillows I am creating for the pop-upare also unique pieces. Every pillow is a different design and each one is hand stitched. I think the people who buy my designs will appreciate all the work that goes into them.*

AIGA Women Lead

*Celebrating and fostering women’s achievements in design. AIGA’s Women Lead series aims to address persistent biases and inequities inclusively and constructively through programming around three goals:

  • Celebrate the achievements of women in design.

  • Cultivate awareness of gender-related issues, while building knowledge and leadership skills.

  • Connect by facilitating relationships within and beyond the design industry.

You Can Join AIGA’s Women Lead Initiative

Join us for panel discussions, pop-up shops, speaker events, and more. Learn More about the National Initiative and become a member today.Did recent studio visit for AIGA's Women Lead, with designer Tricia Langman to check out her home work space, her path from high fashion in NY & Europe to independent textile company from NY to PDX.


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