In any career, there is an achievement seen as the pinnacle of that profession. It could be becoming a headmaster, captaining a sports team or winning a book prize for a novel. In the fashion industry, seeing your designs on the catwalk at London Fashion Week has got to come high on the list of ambitions.
And for fashion entrepreneur Tamara Joseph, this dream came true when her latest collection was selected for an emerging designers’ show this year.
"It was absolutely brilliant," she says. "I was styling everything backstage so I didn’t get to see the catwalk, but when it finished people started coming up to me – PR people and even someone from Vogue.com – to say they were interested in my clothes."
Tamara is an MA in Fashion and Textiles student at the University’s School of Art & Design, where she also works part-time as a Senior Fashion Technician.
In 2009, she launched her own business, Catalyst by Tamara Joseph, with support from the University’s Student Placements for Entrepreneurs in Education West Midlands (SPEED WM) programme. This enables entrepreneurial students to set up their own businesses whilst they are studying, and receive support such as tailored training, mentoring, networking opportunities and a limited amount of financial support.
"SPEED was the start of everything for me. Launching my own business was something that I had always wanted to do but had never known how to approach it. They really helped me and I’m glad I had that opportunity.
"It boosted my confidence because until then I loved sewing and designing but I didn’t think people were interested or wanted to buy my stuff. The mentors gave me ideas of local designers and that gave me inspiration. I spoke to someone else on the programme who mentioned a fashion show and this led to others, and that boosted me to do my first collection."
Things have moved quickly for Tamara. One of the first major fashion shows Tamara took part in was the ITV Fixers show at The Public in April last year to raise funds for UNICEF’s Haiti Earthquake Children Appeal. She didn’t want to do a large, high profile show until she had the right infrastructure within her business.
She explains: "Because of SPEED I had an impressive website and business cards – until then I didn’t want to do big shows because people always ask for your card and it doesn’t look professional if you don’t have one."
Now she is preparing to do African Fashion Week in August, the online retailer ASOS will soon be selling her garments and a new shop in Birmingham has also expressed an interest in her work.
Tamara has been interested in fashion since she was seven, and says her mum and grandmother were both creative and inspired her passion. Her mother would make clothes Tamara had seen in the shops for her at home, and from this she learnt how to deconstruct and create her own items.
She describes her own designs as inspired by her grandmother’s style from the 1930s to 1950s.
The Spring/Summer collection for the emerging designers’ showcase with Fashion’s Finest touched lightly on 1950s daywear for men and women, featuring semi-fitted bodices in chiffon and silks, knee-length pencil skirts in cotton sateen and silks, raw silk and satin shift knee-length dresses with a twist. There were also little driving gloves and straw hats for the women. For menswear, Tamara teamed trilby hats and white cotton/jersey shirts with bold prints of old leaves and thistles in browns and beiges.
Tamara uses her own photography and that of her friends and fiancé in her designs, and her first collection was based on trips she had taken to places like the Eden Project and images of her own shadow. Her second collection was inspired by the M4 at night, using images of bright lights and cars zooming by. Her current collection focuses on blooms and included dandelions in different colours and thistles that have been faded out.
All Tamara’s designs are unique and made to order, although she may use the same image more than once. She always works on more than one garment at a time. For London Fashion Week, Tamara spent three weeks working on eight outfits, but has spent three months working on one Prom dress before.
Her ambitions now, she says, are to become established and successful, and to see her designs in a big store such as Harrods or Harvey Nicholls.
She adds: "I would love to see my garments on the New York catwalks or a big stage catwalk at London – seeing people wearing your clothes is lovely."
Having worked at London Fashion Week, Tamara is even more aware of the pressures and demands of the industry. But she has some words of wisdom for the students hoping to follow her footsteps on to the catwalk.
"It is fierce out there, and you have to have a strong backbone. You also have to push yourself because it is not going to land in your lap.
"I would also say be patient, as it is not going to happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight for Vivienne Westwood or John Galliano. It is ten years since I left university and it has finally happened, with the help I received through SPEED."
Picture by Robert Stacey.