A CORK designer is merging the worlds of fashion and technology to create a start-up with a difference.
Angela O’Donnell is working to build a hub of skilled artisans in Cork to shun fast fashion, and also generate work for creatives.
She’s already started recruitment to make this happen and has plans to use innovations like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in her drive for sustainability.
Her label is called YAWUW (You Are What U Wear) and she only designs and produces clothing and accessories made from 100% organic, recycled or upcycled, ethically produced materials.
She produces A/W and S/S collections with ethical manufacturing partners abroad; and as part her commitment to all things local, she will make limited edition, made-to-order collections in Cork.
“I’ve just launched our first Limited Edition collection called ‘Take a stance against Fast Fashion.’ It’s a collection of jackets, gilets and hats, inspired by a 100% organic cotton, that is machine washable. We only have 20 metres in each colour, black, ivory and grey, making them quite exclusive pieces,” said Angela.
“I chose not to pre-make the collection because it ensures their customers can order the size they want and there is no waste.”
It’s a world away from what she did in her early career where she created high-end luxury ready-to-wear pieces. Through her hugely successful brand called Angela Beaumont, she made two women’s ready-to-wear collections a year, winning multiple design and business awards.
“It was a completely different business model to what I’m doing now and clothing was quite expensive, with coats retailing from €750 up to €2,500,” she explained.
A bittersweet moment came in March 2016 when Barneys of New York came on board, wanting to stock the brand.
“Sadly, it was at this point that I made the hard assessment (alongside my mentors) that the business was going to need nearly €250,000 if not €500,000 to properly get off the ground which was unfeasible in that market at that time. So I closed the company. Also, at that time, there were no jobs for clothing designers so I did a full 360 into the world of agency recruitment, a sector I learnt so much from.”
Since then Angela became a mum to now three-year-old Charlotte, who was actually her inspiration to return to what she loves: design and business.
“On the birth of my little girl I kept asking myself, ‘What will the world look like when she grows up?’
"The climate crisis will be one of the biggest issues of the next generation and the fashion industry is one of the worst culprits. As a clothing and product designer I knew that this was an area I could have influence over and if I was going back to work and leaving her, it would be to do something I was die-hard passionate about so I could say to her, ‘Well, I tried to make a difference to the world you will live in’.”
Angela admits that developing YAWUW ‘has been an utter battle to develop and source the correct textiles and verify the sources.’
“But sustainable fashion is the future of fashion,” she insists. And she’s taking it a step further with the use of technology.
“One of the things I am aiming to achieve from the platform I am having built for YAWUW is building in Artificial Intelligence capabilities, to accurately assess a customer’s size. This way, when they place their order for a piece from our limited edition runs, they will essentially be receiving a garment that has a fit that is actually bespoke and tailored just for them, as we know this significantly reduces waste.
“Our platform will also incorporate Machine Learning tools (to make predictions from data), as they will help us to connect to the people who have already started their journey to leading a more sustainable lifestyle and to those who want to take a step forward. Our platform will aim to understand their needs and provide them with the products they want.”
She points out how there’s a growing demand for sustainable products in sports and athleisure wear, but there is still very little choice.
“That’s what YAWUW is dedicated to changing,” she said. “Our individual choices as a consumer matter. Most people are not aware but nearly 200,000 farmers die each year due to farming standard cotton. If people knew this, would they still buy it?
“My hope is that in time, companies will be fined for using things like polyester or cotton, because of the severe damage it does to the environment, and finally change, but the consumer, you and me, have a lot of power. If we stop buying from brands who don’t offer products with sustainable materials, they will soon change.”
Angela, as far as she knows, is one of only a few clothing designers, with some or all of their production in Ireland.
“In the coming weeks, our full athleisure wear collection for this season will arrive, along with a new batch of our already infamous 100% recycled wool throw. I aim to design collections that are not ‘on trend’ but will always be your go to pieces year in year out, lifetime investments for your wardrobe.”
And her ultimate ambition?
“We want to build a community of like-minded people, who are very much fashion lovers but also want to be part of a movement to fight climate change, end fast fashion and simply put, look good doing it!”