Words: Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
When I meet Maddie Ryall, the first thing she admits is that she is tired. It is understandable. The recent Fashion Design graduate is working full time for the iconic shoe maker, Dr Martens. “This week has been very busy, we’re coming up to the Christmas season,” she said.
Maddie works as a junior operative in the closing room, meaning she works within the sewing room stitching the uppers-the top part of the shoe-together. “It isn’t something that I thought I would be doing after studying an apparel degree, however I love it and can see myself staying within the company. I’m loving it and there’s nothing better than enjoying the thing you do for a living.”
Maddie Ryall's Collection: 'Ode to Cool Grannies'
Photo: Maddie Ryall
Back in July of 2021, Maddie graduated from De Montfort University in Leicester, where she studied Fashion Design, learned about styling, marketing, and manufacture, and got to play around with some high-end machinery. She tells me that the latter was a huge reason why she chose to study at DMU, “They had amazing facilities in the fashion department and I don’t think I would have been as well equipped to work within the industry if I didn’t have the knowledge of how to use the machinery that was used to teach us.”
"That feeling is heightened in the fashion industry because it is a notoriously cut-throat world to get into."
Since losing the comfort of the ‘student’ label, and the funding that comes along with it, breaking into the lucrative world of fashion, even with a first class honours and title of ‘award winner’ under her belt, has been more than daunting for the 23-year-old. “Leaving university after completing a fashion degree - during the pandemic also! - is very daunting.”
“I think there’s an expectation to succeed straight away just because you’ve gone through all the trouble of three or four years to get a degree. That feeling is heightened in the fashion industry because it is a notoriously cut-throat world to get into. I never really envisioned myself working for one of the big high-end fashion companies though and now I am in the community of Dr Marten’s, I think this is where I am meant to be.”
Working within fashion means, ironically for Maddie, that there is less time for fashion than ever. After three years of designing clothes, being bombarded by textile swatches, and rushing to throw outfits together, the fashion graduate finds herself in a world near void of all these things. “My job is very hectic, it’s super busy, but - I sound like a broken record - I love it."
"I love the mix of modern with old and opted for crazy prints, fabrics and colours which all inspired the final looks for my collection.”
“Because it’s a full-time role, I don’t really have any spare time to focus on continuing with making my own clothes, but it is still an enjoyable hobby of mine,” she admits. “I do have weekends spare, but you can’t complain when they get filled up with seeing friends and family and say you want to work instead! I have accidentally become a part-time seamstress for anyone who needs their clothes altering, but that’s about as far as it goes at the moment.”
When she does have the time, Maddie’s imagination is unbounded. Being influenced by iconic names like Ganni, whose impact can be clearly noted in both her work and passion for sustainability, the designer’s works speak to, not just an incredible talent, but an unwavering passion.
Speaking about the fashion house, Maddie told me, “I just love Ganni’s whole brand ethos and what they are trying to do to tackle the global environmental issues we are facing right now. Of course I adore their garments and all the prints and graphics they use, but that core of sustainability is so important. When I was in Copenhagen a few weeks ago I visited their headquarters - it would be my absolute dream to live and work there.”
Further images of Maddie Ryall's collection: 'Ode to Cool Grannies'
Photo: Maddie Ryall
Ganni’s influence can be seen throughout Maddie’s graduate collection, ‘An Ode to Cool Grannies’, which won the Coats x GFF sustainability competition, but more than that, looked absolutely brilliant on the runway.
The idea for the collection came from Maddie’s very own cool granny. No project or concept taught throughout her degree ever related to Maddie personally, so for her graduate collection, the designer looked more at herself and her life rather than anything else. “My graduate collection was inspired by my very own granny. She has always been a huge part of my life and has, no doubt, influenced what I am doing today.
“Sewing has always been a passion of hers and she’s the one who taught me and got me into sewing too, which I’m so grateful for. She is also where my love of leopard print came from which she still dresses in and looks fabulous. She is one of the coolest grannies out there.”
What could have easily bought any fashion minded person to a simple and stereotypical picture of chunky knit cardigans and ill-fitting beige two pieces, for Maddie delivered an outburst of patchwork that is dominated by varying styles of tartan and stitching that manages to hold its own among the brilliantly superfluous ruffles, juxtaposing graphic details and exaggerated silhouettes.
“At uni I’d experienced intense competitiveness between the students, especially in third year when different opportunities presented themselves such as graduate fashion week and various competitions."
In her own words, the award-winning collection is “a mashup of a whole load of things” with elements of the stereotypical 1960’s housewife influencing the garment's graphic prints, oversized proportions and intricate ruffle details. “I used inspiration from 1960’s housewives to give a cool twist and a more modernised take of my cool granny idea. I mixed the two inspirations and tried to create classic 1960 silhouettes with some added juxtaposing elements on them. For example, shorts with a high exaggerated waistline or structured bras worn on top of other garments. I love the mix of modern with old and opted for crazy prints, fabrics and colours which all inspired the final looks for my collection.”
As well as the aesthetic vision, there was the environmental element that, to Maddie, was an equally important factor in her graduate collection’s creation, “I wanted to be as environmentally friendly as a fashion design student could possibly be, so all of my fabrics were either deadstock or charity shop garments that were cut up and made into my own fabric.”
Maddie Ryall styling her collection
Photo: maddieryallfs Instagram
With the collection being so imaginative, Maddie hopes her designs will also get the possible consumers of her clothing feeling creative too, “When it comes to the styling of my collection, I wanted to leave that to the consumers imagination. Each outfit consists of three separate garments so there is room to experiment and mix and match all the garments together to create a completely different collection.”
But despite the acclaim directed at the now graduate upon her collection’s runway debut, post-university life has not always been a (cat)walk in the park. “I always knew before starting university that the fashion industry was notoriously hard to break your way - it’s so competitive.”
"I would just say to have fun and enjoy it while it lasts because the jump from uni to work is a huge one and I don’t think anything can prepare you for it."
“At uni I’d experienced intense competitiveness between the students, especially in third year when different opportunities presented themselves such as graduate fashion week and various competitions. Unfortunately, I think this industry is always going to be that way because it is so creative, and every individual is trying to get their own creative mind and ideas across.”
Breaking into the fashion industry may be a struggle on its own, but if you have broken past the barriers denying you entry, you must face yet more struggles when faced with the fashion industry itself in all its ugly and raw glory. “It is so difficult for new designers to land jobs with big brands. When I had just left uni, I was constantly looking for jobs within the fashion industry, however everything either needed me to have 2-5 years’ experience or they were unpaid internships which is just not helpful in the slightest if you cannot afford to maintain the internship.”
When the obligatory and rightful moan is over, Maddie admits she could never, despite all its possible downfalls, walk away from a career in fashion. While her view of the industry and her possible place in it has changed, it is her life dream. “I don’t think I could ever see myself being a fashion designer, purely because I love to focus more on the prints and fabrics of a piece rather than its actual design. But I could definitely see myself in a role like a textile designer where I can bring that creativity and excitement through patterns.”
From 'An ode to cool grannies' collection at Dubai Expo 2020
Photo: maddieryallfs Instagram
In an ideal world, walking out of university and into the world of work would be slightly more exciting than it is daunting. But in the current climate, especially for those who do not have money, contacts and experience to fall back on, that is not the case - far from it. Venturing into work feels like an uphill battle, with imposter syndrome, the seemingly endless successes of others posted to social media and rejection after rejection often making the trials of job seeking seem like a contest pitting graduate against graduate. In such a lucrative business as fashion, the ups and downs are arguably heightened, but, for all its pitfalls, Maddie is still venturing on and has hope that her fellow graduates will too.
“If I could go back to my 18-year-old self before starting university or for any 18-year-old wanting to start their education or career in the fashion industry, I would just say to have fun and enjoy it while it lasts because the jump from uni to work is a huge one and I don’t think anything can prepare you for it.
“I wish I didn’t stress as much and was just a lot more chilled about everything. I would always let the deadlines get to me a lot more than I should have done because in the grand scheme of things, they really weren’t the end of the world, and they feel like a distant memory right now.
“I’d also tell people to just design and make whatever they would like to. I always let the lecturer's input get to me too much and at the end of the day it was my work. If you’re happy with what you’re doing and you enjoy it then that is all that matters.”