The cover story of 2013’s Alumni magazine is a design by graduate Euphemia Sydney-Davies. One of a growing number of successful graduates from the School of Textiles and Design in the Scottish Borders, Euphemia’s story is one of fear and terror, channeled into striking and fashionable designs. Continue reading to find out more about her story…
Euphemia Sydney-Davies is a young fashion designer who is not afraid of a challenge, in fact challenges seem to have characterised her life: “As a young girl I was forced to flee the Sierra Leone civil war with my mother, escaping to Gambia before settling for awhile in Kenya. It was a very traumatic experience, I’m not sure I’ve dealt with it all yet, but I haven’t let it hold me back from what I want to do.”
Recently graduated from Heriot-Watt, Euphemia has already shown her designs in London Fashion Week and is currently creating a second collection to show in New York. She is clearly a young women with a mission: “I’ve big aspirations, always have had, and the more I work the more driven I am.”
Her drive and commitment stems, she says, from a real love of her work. In an industry that can be difficult and demanding, and where criticism can be tough and demoralising, Euphemia believes that love is key to success. “I’m a young mother juggling a part-time job with my design work. I think talent is important and hard work is a must, but it’s love that will keep you going. If you love what you do you get through the disappointments and are fortified for the challenges.”
Even in my sleep I dream about what I want to make!
It was a huge culture shock to come to the UK where her mother had secured a teaching post. “We arrived here in the winter, coming from a tropical climate to the coldness of London. I just thought – what is this?!” but Euphemia’s resilience helped her to adapt and she settled in, making London her home.
Describing herself as someone who was ‘always arty’, her interest in fashion began to grow in her late teens. “I realised I was developing my own sense of style when I started to customise items I’d bought from high street shops to fit with my tastes.
My passion steadily grew until I sort of had a ‘this is it’ moment – the realisation that I was finding myself in fashion and that I wanted to become a designer.”
When it came to applying for university courses she received three offers of a place, one of which was Heriot-Watt. “I’d not been to Scotland and going for the interview at Galashiels felt like the middle of nowhere.
But I loved the countryside and I was blown away by the facilities for the fashion course.” It was a big decision to move away from her mother but Euphemia felt that the busy city life could be a distraction, so counter-intuitively she moved away from the fashion capital to the peace and tranquility of the Borders countryside.
“I’m so glad I did. Surprisingly, I felt at home and I found the surroundings really conducive to studying. They helped me to focus and be disciplined, which I don’t believe I would have achieved in London.”
I had a brilliant time, and through the support and opportunities the course provided, I discovered my talents and developed them.
Her degree collection showcased those talents but also provided a creative outlet for the traumatic experiences of her early life. “I didn’t realise it at first but the collection, initially inspired by a course project, was heavily influenced by my experiences of war.”
Text and drawings in her journals recording her memories of that traumatic time and her frequent nightmares, became sources of pattern for her fabrics and inspiration for the garment designs. She describes it as a very ‘autobiographical collection’ and it is a remarkable transposing of a difficult experience into bold and beautiful designs of striking originality.
Fashion is my love, it’s part of me, so I don’t have a Plan B – I’m just going to keep going to make this work.
Her new collection is again characterised by printed fabric, using illustrations created by her design partner, Gabor Zolyomi, who is based in Hungary. “It will be more tailored, colourful and inspired by Africa but not be typically African. I’m very excited about it.”
On top of this creative work Euphemia is busy seeking investment and working to set up Sydney-Davies as a design label. “I’ve got a lot to do! I’m creating a business as well as setting up a design label but this is me following my dream.
Fashion is my love, it’s part of me, so I don’t have a Plan B – I’m just going to keep going to make this work.”