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Rethinking Leather in a Sustainable Age: International Student Design Competition


The winner of the Real Leather. Stay Different. International Student Design Competition, launched earlier this year in association with ArtsThread and Rollacoaster magazine and funded by the Leather & Hide Council of America (L&HCA), has just been announced.

Emily Omesi (pictured right), a BFA undergraduate of Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City (FIT NYC) and former student at London at Central Saint Martins, has won the competition, that attracted entries from 36 countries. Gaining the attention of the judges her thought-provoking leather jacket design entitled ‘Bacterial Genetics’, inspired by cell scans from her brother’s research on infectious diseases. Emily’s inspiration also came from 80’s outer wear to create a cropped bomber jacket with an exaggerated dolmen sleeve with sculptured swirls. The jacket is made of 100% cow leather.  

The judging panel behind the decision included Katie Greenyer of the Pentland Group, Mike Adler, Fashion Stylist, and Milan Miladinov, Art Director at Rollacoaster magazine, selected the winner and the four runners-up after a series of video interviews. 

Commenting on her win, Emily, who is passionate about leather as a material, said: “I love working with leather – there is truly no other material like it. It’s durable and can last the wearer a lifetime but is also very delicate to sew. Handling leather takes patience and practice – similar to creating a sculpture. Every leather hide is unique, which makes the process that much special.”

Building on the success of competitions that ran in Italy, Taiwan, China and the UK, the first ‘Real Leather. Stay Different. International Student Design Competition’ secured nearly 400 entries from 117 higher-education institutions, representing 58 nationalities from 36 countries.  The competition encourages the use of leather in delivering a more sustainable future – and the next generation of designers to think about ‘slow fashion’. 

With clients including Glenn Close, Josh O’Connor, Maisie Williams, Elizabeth Hurley, Emma Corrin and Monica Bellucci, judge Mike Adler commented: “This jacket is not only super editorial but its modern and futuristic design easily translates into music and celebrity styling as well as the retail space. We need new designers who will challenge the norm; and can combine sustainability with high fashion effortlessly – Emily has delivered on all these points. From the cover of Rollercoaster to the rest of the world!”

The other four short-listed finalists were Alice Morgan (University of Derby, UK), Meghan Beattie (Birmingham City University, UK), Teresita Marrero Escalona (Universidad del Azuay, Ecuador) and Nathalie Hauser (Kolding School of Design, Denmark). Their entries ranged from delicate silver and leather jewellery to intricate patchwork, shape-defining handbags, and extravagant costume designs. 

The competition’s mission was to spark the interest of future talent to work with the beauty and variety of natural, sustainable, responsibly produced leather in categories of apparel, footwear or accessories using at least 50% leather. The judges wanted to see new pieces that will not only last but will be loved, for a lifetime.

Steve Sothmann, President of sponsors L&HCA, set out the challenges for designers and the issue of waste in the industry. “In a world increasingly threatened by human activity, where waste is piling up and oceans flooding with plastic, it is up to every single one of us to make a change. Promoting slow fashion and encouraging the use of sustainable materials like leather, that would otherwise end up in landfill, is at the core of what we do. We are in a global search to find and encourage more students and young designers to change the face of fashion and take a stand and become ambassadors for the planet.” 

As the winner of the Real Leather. Stay Different. International Student Design Competition, Emily not only takes home the RLSD trophy, but also has had her design professionally made and featured on the cover of the A/W 2021 issue of the acclaimed international fashion magazine, Rollacoaster. Her jacket was modelled by Sano Turdiev. 

Find out more about the Real Leather. Stay Different. campaign at https://chooserealleather.com/

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