At only 24, Patrick McDowell has his own fashion label and a pretty impressive contact list. Collaborating with Burberry and Swarovski for his graduate collection, Patrick stole the industry’s heart with his innovative designs made from repurposed fabrics donated by the luxury brands and inspired by his childhood in Liverpool.
An advocate for sustainability in the industry, Patrick is passionate about educating future generations to do better. His clothes have been worn by the likes of Rita Ora and M.I.A. and he turned heads at this year’s LFW by hosting the first ever fashion week swap shop.
This week, we caught up with Patrick in between the busy phone calls that dictate his WFH life, to talk social distancing, a little bit of fashion week (it’s never too late), and what Beyoncé concerts might bring to the fashion industry…
What does a day in lockdown look like for you?
I’m sleeping a lot, I’m doing this work out app, and cooking, and learning new software, updating my website, having a huge amount of calls…
Have you panic bought loo roll?
I have toilet roll from a company called Who Gives a Crap, which is fully recycled and plastic free, and they send boxes of 50 at a time. I happened to be down to my last 10, so we have another box, take from that what you want…
What have you stocked up on in your fridge?
Sauvignon blanc, the ingredients for margaritas and lots of things to make pasta and pasta sauces.
What does coronavirus, social distancing and the current health crisis mean for the fashion industry?
I think that it’s shone a light on the practice of most big businesses around the world. In the long term, it offers a huge opportunity to rethink how we actually work as inhabitants of this planet and just to really understand that there’s perhaps other ways of working that we can all adopt. And this offers us a very rare opportunity to have the time to rethink that, and even in my business, as someone who was working sustainably, I’ve now got extra time to research into digitally designing clothes, more digital spaces and that kind of thing.
What we can learn from it?
I think within the sort of next five years you’ll start to see the rise of people dressing digitally and either having digital avatars or having clothes that act like filters, so you would see the person wearing that McQueen dress or that Dior dress. I don’t necessarily think that people will consume less, but I think you’ll start to see that people will consume in different ways.
What does that mean for the future of the industry?
Well, the technology means that you do still have to hand cut the garment and you do have to work out how it’s sown together and all of that, so it doesn’t remove any of that kind of knowledge from the clothing. I’ve always been a big believer in being able to unlearn and relearn and adapt to changing climates. Any cultural shift is always met with a rejection and then it’s made fun of, and then it becomes fashionable, and then it becomes expensive, and then it becomes medium and then it becomes normal. But it needs to change because the fashion industry at the moment doesn’t work.
Do you think the level of change that we need within the industry is achievable?
I think if they don’t, you’re going to start seeing an increase in things like we’re having right now. This is a direct cause of putting too much pressure on the planet, that’s why these viruses are created because there isn’t the same biodiversity to prevent them from happening. This wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t treat the planet so badly.
Do you think it’s possible to ever have a truly sustainable fashion industry?
I think you’ll probably start to see that the word ‘sustainable’ becomes unused. You actually need a regenerative fashion industry that actually puts something positive back into the planet because being sustainable now isn’t enough. Anything that creates products can’t ever actually be 100% sustainable, I don’t think any business, I’m not 100% sustainable, I don’t think anybody is.
Fashion is such a fast-moving culture – art, literature and cinema take a much longer time to develop trends – what impact does that have on trying to make clothes sustainable?
I think it’s a blessing and a curse in some ways. It means that it’s very polluting, but it means that it has the ability to change the fastest. Unlike most other cultural things – it might take an artist 10 years to paint something, or a building 15 years to build – I can take my business from spring to summer and make it completely different if I want to because that’s how fashion works. It’s a great thing because it means fashion can change faster than everyone else, but, unfortunately, it seems people don’t seem to be getting the point.
If there wasn’t such a pressing concern for climate action, would sustainability still be at the core of what you do?
For me, the way the fashion industry works, it’s almost comically bad. Like it doesn’t make any common sense. If you look at it objectively, and not as something which has been around for ages, you would just think, wow, this is really stupid. You’re guessing what people want, you’re not paying the people that make it properly. It all just doesn’t make sense. For me, the primary reason why I do what I do is because the fashion industry works in such a silly way, it’s because I’m not prepared to start something which, for me, doesn’t make any sense. Because it’s my name above the door at the end of the day, it’s my name in the back of the clothes, so why would I want to associate myself with a business model that’s really old fashioned?
What does it mean to be a designer in 2020 and not wholesale?
It gives me more time to actually figure out what the future’s going to be. And it means I have more time to do things that I actually care about, like education and speaking to brands and collaborating and doing the swap shop at London Fashion Week. All those things wouldn’t happen if I was spending all my time wholesaling. Wholesale is so toxic. It doesn’t help anybody really.
You made a pretty big impact at this year’s LFW, hosting the first ever fashion week swap shop, and appearing in XR protests, what do you really think of fashion week? Should we just get rid of it?
I don’t think you should get rid of it, actually. I just think it needs to work in a different way. Having a week of events that are dedicated to innovation in fashion is a good idea. I actually quite like fashion shows, I think they’re quite exciting, but I just think it’s a shame that the collection only gets seen for like five minutes and then gets moved on. If Beyoncé sells 40,000 tickets for Madison Square Gardens for $50 each, I think she makes $2 million a night, so why not, for the new Chanel show, show the entire collection on Beyoncé and her dancers? Do the show five nights a week and you’ve already made more money from that collection than it will have done wholesaling it. It’s just thinking of different ways of experiencing the clothes.
Do you mean for your clothes to be political?
I think being a designer and saying that you’re not going to do wholesale is political.
What’s your biggest achievement so far?
Anna Wintour nominated me for the Stella McCartney award in November, that was quite exciting.
What have you got planned for the future?
I’m hopefully showing another collection in Helsinki again in July, which is inspired by my Catholic upbringing. For that I’ve partnered with a silk mill in Italy called Taroni Silks which makes all of the couture silks for the couture shows and they’ve allowed me to use their dead stock. They’re having the Circular Fashion Summit by Lablaco, a showcase of all things sustainable, so I’ll be going there to speak about what we’re doing, and we’ll be launching a new version of the website.
I’ll also show a digital collection there, eventually. I think we’ll work with some VR goggles; you’ll put them on and see all the models, well, providing I can get my head around the technology in time, but it’s looking like I’ve got a few months, at the moment…
Biggest pet peeve of the fashion industry?
People that still act like they’re in Devil’s Wear Prada.
Most iconic outfit that you’ve ever seen?
The dress my mum wore to the millennium sparkle party when I was five years old.
Who would you most like to design something for?
Kylie because then my mum would be happy for me to retire.
Best part about being home alone?
Being able to walk around naked.
Top Netflix shows at the moment?
There’s something that just came out called Self Made which is with Octavia Spencer, which is incredible. I also have been catching up with this show called 100 Humans which is kind of like a social experiment to see what people’s real ways of thinking are which has been quite interesting.
Would you rather...
Rent or recycle?
Can I say both?
McQueen or Lagerfield?
Swarovski or Burberry?
Ah, that’s a hard one, Swarovski.
Paris or Milan?
Liverpool or London?
Sweet potato or halloumi fry?
Halloumi fry. I shouldn’t really say that, I’m meant to be vegan, aren’t I? I have a cheese addiction!
Rita Ora or M.I.A.?
Rita Ora or Beyoncé?
Queer Eye or Trinny and Susannah?
Alan Sugar or Anna Wintour?
What message would you pass on to everyone who is stuck at home social distancing?
Try to turn it into an opportunity to revaluate where your life is going and how your health is and the pace that you’re working at. There shouldn’t be any pressure in these kinds of times to be productive. Being productive is a construct of capitalism, like it’s perfectly fine to spend a few days thinking or reading or having a bath. Make sure that you’re first of all looking after your mental health, we really need to be there for other people and it’s not possible for us to help others if we’re not being kind to ourselves first.
This interview has been shortened and edited.