Nicola West

How did you become involved in Fashion and Design?

looking back now I realise my relationship with fashion started when I was about 16. We lived in San Antonio, Texas in the USA. Our family had limited resources and my mother found the solution, The Salvation Army. The Mecca of second hand fashion. I think my mother was very relieved that I loved it!!!! It was way before shopping second hand was a thing. I would spend hours in there. From then on I had a wardrobe unlike anyone I knew. I loved dressing up for school every day.

Then back in South Africa I wanted to be a stylist but ended up working in fashion for 5 years. I was a sales lady for Stefania Morland. I reached a point we’re I could no longer bear going into work for someone else. So I took out my domestic and started to make clothes.

Who have been your inspiration and in what way?

It was never about inspiration for me it was more about necessity I loved making things, anything with my hands. I had to choose one direction. I did some soul searching and settled on fashion. I’ve had a love hate relationship with it ever since.

Who has influenced your current approach to Fashion and why?

I ask myself what I want to wear? How I want to feel? Who am I? Then I go. I have always went against mainstream fashion. If it was “In” I wouldn’t do it, unless I loved it. I have always designed for myself.

It must be exhausting trying to figure out what everyone else wants. Tell us about the special people who have mentored you along the way.

My mentors have been my family for their continued support. My mother for introducing me to The Salvation Army. My partner Kyle Morland for his critical eye and fabulous cooking skills in times of great stress. Stefania Morland, where I learned the difference between silk satin and

“T-shirt material” and where I discovered and fell in love with the bias cut. Lastly my friend Michael Cooper. His excitement and enthusiasm and encouragement for what I am doing has meant more than he will ever know.

Who is your favourite international designer at the moment and what truly excites you about their work ?

I love, love, love what Alessandro Michele for Gucci is doing now! It is so fun and colorful and for everyone! So on point! I love that he uses art as inspiration. It seems like a well styled wardrobe. Lots of things of many colours worn together. It is as if he went thrift shopping before putting together his collections. It is like each outfit in his shows are a work of art. Everything has been considered from makeup and hair to clothes and accessories. It is so much fun simply looking at the images he is creating. I think I love it because it reminds me that life is fun! Also you know that there were so many people involved in creating and producing on that scale. It excites me to think what I would do with a team like that behind me.

Are there ways that you are re-inventing, innovating, prototyping your products, whether through your methods of pattern cutting, use of materials, print design, branding, re-purposing or up-cycled materials?

W35T, the name itself is one of reinvention. Pronounced WEST, and originates from my first last name which once was van der Westhuizen. The innovation at W35T is happening some times without my knowledge because I am self taught. I have never been told what was the “right or wrong” way of doing things. So, I am constantly experimenting with fabric combinations, cuts and painting on all sorts of materials. I am constantly making new prototypes. Weather it is improving on a golden oldie or creating a brand new product. Recently I have been experimenting with old plastic packets. I melt layers of plastic packets together to form a sturdier plastic, which I then join with other fabric and made some bags. People love it especially when I tell them it’s made from old Woolies packets. For some reason I get a kick out of their shock and surprise. I like making patterns with the least amount of joins and I love the bias cut. I love having elegant curves on my patterns. So this means I very rarely use buttons or zips in my clothing. Two more things that make’s W35T unique to other design houses is that we use re purposed fabrics which makes each item of  clothing a limited piece. Then we also hand paint most of our fabrics to make even more work for ourselves. When I paint fabric I never waist paint or water or fabric. I have a drop sheet of good quality white fabric that I use to clean the mess I make when painting and use it to clean my brushes and paint buckets etc. This fabric then eventually gets used to make more clothing.

What have been your biggest breakthroughs? 

I have found my own design language that is unique to W35T because of the constant playing and experimenting. I constantly have new items that are unique and different than the ones that came before. I have been creating the same things over and over, constantly improving on the pattern and quality of work. “Same,same but different.”

Has your team been involved ?

My team is integral to the success of my business. I work with two wonderful women. We truly are a team each one of us know that and respect that. We all enjoy what we do and I think that shows.

Do you feel that his has had a ripple effect within the design community?

I believe everything you do has a ripple effect. What I hope people get from W35T is to stop looking around copying what other designers/people are doing. It is so much easier to just figure out who you are and create from a place of integrity, peace and love for yourself and others and the planet.

Have you collaborated with other artists, performers, musicals?

I have collaborated with Anton du Preez a local film maker now based in LA. We sat down together and came up with a little story line for a fashion film. I really enjoyed the experience of working with others.

How did these collaborations come about?

Anton was starting out in film making and wanted the challenge. I simply jumped at the opportunity to make a fashion film for W35T.

What do you feel the benefits of cross discipline pollination are?

It makes you look at your work differently. This gives one an opportunity to reflect and improve yourself and your work.

Do you feel your range, label, product coveys a message?

W35T does have a message. Yes! It is to enjoy live and be comfortable and enjoy this body you are in. Stop looking for validation from others and enjoy your body and your life and have fun!!! That is the most important have fun!!! Don’t take yourself so seriously!

What ideological thread do you feel you are exploring weather political, environmental, around identity and cultural hybrid, sustainability, skills development etc?

Well, I think right now the world keeps separating us into categories of male, female, gay, straight, black, white, rich and poor etc. Focusing on our differences and problems. W35T is about focusing on our similarities, our humanness our love for fun and beauty in all its shapes and forms.  Spread the love. I love saying “We are all pink inside” I don’t know where I first heard it or if I came up with it. Its my way of saying we are all: “Same, same, but different”

How do you feel you are capturing “ what it is to be of this time and space” ?

Because I am more aware of the effects of my actions on the planet I am able to create items of clothing and accessories in a way that is not harmful or wasteful. I don’t follow trends or what’s going on in fashion. I make clothing that you can wear for seasons to come and that last longer. There is love and passion in every piece of clothing.

How does the space in which you make your garments, products influence their design and authenticity?

I just need my work room with my team and materials. I love having fabric around me. All the different possibilities excite me. You can make so many different things with the same piece of fabric. But what is it going to end up being?

Do you have a unique manufacturing philosophy?

I don’t really plan exactly what I am going to make weeks in advance. I basically decide what to make almost every day. Because I buy end of run fabrics I am limited with the amount of stock I can make. So I sometimes try to stretch out the use of a certain fabric as much as possible. This “problem” leads to very interesting fabric combinations and solutions. Lots of little stories.

Are there members of your production and design team who have grown with you over time, who you might call studio masters?

I’m not sure what you call. Studio master but I know I could do any of this without Sherly and Nasieba. We have grown and learned together and we learn more every day.

Tell us a little bit about their unique skills and how they have contributed to the brands evolution?

Siebie started with me on my first fashion show. She was suggested by her sister in law who told me “Siebie loves ironing”. I needed someone to iron the whole day and what better than someone who loves doing it. She has been with me ever since. She helps me paint and keeps our space organized. She is basically my studio assistant and ironing and finishing lady. She has many hats. Sherly is the seamstress. She has a good heart and is very funny and she loves speaking her mind. A real character. When we are developing a new way of putting something together her and I get a bit heated with each other. I say it is possible she says it isn’t. I then argue and explain and she does the same. I eventually just leave her to figure out how she wants to do it. Eventually we are both happy with the outcome and we can make a couple more of the same thing. Next week we do it again.

Do you have any favourite South African artists and designers?

Yes, I have many people I love and respect in the Art world many of them close friends like Gerda Scheepers, Georgina Gatrix, Igshaan Adams and Jared Ginsburg. Then I also love Dorothee Kreutzfeld, Cinga Samson and Christian Nerf. Lastly I probably never would have met any of these great artists if it wasn’t for my sculptor husband Kyle Morland.

What are your favourite places or spaces to visit in Cape Town?

I love being close to the ocean. I love dressing then walking on the promenade with my headphones on playing my favourite music, I wish I could dance to in public. Don’t try talk to me when I am Dance/ Walking. It’s nothing personal the music has simply taken over.

What Restaurants, markets or foods in Cape Town would you recommend to visitors?

In summer I love going for a sun-downer at La Perla. That place is just so sexy! I feel great sitting on the veranda sipping on a aperol spritz chatting with my good friends like Gerda Scheepers. Staying in Sea Point I also love lazy summer nights with a good bottle of wine and a pizza at Posticino. Walking distance from my flat. Hemelhuis is great for breakfast or lunch. There are many more recommendations I could put down but….

Nicola West
Nicola West

Nicola West


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