Interview with Recipient of the Inaugural Royal College of Art Haberdashers’ Textile Scholarship

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Olivia Howick

The Haberdashers’ Company, through its charitable foundations, proudly maintains its historic links with the haberdashery trade by awarding around £80,000 annually in grants to charities or institutions that help support the textiles industry. 

The Company has recently become the first livery company to support a full post-graduate scholarship at the Royal College of Art, the RCA Haberdashers’ Textile Scholarship. 

The Royal College of Art is ranked number one in the world for art and design and brings together the greatest concentration of postgraduate art and design talent globally.  RCA degrees greatly increase employability and earning potential and its alumni take up leadership roles in top brands and companies.  Over 60% set up and run their own successful businesses, that in turn contribute to the UK’s creative, entrepreneurial and economic well-being.

The recipient of the inaugural RCA Haberdashers’ Textile Scholarship, Olivia Howick, tells us about herself in the  interview below.   



Tell us a bit about yourself?

I grew up in Macclesfield, a small town in the North West of England and I have lived In London since 2010 when I moved here to complete my BA at London College of Fashion. At LCF I studied Fashion Design Technology: Surface Textiles and I specialised in embroidered and embellished textiles. I had a fantastic three years where I learnt a vast array of skills and had the opportunity to work and intern at a variety of companies including Alexander McQueen. I have since worked on a freelance basis for designers and with students, and I also briefly worked as a technician at London College of Fashion as part of the teaching team on my old course. In 2015 I decided to train as a secondary Design and Technology teacher at Goldsmiths, University of London. I taught Textiles in an inner city London school for two years before deciding to continue my own education and apply for the MA in Textiles at the RCA. Alongside my studies I am still involved in education, teaching embroidery classes at The London Embroidery Studio in hand and machine embroidery. I'm also a keen but not overly skilled swimmer, and I love discovering different pools and lidos in London when I can - it's the best de-stress tool!

What sparked your interest in textiles?

I have been fortunate to have been brought up surrounded by many creative individuals within my family so I think it was inevitable I would have gone onto become a designer myself. I spent large periods of time with my aunt and uncle growing up who taught and created jewellery and sculpture respectively, and they have helped and inspired me throughout my education. My mum and dad also went (and met!) at art school and as a child I was surrounded by textiles and beautiful vintage clothing at home that had been passed down from my grandparents. I would sift through beautiful printed dresses from the 1960s and 70s and my mum would talk me through each one, where they were from and their place in fashion history. I initially took to painting at school, as I am obsessed with colour and see it as one of my strengths, but as I matured I became fascinated by this translation to cloth and the body, and in particular surface design and embellishment. My love for printed textiles (which I now specialise in), developed towards the latter phase of my undergraduate course, where I focussed on my illustration and drawing skills, and I have continued to develop and refine this ever since.


Why did you choose the RCA for your postgraduate course?

I chose the RCA because I believe it is the one institution that would challenge any preconceptions I had about textiles. I knew that it was an environment where I would be able to work collaboratively with students across different fields, and not just stick to my comfort zone which was fashion and textiles. I knew that the RCA would be a place where I could take risks, and maximise my own potential through my design work, making use of the wealth of facilities, staff expertise and opportunities on offer. For me it was the only place I wanted to study my Masters. After a few years out of education it is clear to me now how important these two years will be for my personal development as a designer and I am excited to see how this will unfold.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I would hope that in 5 years I would be working alongside other designers to push and innovate the potential of what printed textiles can be. I can see myself working in a studio with other designers, working collaboratively across a range of different contexts. I also hope to return to teaching, but this time within higher education, perhaps teaching on a textiles course as I am passionate about improving and promoting the value of the subject within the UK. 


How has the Haberdashers’ Textile Scholarship helped you?

Without the scholarship I could not have completed the MA, so I am incredibly grateful for it. I have been working and studying in London for a while now, so it has been hard to save money in order to fund the tuition as well as my living costs. It will be a life changing period of my life, that will shape the rest of my design career and without the support of the scholarship it simply would not have been possible.