A faithful follower of the ever-growing website, blog and now magazine 1 Granary, Rita Fernandez recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the smart and ambitious BA Fashion student behind 1 Granary, Olya Kuryshchuk. Below she explains the motivation for first launching the blog in 2011, and describing how it has subsequently become a valuable tool for her studies, practice and collaboration. Learning from successes and failures has been invaluable for Olya, and through the experience of running the site she has found that there is no way around digital technology for today’s graduates.
How did the site come to be? What was the initial thought behind it?
I started the blog myself, and then my flatmate who is also studying fashion began helping. After a while some photographer friends joined, and others modeled for photo shoots – but all of the coverage for the first four or five months was done by the two of us. In the beginning we wanted to meet lots of people, be able to approach them and ask questions about things we were really interested in. During my first year at the old Charing Cross location we were surrounded by other fashion students – fine art for example was on the eighth floor – so we didn’t have much chance to meet students from other courses, so we thought the new building at 1 Granary Kings Cross would facilitate the idea.
Also, a lot of students on the fashion course get confused in terms of what they want to do, whether it’s design, styling or art direction, so the website let us try lots of different things. In my case I started to do a lot of styling and photo shoot production, in addition to interviews. It’s the reason other students started to get on board, because they wanted to try different things. When you go to work for a magazine or a brand you aren’t given that chance – you’re mostly getting coffee and making copies – where the blog allows you to test and fail. It was a cool opportunity for us, and then it just grew.
Who participates in the blog?
We have two separate teams, one for the magazine and one for the blog. Some are current students and others are graduates, both MA and BA students. There are roughly twenty to twenty-five of us across the blog and magazine teams. The general process for participating begins with writing for the blog, which may later turn into further collaboration on the magazine.
Does the site intentionally have a strong focus on fashion? Is there space and opportunity for other courses to participate and feature?
It began with a focus on fashion because I’m in fashion and my friends are as well, so we were informed by what and who were around us as well as our own interests. Initially it was quite tricky to involve other courses because we don’t know what’s happening in fine art for example, but as the site has grown and become more popular people from other pathways who are interested in collaborating have contacted us, so the team is becoming more and more diverse. We are also in the process of changing the site so each course will be equally represented.
I saw that the site’s concept is to showcase the best student work, giving “an independent view … untainted by commercial constraint”- was and is it still important to maintain that distance from commercial constraints?
Well, we are able to showcase the designers that didn’t make it to the grad show, or the MA London Fashion Show, because we still think that they’re great and we have our own opinion. We’re also able to publish things that are maybe very crazy, that we think are awesome ideas that perhaps the press would never publish.
So it provides you a certain level of freedom?
Yes- I mean we’ve had people come to us commenting on how maybe the level of writing was low, because at that point we didn’t have journalist’s writing for us. Others mentioned that even if it’s not an official CSM site we still need to represent the name, so we began changing a lot of things. And I agree, we need to raise the level of writing because a lot of us aren’t native English speakers so that’s something we’ve worked on. But then we started to think, “well, it’s a blog, which we’ve put together so we are happy to make those mistakes”. At one point we got stressed thinking “oh maybe I can’t post this picture”, but if we want to put a picture of a guy running naked through the fountain then we will, if you want to do a stupid photo shoot go for it- because in the end it’s a student-run blog.
In terms of the editorial content we are very open – I tell everyone that if they want to write in a funny way, or write in a more academic way that’s fine, I’m happy to post them one after the other- it’s up to the reader to read or skip whatever content interests them. We’ve been lucky that it’s gotten so much coverage and so many people are reading it, but we don’t worry about how many visitors we get a day.
So there is no staff or faculty participation?
We have support from tutors who will give us information, pose for pictures, or tell us about such and such event but there is no ‘official’ help. We once asked for support for the magazine but were turned down which I think was lucky because again, we are able to do what we want with it.
You said earlier that you were looking to get in contact with other students. Why did you feel a digital platform was the way to do that as opposed to say, hosting an event?
First of all, it’s free. And it’s something you can do in parallel to your studies. I can show it to people who are far away; initially I was showing it to my parents in the Ukraine for example. Our first interns were applying from abroad saying, “I’m from L.A. but I’m coming to CSM”. It’s cool because you can see which countries people are visiting the site from – Armenia, Africa, Brazil – and you think, “This is so awesome how else can we connect with people abroad”. Now that we’re producing the magazine we considered distributing internationally, and although it is too expensive and tricky for us at the moment we can still reach an international audience online.
In terms of the collaborative aspect of the site and relating back to your creative practice and studies- do you feed into the site from your work, does the site feed into your work?
I think because I’m an international student from the Ukraine – which is not a ‘fashion’ country – I came to Central Saint Martins with a huge gap of knowledge. When I looked around I saw that other students were ahead of me because they had a much clearer idea of how everything works.
With the blog we were able to interview graduates, students, designers and tutors. Normally your tutor talks to you for five minute and that’s it, which is understandable because he or she has 30 other students they need to see that day. Thanks to the blog we got so much information within the first few months because people were responding and taking the time to sit down with us. It was a really exciting time for me.
Why do you think that is? That when you had this platform suddenly people were willing to take the time to sit down with you?
I think we got lucky with our idea. If it were a completely personal blog I don’t think people would have responded in that way. Because we were a group of students asking for more advice and feedback and not just one individual person, it makes it harder to say no. So many students are reading it that saying no to me is saying no to the class as a whole.
So it’s a sort of tool that you can leverage to gain more access to fashion knowledge or insights, effectively helping you bridge that gap of knowledge you felt you had in the beginning.
Yes, and very quickly because White Show was just two weeks after we started 1 Granary and lots of parents and students went to the site to see the images because no-one had posted images of the internal show before. So because other kids were pushing and taking photos, the tutors started to take notice.
As you say, before 1 Granary there wasn’t much coverage of the ‘internal’ show or goings on. It seems that the site is particularly successful in showing ‘the feel’ of CSM.
In the beginning I had some students saying they didn’t want to participate because they didn’t want people to know what’s inside CSM. In some ways I agree but in others I don’t, mainly because not everyone is sociable or has the possibility to interact as much.
It’s a great way for students to meet, collaborate, and engage in a different way with the college. International students arrive completely alone, their English isn’t perfect and it’s tricky- so the site has become a family for us.
Do you see the future of creative practice and collaboration dependent on digital platforms?
I think there is no choice. I was just telling my parents the other day that I should try to learn code, saying, “I want to keep up”. Young kids around the world are learning to code at a very young age, so I’m thinking I should learn just the basics to be able to understand what the site developers are telling me, at least providing me with the language. I don’t see any way around it.
Is there any time dedicated to digital technologies on your course?
In Fashion Design with Marketing we had one project with Imran Amed from The Business of Fashion, about building a business platform for promoting your brand. That was the only course. But we know that’s the way at CSM- it is what you make of it. We know we need to learn it so we’ll do it on our own.
Be sure to catch the first edition of 1 Granary’s soon-to-be published magazine, which Olya tells me has grown from a simple twenty-page photo shoot to a two-hundred page, famous CSM alumni-packed undertaking that she and the entire 1 Granary family are very excited about. The magazine will be out on the 15th of May, and available for pre-order on the website one week beforehand.