A semi-brief reflection after Helsinki Fashion Week 2019. Words and image by founder Courtney Holm.


Courtney Holm

Off the back of Helsinki Fashion Week, I have been thinking a lot, which is a good thing, right? At an event where sustainability is front and centre of discussion and creative output, I found myself internally navigating a few themes in particular. Firstly, I'm not going to lie, the word sustainability continues to be very much open to interpretation, and probably will continue to be, as the way the industry views and measures sustainability spans carbon emissions to human rights in the supply chain. The world over, many of us who call ourselves designers are free to pick and choose these measures and decide which will be incorporated into our collections. We can feel good about the things we are doing because we are trying. Plus all this stuff is so buzzy.

I don't feel that good. There is this tension within me that I struggle to let relax. The tension sees me walk a hard line with many A.BCH philosophies but also can paralyse me with questions about my right to create at all. After all, none of us are exempt from the fact that we take finite resources from the earth to serve ourselves. So far, I have found it bearable to live with my actions, knowing through them I'm causing some kind of stir, challenging the ones who only have excuses on their lips and maybe, just maybe, facilitating new creative thoughts about how to be in the universe. Thoughts, not necessarily mine, that can change minds and behaviours. This is why the pace of A.BCH is what it is. We do not churn out product, and we have been very careful to only create what we know we can handle in its very final stages of a useful life. The systems we are investing in now will also help others to do the right thing in the future as I don't plan on keeping it to myself. So long as I can keep the tension from snapping. The alternative is to get out but I'm not one to sit around and speculate. So here I am.

Needless to say that all the good intentions, recycling and ego-patting in the world will not address the simple truth that we all must consume MUCH less than we do today. This makes people uncomfortable, because we are fed the exact opposite from those who aim to profit from our insecurities and perfectly normal desire for love and acceptance. 

This is all a preamble, because people often ask me what inspires my design work. And I was also asked this a few times at Helsinki Fashion Week. I found myself mulling over this relatively simple question, recognising how privileged I am to even answer it and then circling back to this tension. To be inspired and then to create is one of life's greatest joys for me, but it is a privilege.

To answer the question, I’m not really inspired by figures like an intriguing woman or subculture icon, nor am I inspired by clothes or manmade objects (though I do really like clothes, believe it or not). I previously thought design ideas should be primarily influenced by visual cues in order to be legitimate, I think that was drummed in during design school. I’ve recently let go of that because it never felt right when I tried to force it. I can accept that it’s not laziness, it’s just my way. And I’m glad I can finally articulate it. Can anyone else relate?

I am so curious about the tension (there it is again) that exists between those things and their surroundings more than the things themselves. But what I’ve found the most powerful is a particular feeling of peace and awakening I can only find in nature — getting outdoors, breathing the fresh air, viewing the world as it was intended to be. It might sound too simple. But this muse has been sparking many new creative ideas inside me for years, even A.BCH was conceived this way. Sometimes it takes the shape of a garment, sometimes it's a system for circularity that fires up hope, sometimes it's a cleanse to make way for something later.

And again I circle. It makes me think how much we owe to the natural world, yet us humans continue to pillage it like it will forever recuperate, like it's ours to own, kill and destroy. Can we not respect this world like a careful gardener? Can we not exist and develop more simply alongside it, slowly creating meaningful objects and ideas? Must we trash everything for the sake of progress in a world where we eat and digest and shit apathy? The broken state of growth at any cost is sickening to me, heartbreaking and can lead one down a path of helplessness. If that's you, please take heart. I also believe in humanity to rise above. The best I can do as me, is query how I will exist (as a person who is also a designer) without leaving a selfish trail of destruction behind. It's not the prettiest question, I'll admit. But isn't it worth asking?

The question itself inspires something different, an element to the nature cleanse that's harder to describe. It's almost like a resistance, a sort of determination not to fall in line. Inspiration is a beautiful thing. It's part of what makes us human, in all our marvellous mess. This is probably the most personal blog I've written here, it's also the first blog post I've opened up for comments. I really would love to hear your thoughts on your own inspiration and if anything here has resonated with you.

x Courtney