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From Mechanical Engineering to Knitwear
Mechanical engineering may not be a typical pathway into the fashion industry, but Aisling Camps, an engineer-turned-knitwear designer, says that there are more similarities between the industries than people realise. According to Camps, both require technical expertise. “I’m still working with machines every day,” Camps says. “Only, instead of spitting out robots, [they’re] spitting out clothes.”
Camps’s technical, problem-solving approach to knitwear design and her subsequent collections have gained recognition within the fashion industry. For example, her latest collections include a cropped tank top made from leather cord ($595), chunky cable knit sweaters ($1,210), and a macrame hoodie ($2,250). Last month, Camps won Fashion Trust US’s inaugural ready-to-wear award, which was judged by big names including Vogue contributing editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, retired stylist Law Roach, and designer Mike Amiri. “Aisling has a very unique talent with knits,” says Fashion Trust US founder Tania Fares. “Whereas a lot of designers focus on perfecting a specific type of knit, Aisling can seamlessly pivot from a casual chunky sweater to a very delicate and intricately stunning dress.”
The Challenges of Being an Emerging Designer
While Camps’s mechanical engineering background has helped her to create unique designs, it hasn’t been an easy journey for the designer. Emerging designers are facing thin profit margins and decreasing brand awareness in an increasingly tough economic environment. According to a McKinsey report published in January, structural barriers like difficulty accessing capital are still preventing black-owned brands from expanding. Camps has taken on just one employee since founding her eponymous brand in 2013: Elise Pelletier, who works part-time as the brand’s design director alongside her role as a professor at New York’s Pratt Institute. Although Camps brought in $300,000 in revenue last year, double the revenue from the previous year, she does not expect to see another 100% increase by 2023. “I got totally burnt out,” Camps says. “This year is definitely not going to be $600,000. The push to 300 consumed my life.”
Success Without External Funding
Despite the challenges, Camps’s hard work is paying off. In addition to selling directly to consumers through her website, Aisling Camps has six wholesale stockists, including online retailers Fwrd and Moda Operandi, as well as US independent multi-brand boutique Kirna Zabête. She has achieved this success without any external funding, with the exception of a few grants, including a $40,000 award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Fashion Trust US in 2023). She is proud of the profitability of her brand and believes that if a brand is not profitable, it cannot be called a business. “If you’re not profitable, then you have no business calling [your brand] a business,” she says.