Welcome back to our interview series “Cabinet Sessions” where we sit down to chat with designers, artists, and craftspeople. We explore the nature of creativity, ways in which people have found their niche, and ideas for the future. Join the conversation here on the Makers Cabinet Journal.
Maddy Madison is a textiles brand born out of a desire to express some of the quieter issues we face as a society. Maddy’s fervent passion for details and the crossover between analogue craft from her experience as a weaver with the digital aspect of her illustration for print has been an inspiration to the Makers Cabinet team.
Read our interview for a journey into the world of someone who is revitalising age-old designs through a progressive and aesthetically engaging lens.
Interview by Jake Pearce
Hi Maddy, Thanks for joining us today all the way from Singapore. Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
Well, I’m Madison or Maddy, I create silk bandanas featuring designs themed around gender equality, environmental conservation, and other social issues. I call the project ‘Silent Protest,’ and hope it inspires people to use everyday clothing as a way to advocate change.
How does someone advocate change with fabric and print?
Well at first I considered making scarfs but bandanas have a bit more cultural meaning attached to them. They’re often associated with gangs or criminality and have always had strong masculine overtones to them.
I wanted to play with that idea, weaving this iconic style that everyone recognises in with a motif that I call “Pussy Paisley” to challenge conventional views of gender and sexuality with my designs.
Pussy Paisley seems like the perfect way to do that. So when creating your bandanas, what’s your process, start to finish?
I normally start with a theme or broad idea, then research and list possible elements that I could include. The aim is to have each design appear to be a classic bandana from far away but when you get up close, it’s not what you expect. I’ll normally spend some time looking at vintage American bandanas and reference the position and placement of all the design elements. I’m drawn to old sailor tattoos artist like Sailor Jerry. Russian criminal tattoos are also interesting research subjects. I love that there’s hidden meaning that you can decode if you know what to look for.
So what brought you to where you are and what you’re doing today?
Well, I grew up in Singapore, went to school in Australia, and then moved to London, so you could say I’m from a few places. Growing up, I went to quite an academically focussed school, so I didn’t know that textiles was something you could study and make a career out of. But in the end, I decided to come to London to study Textile Design at Chelsea College of Art. My mums an interior designer and textiles are a big part of her work, so I’d always been exposed to it without really realising it. At Chelsea, I specialised in weave predominantly but after my first year, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that didn’t just sit solely within the fashion space. I was back in Singapore that summer without much to do and my dad was printing some of his photography onto fabric. I thought “hey I can do that” and started designing a bandana.
So both your parents work in creative fields, have you always been quite a creative person?
Yeah definitely, I’ve always loved to illustrate and draw, Art was always my thing at school.
What would you say is your main area of expertise?
I’ve had the opportunity to explore a lot of different disciplines but I wouldn’t call myself an expert in any. Even when studying weave I was more focussed on fine art, installation style of weaving, not super technical fabric weaving. Most of the design I do at the moment is illustration, whether it’s for bandanas or other projects.
Tell me about your other projects. What do you do when you’re not designing bandanas?
I’m always working on a few things, my friend and I are building a platform to promote independent, female-led brands, we’re constantly searching for new creatives to showcase on our website thepopupgirls.shop. During the lockdown period, we were doing a virtual road trip through the designers, but now we’ve just opened a pop-up shop in Hackney. We’re continuing to build the online side of the project and building relationships with designers we admire.
Your designs focus on serious social issues and you donate a portion of all profits to relevant charities. Why have you chosen to design something that’s not just aesthetically desirable?
‘Silent Protest’ has always been a passion project for me. It started because I wanted to have a break from weaving and have a go at printed textiles. I use my work to help spread an important message. There’s been a massive rise in creativity for change in past years, even large brands like Dior have released t-shirts, donating 100% of profits to charity. Fashion is part of our everyday lives, so it’s the perfect way to support something you believe in. Fashion design is always going to be aesthetically focussed but why not add meaning to a garment too? Also, people are buying a lot smarter now, sometimes it’s not enough to make something that’s just pretty.
Are there any instances where companies shouldn’t attempt to get involved in social progress issues?
Generally, if a company or individual has a platform to influence people and they choose to, then that’s great. If they haven’t been a vocal supporter in the past, that shouldn’t stop them; a step in the right direction is always good, even if it’s a little step. It has to be genuine though. when companies market products to supporters of a social movement just to make money, that’s not ok. It’s hard to know who to believe sometimes, some large brands will preach that they’re sustainable when it’s actually untrue.
How can we do our part to tackle these issues, as consumers?
Shop small when you can, and support independent businesses and brands. Just take some time and learn about what you’re buying before you buy it. It’s definitely a privilege to be able to abstain from fast fashion but if we can educate people on why it’s important to buy items that have more meaning to them.
As designers, what is our part in social progression? Do we have a moral obligation to drive social progress with our work?
I see it as a personal choice. The socially focussed work done by designers, this year, in particular, has been amazing but I wouldn’t say designers have a particular obligation. If you’re aware of the issues it’s hard to not be motivated to do something. With people making face masks at home and supporting their communities where’ve they can, it restores your faith in humanity. I think everyone has a way to do their part, whether it’s educating their friends and family or just being mindful of what they buy and what they share on their social media.
Will fast fashion be a thing of the past 10 years from now?
I definitely see recycled fabrics and new textiles playing a big part, There’s a lot of scientific discoveries happening every year in the world of textiles and these will become cheaper and more accessible as time goes on. Other than that I see current trends continuing with consumers supporting small producers and focussing on sustainability.
And what about you? What are your aspirations for the future? is there anything you’re working on at the moment
I really want to start collaborating with more artists, it’s the best way to support each other and you get to work with someone you admire. I’m working with an amazing ceramicist named Hani from Gashtrays at the moment. I definitely want to continue working with charities; I’ve got some new designs releasing soon. One is in aid of the butterfly foundation and another focussed on saving the bees. The Pop Up Girls is still growing so hopefully by the end of the year we’ll have a physical space to call our own.
Sounds like there are some exciting things on the horizon, we can’t wait to see them. It’s been great speaking with you Maddy, let’s finish off with some quick-fire questions.
Who’s your favourite designer/maker/creative at the moment?
Ooh that’s hard, I don’t think I can pick just one. Shoopy Studio who I mentioned before, she makes ceramics and upcycled chairs. Also, this amazing illustrator named Alice Bloomfield who recently created really a cool music video that I’m a bit obsessed with.
Do you have a favourite tool? pencil/Sewing machine/notepad/application?
My iPad, I’m on it every day and recently got an apple pencil which I highly recommend. I was using a graphics tablet before which was a bit of a faff to use. After sketching I work on Illustrator so I have everything saved as vector files just in case I want to make bandana bed sheets or something large in the future.
Bandana bedsheets, we’d buy a set. Where can people find your work and more about you?
Usually, I'm in Netil Market in London Fields but I announce on my Instagram where I’m gonna pop up each week. Online there’s my website and Instagram, I also sell my scarves through Clare Gallery in Sydney.
Thank you for joining us in our second Cabinet Session. For makers Cabinet, the process of finding an outlet for your creativity is unendingly interesting and is unique to each individual. We hope that reading about Maddy has helped to inspire your creativity!