This season we’re reaching for knitwear with a little something extra, and that’s exactly what AISLING CAMPS does best. Armed with degrees in both engineering and knitwear design, the Trinidiadian-born, Brooklyn-based designer produces sweaters that break the mold; each silhouette is effortlessly sexy yet cozy, and undoubtedly chic.
Recently, we visited AISLING CAMPS’ studio to talk with the designer about building her namesake brand, where she finds inspiration and more. Keep reading to take a peek behind-the-scenes and get to know the creative force behind your next favorite rental.
RTR: How did you come to create your namesake brand?
AISLING CAMPS: It started after I returned to Trinidad. I had just completed my BA at FIT, fashion design with a specialization in knitwear. It was basically impossible to get a visa to work in fashion in NY so I decided to start my own thing back home. My friend and mentor Meiling, a Trinidadian designer, was having a pop-up that fall and she said “I heard you have some fascinating knit machines. Why don’t you make a couple pieces and sell them at my event?” The rest is history.
RTR: You were born in Trinidad and grew up in the Port of Spain before studying in the United States. How has your home influenced and inspired your designs?
AC: No matter what, even if I’m designing a chunky knit sweater, my stuff always seems beachy. I just can’t help it. My designs are heavily influenced by nature and Trinidad has some of the most beautiful untouched tropical jungles and beaches. There is always an interesting texture or color combination that sparks an idea.
RTR: You studied engineering at Columbia and then fashion with a specialization in knitwear at the Fashion Institute of Technology. What made you decide to switch? What drew you to knitwear specifically?
AC: I needed a creative outlet. I worked a couple years doing sustainable engineering consulting across the street from FIT and I was curious. It started off as a couple nights and weekend classes for fun, but then I jumped in all the way and went back to school full time.
The knitwear specialization was a purely practical decision. There were more knitwear positions available at the time and I wanted to put myself in the best position to get a job post-graduation. Also, it’s a very technical niche in fashion design — a lot of calculations and meticulous planning. That came to me easily, probably because of my engineering background. I guess my brain is wired that way.
RTR: How does your engineering background still play a role in your design process?
AC: I work with machines everyday. I use them to get the best designs, constantly optimizing and improving my prototypes. Understanding limitations on one machine and exploiting the benefits of another to perfect a technique. Constantly experimenting and testing. It’s exactly the same way of thinking for me as in engineering, but obviously with very different final products.
RTR: What’s been the most rewarding part of building your business throughout the years?
AC: The personal feedback from my customers. Recently I ran into someone at an event that was wearing a dress that I had personally made in my studio a couple weeks before. She looked great and she loved it and that’s the best feeling.
RTR: Describe the brand in 5 words or less.
AC: Regal, Minimalist, Caribbean, Modern
RTR: You’re known for your laid-back, yet elevated designs. Can you tell us more about your design process?
AC: I’m constantly researching and saving imagery, even when I’m not in design mode. For instance, I came across a fiber artist on Instagram and thought it could be translated into a great knit. Sometimes a painting that has an interesting combination of colors might spark something for a color story. Perhaps the gnarled and knotted trunk of an old tree would look good as a cable. It really comes from anywhere.
I also keep my eye on “fashion muses” on social media. I love to see how confident women put themselves together in their unique ways. It helps me to think “Would this person wear this?” or “What would be an interesting piece that she can layer into her existing wardrobe?”
Next step is a ton of research for unique yarns. I mostly use Italian yarn and I am constantly hunting for new textures from some of the best mills out there. Then you just have to play. Try knitting at different tensions, try different stitches, sometimes combining yarns until you find the answer. I sketch a bit as well but I tend to just dive in with the pattern making, as I can usually see the garment clearly in my head and I’m in a rush to execute.
RTR: Do you remember the first time you saw someone wearing AISLING CAMPS? What was that experience like?
AC: I felt incredibly proud, probably like what parents feel like when they see their kids excel. It’s very gratifying to see other people get your vision and also interesting to see how they style things in their own way.
RTR: We know you love them all, but if you had to pick, what are your must-rent AISLING CAMPS styles on RTR?
AC: Well I would say the Collarbone Sweater is the most versatile and I love the exposed seaming but I personally wear my Palm Sweaters all the time. Rent the Runway got a really fun colorful version of the style.
RTR: What are you inspired by right now? How have you been getting into the creative zone?
AC: Anything with interesting naturalistic style lines always gets my attention. I’ve been looking at a lot of great furniture recently. I need to decompress and be relaxed to get in the creative zone and come up with fun ideas. Sometimes I wake up first thing in the morning with a great idea and rush to get to the studio to start.
RTR: What’s most exciting to you about the upcoming fall season and people’s re-emergence into the fashion world? How do you envision your designs coming alive in this age?
AC: I think people are finally putting away their sweat pants and putting effort into their looks again. I’m so happy to see that. That being said, I think comfort has definitely become essential to the consumer over the last year. I think that knits lend themselves to not only being beautiful and interesting but they’re always comfortable. They also create considerably less waste than cut-and-sew designs. I think the future is definitely knit-heavy.
Rapid-Fire Questions –
First fashion memory: Style with Elsa Klensch
Personal fashion icon: Zoë Kravitz
Life-changing read: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Last thing you Googled: Honestly, tracking numbers for my product
A song you have on repeat: “Dragonball Durag” by Thundercat
Most memorable person you’ve dressed? Simone Biles
Who do you want to see in AISLING CAMPS? Zoë Kravitz
If you weren’t a designer, what would you do? Landscape architect or something with plants
Fall 2021 – can’t-miss trend? Crochet done right
What’s your power ‘fit? Crop top and dope high rise trousers and anything old Céline