When Brixton teenager Andrea Loaiza Giraldo was crowned winner at the 2014 Fashion Futures Final at London Fashion Week in September she was stunned.
“It was a big shock when I heard my name,” says Andrea as we meet for a coffee in one of Brixton’s many coffee bars. “I didn’t think I’d win, I thought maybe I’d be one of the runners-up.”
But win she did, and her cobalt blue coat with quilted PVC sleeves and oversized hood was praised by the judges for its ‘beautiful manufacture and commercial appeal.’ “I had never made a coat before so I thought I would challenge myself, and that I would definitely learn a lot from it. I don’t regret my decision at all,” Andrea beams.
The inspiration behind the striking garment was a design seen on a tomb stone in the Victoria & Albert Museum. “It is something that I would wear myself, but not on an everyday basis,” she explains, “I would wear it on days when I want to be different and stand out.” Organised by the charity Fashion Awareness Direct, the 2014 Fashion Futures Final featured clothing designs by 23 teenagers from London and Manchester. Andrea, a 6th Form student who splits her schooling between La Retraite Sixth Form and Bishop Thomas Grant School, was introduced to the competition by her Textiles teacher. Initially, she thought it was only a fashion course, and realised it was actually competition only when she submitted her research and learnt that she was one of the finalists.
“Before this competition, I knew that I wanted to go into fashion but now, after I actually won it, I know 100% that this is what I want to do!” exclaims Andrea. “I have never done anything like this before where you get to do everything yourself. It was an amazing experience.”
But with a father who worked as a pattern setter and cutter in a clothing factory in Columbia where he was born, and several aunts who make their own clothes, it would seem fashion was always an inevitable career path for Andrea, 18. “My family is really excited and can’t believe that I won“, she laughs, scarcely believing it herself.
“When I got back to school the other students said ‘wow you’re famous now’, but it hasn’t really changed anything. I am still the same person,” says Andrea with a slight shake of her long dark hair. And with exams and crucial university decisions looming on the not too distant horizon, there is no time for any fashion diva notions.
“The start of the year was so crazy with London Fashion Week, but I now have to keep the balance with my other subjects”, explains the young designer.”I am doing four subjects so I can’t just focus on design; Business and French at Bishop Thomas Grant and Spanish and Textiles at La Retraite. The school gets me a minicab to go between the two venues, which good otherwise I would be late for class all the time!” Proving wise beyond her years, Andrea is very single minded about her priorities: running her own design business creating unique, one-off garments, after finishing university. “Hopefully in the future you will see my name and I will be inviting you to my shows,” she smiles.
In order to get there, she is keen not to get side-tracked by any extra-curricular activities that may hamper her chances. Such as going out clubbing. “I haven’t actually been out to any clubs yet. I don’t want to burn myself out now I want to focus on my studies so I can have good grades, otherwise what I am I going to be doing in the future?”, she says, shrugging her shoulders. “Later, when I have that degree, I can really go out and enjoy myself. Once I have my career on track, then I will be able to relax!”
Andrea admits that she is often seen as the sensible one by her friends. “My teachers and my friends tell me that I act like such an old lady sometimes because I sometimes talk to my friends like I’m their mother!” she laughs.
As a single child very close to her own Colombian-born parents, she explains her maturity on the absence of someone to act her own age with at home. “I speak Spanish with my parents, and even though I was born in London, I sound like I just arrived from Colombia, I speak Spanish with a Colombian accent,”she says with a broad smile.
Before she leaves for her weekly Zumba class at the Brixton Rec, Andrea divulges a Colombian style secret. “You can tell Latin Americans by the way they dress, they prefer very tight and low cut tops – that’s just how we are!” There’s another laugh. She continues, “But, I’m not your typical Latino because I prefer clothes a bit looser, however I do love to wear Colombian jeans; they are stretchy, fit all sizes and the pattern they use makes sure there is ample space for your behind and believe me – those jeans do wonders for your behind!”