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Posted 19.10.17

Aliens & exoskeletons at The World of WearableArt finals

By Kat Peberdy


The World of WearableArt is a renowned international design competition that attracts hundreds of entries from around the world. Finalists compete for prize money and internships with leading creative companies such as WETA Workshop.

BA (Hons) Costume Production & Associated Crafts student Sara Whetherly is the second student in as many years to reach the final of this prestigious competition, here she reports back on her experience...

Last September, I made the decision to enter the World of Wearable Art competition and it was the best decision I’ve made in my life.

With this being my first real attempt at working with materials like EVA foam and latex, I had a lot to learn but they were months well spent as I enjoyed all of it!

I loved the process so much but it wouldn’t have been possible without my tutor, Kate Holliday. She has an immense amount of knowledge and experience working with unusual materials but also knows that techniques and materials are always changing and isn’t afraid to try new things.

Sara's design Exuvia Prodigium. Credit: Dom Moore

She was such a huge inspiration to me and taught me to throw myself into the deep end and just try new things. Her approach was, it might not work but you’ll never know if you don’t try. Failing is a huge part of learning and shouldn’t be feared but embraced which has completely changed my approach to how I go about my creative process.

Another huge part of my costume making experience was Martin Ellison, the technician in the woodwork studio. He’s incredible at what he does and so helpful and accommodating, I took over the fume-room for weeks on end and claimed the downdraft bench as my own. The tutors and technicians at the college are amazing.

Costumes from the I Want More & More collection by Yi-Ting Hsieh, Yi-Ting Lai & Pei-Chen Liao, Shih Chien University Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Entering the competition was so nerve-wracking as I was putting my work out there for a panel of professionals to judge and criticise and determine whether or not it was worthy of the next round. I clearly did something right as I made it through to the next round, in New Zealand!

I didn’t have long to get it ready to be shipped, I had to finish off all the fastenings so that they’d be robust enough to survive any rigorous testing and label everything before boxing it all up ready to go. I was writing out labels by hand, which was taking me hours when another student suggested I try the Fab Lab. They laser cut some labels for me there and then, which saved me hours of time and looked so professional.

BA (Hons) Costume Production & Associated Crafts students have access to an open studio and industry standard equipment

Waiting for the results for the final round was the longest few months of my life! My costume was now almost 12,000 miles away and I had no idea what to expect. But I found myself on holiday in Prague, sitting up in the early hours of the morning refreshing my emails until the “Congratulations” email came through and I knew I was on my way to New Zealand.

It was the longest distance I’ve ever travelled and just when I thought I was ready to collapse from exhaustion we arrived in Wellington, New Zealand to find WOW stuff everywhere! As we stepped off the plane, they had a selection of entries from previous years in arrivals and I got such a rush of excitement. There were posters all over the airport, on the sides of taxis, in shop windows and the streets were lined with banners attached to every lamppost.

The Sailor Suit, part of Sara Whetherly's final year collection

We spent the next few days recovering from jetlag and discovering what was on offer in Wellington and the surrounding areas, it was the most inviting place I’ve ever been to.

Then came the preview night of the competition. I was so nervous, it was the first time I would see my costume after I sent it off months beforehand. The arena holds up to 3,700 people, I knew this was a lot but the sheer scale of it didn’t hit me until the moment I walked in for the first time and saw it for myself.

The moment I saw my costume on stage, it was like a cliché where everything else around me disappeared. It was the most surreal and intense experience, I burst into tears when my creature crept out of the wings and made its way to centre stage, stopping to interact with the set and performers.

Sara's Exuvia Prodigium on stage during the WOW competition. Credit: World of WearableArt Ltd

The following day, there was a Designer Day which was an opportunity for all the designers to meet each other as well as listening to some keynote speakers, have lunch with the Mayor of Wellington and take part in some workshops.

"I met people from all around the world with such varied backgrounds, it was a real eye-opener as to just how many different creatives paths are out there."

The workshops were brilliant, I attended a hair punching workshop with WETA Workshop using silicone and a Worbla workshop with designer Miodrag Guberinic. I’ve worked with these materials before but it was interesting to see how many techniques there are and what other people have made from it. 

WETA Workshop are responsible for the production of props and costumes for films including Lord of the Rings

I booked a place on the WETA Workshop tour while in New Zealand, I’ve always been a fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit so seeing the original costumes and props up close was mind-blowing.

At the end of the tour Sir Richard Taylor, the CEO of WETA and judge for WOW, turned up and spoke to the group. He asked if anyone was visiting for the competition and our tour guide told him I was one of the designers. He wished me luck and said he was excited to see my costume on stage - I was star struck!

Then Friday came along, the day I’d been waiting for, awards night! At this point, I was so pleased to be a part of this whole experience, any award would just be the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, I didn’t win anything but I’d already gained so much from the trip that it didn’t matter, I'm excited to see where this may lead.