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Featured Women

Inspirational Women in Their Prime: Susan Hollingsworth

Susan Hollingsworth’s life has taken her to places most people only dream about. During her years living in Africa, Europe and Central Asia, she was introduced to the cultural practices of fiber art and the techniques employed to turn textile and fiber into visual stories. Susan’s vision of SuKaz Jackets began during her years living in Kazakhstan as a way to showcase the beauty of Kazakh freestyle embroidery. A subsequent move to London gave her the opportunity to bolster her endeavor with classes at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, and further study with a private tutor in pattern making. SuKaz wearable art jackets each tell a unique story, with threads of ancient traditions interwoven with flashes of contemporary elegance.

We asked Susan a few questions to get to know her better.

How Do You Describe What You Do?

In its heart and soul, every SuKaz jacket is a tangible reminder of cultural craft passed down from generation to generation, each with its own unique story to tell, custom to relate, or tradition to uphold. The name “SuKaz” is a combination of my name, Susan, and Kazakhstan, a Republic of the former Soviet Union. I lived there when I first dreamed the jackets up, then scoured the country to put together the team to bring them to life. Each is a labor of love between designer, fiber artist and seamstress; a reflection of countless hours spent haunting markets and bazaars from Africa to the Middle and Far East, points along the Silk Road of Central Asia, and the mother lode, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul.

The fiber art panel in each jacket is original, showcasing needle art techniques including embroidery, fabric origami, needle felting, ribbon work and appliqué. An individual panel can take up to 50 hours start to finish, not including the intensive training process each artisan undertakes to learn basic techniques. Buttons are often hand crafted – tatted, kilnforged (metal) or kiln-fired (glass), and the fabrics themselves might be embroidered, manipulated through smocking and folding, or hand woven on wooden looms. SuKaz jackets are each a one-of-a-kind guardian of its own exclusive treasures.

Do you have a mentor or person who influenced you early in your career?

Rowena Luke King is an instructor at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London and a private tutor expert in a wide range of fashion arts and skills. When we moved to London, Rowena tutored me in, among other things, pattern cutting and fashion design, and definitely was my greatest influence, and became my friend. Rowena not only guided me in the great unknown of “fashion,” she took me seriously and encouraged me through every
endeavor. She believed in me and what I was trying to achieve, and I will always be grateful to her.

When have you been most satisfied in your life?

Every satisfaction pales in the face of new satisfactions, so that’s a work in progress.

What is your favorite thing about your work?

That I have pulled together a global team of artists and craftsmen, some of whom I’ve never met, and though spanning divides of culture, language and physical distance, our work comes together to create something beautiful and meaningful.

What do you not like doing?

Putting things off.

What keeps you awake at night?

What’s inconsequential at 3 p.m. becomes the unthinkable at 3 a.m.

Describe your morning routine.

I take a four-mile walk every day, followed on weekdays by a Pilates class.

What’s on your nightstand/iPhone/iPad?

The Handmaid’s Tale in all forms – Kindle, Audiobooks, and Hulu series, The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke on Audiobooks – all 51 hours and 4 minutes of it, still waiting to dive in.

Name a product you can’t live without

Diet Coke in cans.

What is your super power or spirit animal?

Mischka, my 6-year old Chipin. I wrote a series of legendary verses about him magically transforming from a full-fledged wolf into the body of a chihuahua — a mystical Chi-wolf.

Do you have a quote, mantra or meditation that inspires you?

“It is never too late to be what you might have been,” George Eliot

Tell us something that might surprise people about you.

I speak Russian.

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