GIRL POWER! Interview with the winners of ITS International Talent Support Awards 2018

ITS International Talent Support is back with a bang, awarding the best talents coming from all over the world. And the winners of this year are all women! We asked them 3 questions to discover their stories and something more about their bold vision of fashion design.

16 years of passion, of hard work and dedication trying to discover, launch and support the best new talents of fashion design. More then a simple contest, ITS is a mission, created and developed by Barbara Franchin,  heart and soul of this project and guardian angel of all the young designers involved. 

After a year of forced stop, due to the lack of resources, Barbara could finally do what she does best: launghing new talents on a rocket ship to stardom.

Barbara Franchin, founder of ITS International Talent Support

The 16th edition, with the final event held in Trieste last 27 June, seen 30 finalists selected from over 900 candidates from all around the globe, among whom a jury formed by leading fashion and accessory designers, insiders, journalists and influencers has chosen the winners of significant prizes, both in terms of money and prestige.
The jury of ITS International Talent Support Awards 2018

Also if all the finalists were exceptionally gifted, the surprise of this edition is that all the winners are women, sign that the female talent is becoming even more appreciated. Because, despite of fashion world is always paladin against any kind of discrimination, a tendency to have women among the big names of fashion design is a relatively new thing, even though the majority of fashion design students and employees are women. 

Fortunately this contest, giving importance to the innovative ideas that are of course genderless, is moving in the right direction to launch and support the female as the male talent, overcoming the stereotyped concept that the best designers are always men.

All the finalists of ITS International Talent Support Awards 2018 with Barbara Franchin

The winners of ITS Awards are Eleanor McDonald, Tolu Coker, Tingting Zhang, Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena, Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen and Eliana Zurlo. We asked to five of them a short interview, with three questions for each designer, to discover their world and something else of their experience at ITS International Talent Support Awards.


Eleanor McDonald is a London-based designer coming from Central Saint Martins School, who surprised everyone with the apparent simplicity of her collection, conquiring the favor of the jury for the careful construction of her garments and the clean silhouettes very balanced and perfectly proportioned. 

These are the reasons why she won the "ITS Award by Allianz", the major granting of the competition with a win of € 15000 and the possibility to have a 12-months mentorship and showcase her next capsule collection at Pitti Uomo in January 2019. She won also the "Tomorrow Award", with a space in the Paris Tomorrow Showroom, and the "CNMI Award", a prize of € 5000 offered by Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana.

Eleanor McDonald, winner of the "ITS Award by Allianz"

How much is important for you the be the winner of a so important fashion contest like ITS Awards? Can you describe your experience?

Winning the ITS Award is life changing.  The support for my work at was overwhelming and I am so grateful to everyone that believed what I am doing. Starting my own brand has always been the end goal, I had thought I would need to wait for a few years and come to it after working for a larger brand, but now I can go at it straight away!

Collection by Eleanor McDonald

Your collection can appear simple at first sight, instead is curated in every single detail. What was the inspiration?

I believe that fundamentally fashion is about the garments themselves.  How something feels to wear, and how it functions for the wearer is of the utmost importance to me, and I think this can be lost sometimes in contemporary fashion.  I always start by looking at documentary photography.  I love that it captures people in their daily lives and how their clothes hang and drape in the most interesting ways.  To me, it is all about the clothes, there is no abstract concept behind what I do.

Have you some projects for the near future?

I am mainly focusing on my next collection at the moment, which will be shown at Pitti Uomo in January next year.  I am also exploring some collaborative projects.  I like the idea of collaboration as it allows me to see how my ideas work in a new context.
Outfit by Eleanor McDonald


Tolu Coker, coming from Central Saint Martins, is strictly anchored to reality using a vivid imagination and unbridled creativity. Her collection plays with the stereotypes of society and tells a story elevating the speech against discriminations into a broader vision of cultural identity. 

She won the "Diesel Award", consisting in a fully-refunded internship at Diesel, the "Vogue Talents Special Mention", with the possibility to appear in th Vogue Talents website and in the supplement of Vogue Italia, and the "ITS time for coffee", a special award born by the collaboration between Swatch and Illy Caffè consisting in a 3-months experience in Shanghai to give life to a watch & cup artistic project.
Tolu Coker

What is the inspiration of your so strong collection presented at ITS Awards?

The collection was a continuation of an actual  documentary I made, documenting the lives of 4 black-heritage individuals in both London and Paris. For me, authenticity is so important, so I always base my work around real people and real stories and it enables people to connect to it in a very intimate way. 

I wanted to deconstruct the cultural construction and stereotypes attached to the idea of "Blackness", and show people with black heritage as the unique individuals they are. I wanted to use my collection as a space for them to tell their own stories and use their own voices. I was born in Britain but my parents were Nigerian by birth, so my identity is so much more complexed than a skin tone. I wanted to explore Diasporic identity and what is means or how it is to navigate through society with a mixture of cultures.

Collection by Tolu Coker

This is how a lot of the prints and silhouettes in the collection came about - I looked at their childhood and family photos, the clothes they wore, the spaces they socialised in and the stories they shared - all to get a real feel of whom they were and show the world some of their vulnerability and the depth of history behind each of them. 

Denim was such a key material because it's worn through all walks of life and it takes on the identity of its wearer, so it was a natural fit for the collection in telling this story of identity. I also used deadstock, waste and donated fabrics, and old clothing to address the issue of sustainable design and upcycling. That's where a lot of the lace and leather elements came into the collection. 

Deconstruction was a key theme both literally and figuratively so most materials were deconstructed and reconstructed to reveal new textures and give them new identities (such as lace in the form of an illustration and denim which appears like a shaggy fur). 

I took inspiration from my own childhood and family history too - a lot of the colours are inspired by my father's photos (he was a photo journalist and has an incredible archive of his involvement and experiences in social activism). There definitely is a strong commentary on the perception of wealth and luxury throughout the collection. A lot of people have referred to it as "street-couture". I find that really interesting.

Collection by Tolu Coker

How much is important the relationship between fashion and society for you?

So important. Fashion couldn't exist without society, its compulsory to relate the two. Clothing is literally your second skin and its important that it's representative of not just society, but the individuals within in. Otherwise what you're creating is false packaging. Branding. Masks. Fashion is a commentary on society and in many ways we're able to get a snapshot of history through looking at it. 

I say a snapshot because I think historically, fashion and art within the Western world has been elitist and has erased a lot of subculture and real elements and people within society. Perhaps its due to censorship, political agendas, wanting things to appear prettier, or simply due to a lack of value for certain people or circumstances. I feel a responsibility as a designer to give a space to those social outsiders within the community, and record them as an important part of society too. It's at the core of what I do.

Details of the collection by Tolu Coker

What are your best skills and personal characteristics?

I'm a very passionate person about everything I do and I take genuine care and pride in not only my work, but my connections and relations to people. I'm a very observant person and I tend to keep record of things - whether mental or physical. My design and creation is the physical record. I have a good memory and I'm very dedicated to getting things right and making things work. I'm also very daring - I like taking risks, they're always a learning curve. I think my love for story-telling is from a combination of all these things.
Outfit by Tolu Coker


Tingting Zhang, from Royal College of Art, transformed virtual data into something real, knitted patterns with which she created an incredibly creative collection of hats. 

In the path to connect reality with virtual world, she made also a great research and experimentation to overcome the traditional techniques of knit and hat making, thing that earned the winning of the "OTB Award", given also to the design duo Chopova & Lowena, consisting in a cash prize of € 10000 and an intership in one of the OTB Group brands.

Tingting Zhang, winner of "OTB Award"

Your headpieces are connected with the identity of people, virtual or not. Can you explain something more? 

Since we entered the information era, iPhone, iCloud, iTunes,i…..Our heads are in the "cloud", consciously or unconsciously we consume, share and storage the data, like water droplets, soon all data around our heads accumulate into a small "cloud" of us. We share droplets, we "rain", we accumulate, and we meet other little "cloud". We got a chance to speak and show, without boundaries and constraints. 

As a material based designer and artist, at the same time someone growing up switching in between online and offline, I started a journey of exploring if I could create an intermedia to merge the both worlds, and invite people to join, neither offline or online, but somewhere in between or in combination of both worlds, to see what will happen, what people will think. 

Collection of hats by Tingting Zhang

I built up a system that converts a series of sound data represented our nowadays life (it can be any data also) into digital knitted patterns to make a collection of hats since hats are always symbolic representation of identity. Through its application, I intend to give hats a new aesthetics as they are from "virtual world", but at the same time keep the elementary facts of a hat in daily wear. They are novelty, also rooted in everyday life. 

I expanded it into a world full of hats as a new form of data storage, soft cotton cloud representing the cloud computing and bubbles as our virtual identity, I call it "i cloudcuckooland". Visitors completing the project by wearing, touching and playing with all the hats in this land, their curiosity and interactions, their thinkings and questions gave the spirt flow and created precious experiences for each other. For me, they are the fantastic i cloudcuckoolander. 

The project "i cloudcuckooland" by Tingting Zhang

If you were a child, what would you like to be when you grow up?

Hahahah I love this question! If I were a child, I want to be become a pilot! But it is still in my plan even I am not a kid anymore.

What are the characteristics that every good designer should have?
It could be very different for different person! For me I think is the respect and the caring of his or her audience. (Not to kiss the ass of every potential customer). And of course, the curiosity of the world and the strong will of delivering the creativity even facing great challenge!
Hats by Tingting Zhang


Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen, a 28-years-old Finnish designer from Aalto University, restored an ideaof high craftsmanship and old-time elegance a deconstruction and reconstruction of 19th century fashion elements, mixing feminine and masculine to build an image aristocratic and modern at the same time. 

Her particularly artistic approach to design process and the visual project presented for this competition deserve the winning of the "Swatch Award" for the category ITS Artwork, consisting in a cash prize of € 10000 and a 6-months paid experience at Swatch Lab in Zurich.

Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen, winner of "Swatch Award" in the category ITS Artwork

Your collection is incredibly rich of historical references. How much is important the past for you?

I think it is difficult to design something new without refering to something that has already been made. I think it’s possible to find inspiration from any decade or century. The references for my clothing is a mix from recent decades and more distant times.

The collection by Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen, winner of "Swatch Award" at ITS International Talent Support Awards 2018 in the category ITS Artwork

How do you see the future of fashion design?

More sustainable and slower pace. More quality than quantity. Traditional handcraft ways for making clothes. At least that is what I want to express in my work.

Speaking about sustainability, is important for you?

It is important to understand your own values and work according to them. In that way you can enjoy the creating process the most.
Outfit by Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen


Eliana Zurlo, from University of the Arts London, uses her work trying to improve the health condition of people through a functional design which conjugates a concept of interchangeability with high technical performances and a vivid look. 

That's why she was awarded with the "Tomorrow Special Award", a chance to work with professional designers and showcase her works in the Tomorrow ateliers in China and Italy.

Shoes by Eliana Zurlo, winner of "Tomorrow Special Award"

How was the experience at ITS Awards?

The experience on ITS 2018 was amazing, left me speechless. I would never forget the opportunity they gave us to show our projects and to encourage us to believe in what we do. I will be forever grateful to Barbara and her team.

Shoes by Eliana Zurlo

Your shoes are designed to produce beneficial effects on health and mood of people. How?

Nowadays, people live a more sedentary lifestyle that contributes to the overweight problem. According to the British health foundation around 39% of UK adults – that’s around 20 million people are failing to meet Government recommendations for physical activity. Physical exercise is one of the best weight loss methods, but sometimes it is difficult to permanently change lifestyle because of a perceived lack of enjoyment or motivation, and this can lead to low mood and inaccurate perception of weight.

Shoes by Eliana Zurlo
The main idea of the project is to work against these difficulties through playful activities, looking to increase and motivate the participation of individuals in physical activity, thereby encouraging them to become increasingly aware of the health benefits.

What are the futuristic materials you'd like to use and how much is important experimentation in accessory design?
For my future project I would like to use bioplastics but for that I would need a lot of experimentation. I think this is the key on the development of a project where you can discover new things or more ways to use the material you chose and improve the process.

Project by Eliana Zurlo