An interview with Fashion Week’s Graduate Fashion Designer of the Year

Posted: July 4, 2024

A man and woman posing together at an awards ceremony

“Studying fashion taught me to be free and push boundaries.” That’s how Rafael Azevedo, a second year Fashion & Textiles Level 3 student, sums up his experience at Leeds City College.

But graduating was just one of this year’s highlights for the 18 year old, as he was also recently crowned ‘Graduate Fashion Designer of the Year 2024’ at the prestigious Fashion Week Awards UK – an accolade he never dreamt of achieving when he first started out.

We chatted to Rafael about his transformational journey from fashion novice to fashion expert.

Tell us about yourself – what inspired your interest in fashion?

I have always been surrounded by the creative industry but, to be honest, fashion was actually a last-minute decision. At first I was set on doing architecture but ended up deciding that I wanted something more ‘hands on’. 

I was actually making my own prom outfit at the time and remember asking myself ‘‘how hard can fashion be?’. 

That was that!

Woman in red dress posing in front of a car.
Rafael’s course has helped to shape his individual design style

How did you hear about the Graduate Fashion Designer of the Year award?

I came across the Fashion Week Awards through Cheshire Fashion Week (CFW). In June 2023 I was applying for internships and managed to secure a work placement at CFW as a backstage coordinator.

This enabled me to meet a lot of designers and industry professionals, one of whom was Creative Director Claire Namukolo Raven. It turned out that Fashion Week Awards UK is organised and sponsored by CFW (along with Fashion Week Arts and Porsche Cheshire).

When I saw that they were looking for designer applications for their SS24 show, I was intrigued and contacted Claire who asked if I would be interested in submitting an application for the awards. I instantly said yes.

I had no clue I was going to win the Graduate Fashion Designer of the Year award on the day itself. It was a lovely surprise!

What did the competition process involve?

There were about 10 designers in each award category and we had to exhibit a portfolio of work that depicted our level of skill and creativity. The final result was a beautiful collection of clothing evoking the past and the present; contemporary cuts paired with time-old textiles and techniques such as stitching, weaving and crochet.

I am so pleased I am the graduate fashion designer of the year for 2024 – especially as I’m only 18 years of age and have just finished college. I still can’t believe I was up against people who exhibited at other fashion weeks and have studied university degrees in fashion.

What are you hoping to do next?

Providing that all goes well on results day (Thursday 15 August 2024), I plan to study for a degree at the University of the Arts London (UAL). 

Winning the award has made me so excited for the future, both at UAL and beyond, and to see what I will be able to make of myself within the next four years.

How do you think your course developed your design skills?

I used to be quite shy, but studying a fashion design course helped me to develop a voice and has taught me how to speak out.

I’ve always had a distinct creative style and, since coming to college, I’ve been able to be more free and to push boundaries. The result is that I now create work that I really enjoy without worrying about the opinions of others.

Tell us about someone who has made an impact on you

I’ve met so many people since starting my journey in fashion design that it’s hard to pick just one, but two designers who I’ve been lucky to work for – and be influenced by – are Eden Keshia and Elisa Trombatore.

I’m grateful for their constant support and kindness, as well as the skills I learnt during my time with them. Both designers have shown that the industry isn’t as scary as people make it out to be.

What advice would you give to others aspiring to work in fashion?

Pick something you really like and master it – try to be as good as you can.

The fashion industry can be tough and you need to be prepared to be sewing away until midnight – especially as a young creative (there’s a tendency for people to see you as ‘inexperienced’).

But accept those rejections and use them as motivation to succeed.

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A man and woman posing together at an awards ceremony

An interview with Fashion Week’s Graduate Fashion Designer of the Year

Posted: 4 July 2024

We chatted to Rafael about his transformational journey from fashion novice to fashion expert.

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