It’s not every day that a high school student gets the opportunity to meet a member of a royal family. But for 16-year-old Sophie Aylward from the town of Orange in New South Wales, Australia, she not only got to meet the Duchess of Cambridge but also had the opportunity to present a dress she had designed for the Duchess as part of The Woolmark Company’s Wool4Skool competition.
Wool4Skool is a fashion design competition which inspires the younger generation to consider a career in wool as they learn about the fibre’s natural, renewable and biodegradable properties. First launched in 2010 for Australian students in years 9 and 10, the competition grew to include years 7 and 8 the following year and in 2014 competition has been extended into Year 11.
Planned by teachers and textile experts for the Australian education curriculum, Wool4Skool offers a rewarding design experience without students actually having to make the garment, all whilst learning about Merino wool fabrics and the fibre. Plans to launch the competition in the United Kingdom are also under way.
After winning the Year 10 category, having her design turned into reality by leading Australian fashion designer Jonathan Ward and appearing in a magazine photo shoot, Sophie thought her time in the spotlight would subside.
However, when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced a tour to Australia, including a visit to the Sydney Royal Easter Show, the royal couple’s passion and dedication to not only agriculture but to the Australian wool industry gave Sophie’s winning design a new lease of life.
Modelled by Australian farm girl-turned-international model Stephanie Joy Field, the royal blue evening dress was presented to the Duchess of Cambridge during her visit to the Sheep and Fleece Pavilion.
“Meeting Kate was really a once in a life-time experience and something I will definitely always remember,” Sophie said after meeting The Duchess. “She seemed a really genuine person and was quite easy to talk to, which was lucky for me as I was rather nervous.
“I explained to her that the bodice was made from a wool devoré and that the skirt of the dress was made from a finely woven Merino wool fabric. I also told her about how the design came about and how I designed it for a specific occasion, which was her two-year wedding anniversary.
“I felt really lucky to have been the one chosen for this amazing experience and Stephanie looked amazing in the dress, it was really great to have her there with me on the day.”
To learn more about The Woolmark Company’s Wool4Skool competition visit www.wool4skool.com
In conversation with Livia Firth, the founder of sustainable brand consultancy Eco-Age