Katie Walsh is a fashion label founder, designer and sustainability advocate. Raised in Dublin, she studied fashion design in London and worked for Alexander McQueen before launching her own labels: Poltock & Walsh and later, Bolzoni & Walsh, which she ran for eight years to great acclaim. Her designs were featured in Vogue and were worn by superstars including Rihanna, Kate Moss, Florence Welch, Emma Watson, Susie Lau, Sienna Miller and Alexa Chung. After taking a six year break to raise her children, she returned by founding THE RE-PETE PROJECT, a circular outerwear label. Increasingly alarmed by the catastrophic toll the industry has taken on the environment and coupled with her unease towards the burgeoning trend for ‘fast fashion’, Katie vowed to be part of the solution. She started a journey that took her into the heart of the circular economy where garments are designed to make a positive impact on the natural world. Principles of sustainability, zero-waste, protection and versatility became the foundation of THE RE-PETE PROJECT. Every single component of their signature anorak is made with recycled materials, right down to the thread and garments are manufactured in Europe by a properly paid team.
Please tell us about your career
I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was 11. I remember skipping classes at my very academic school in Dublin to use the art room to work on my portfolio so I could go to university in London. In Ireland you had to do an extra year after your leaving cert (A levels) to make a portfolio and there was no way I was doing that! I got into Kingston University Art & Design Foundation and then got onto their Fashion Design BA course. It started with 30 students and ended 3 years later with only 19 graduates! It was tough, but you felt ready for the industry that lay ahead.
My younger years were a whirlwind of excitement - from our first time in Vogue, a sponsored New York Fashion Week catwalk show, Rihanna wearing our clothes to perform on Times Square, being awarded the New Generation sponsorship at London Fashion Week, Kate Moss wearing us, Florence Welch winning her first Brit in P&W, getting our first cover…it was slightly mental! We were two young women with design degrees, learning on our feet how to run an international brand. I rarely saw the light of day as we worked so hard, but I loved it!
When I became a mum, I found keeping that work ethic with two young kids was hard, so I took a break. Design could wait, I'd never get those years back with my kids. 6 years on and with my kids firmly in school, I felt ready to return. But this time, I wanted to work sustainably, but I didn’t know yet what that meant. I went in with an open mind and researched, read, went to eco trade shows, environmental fashion expos and watched talks on youtube. When I came across Ellen MacArthur speaking about a Circular Economy, I thought, WOW, this really is a solution to production and consumption for a sustainable future. I started THE RE-PETE PROJECT in 2020 where principles of circularity, zero-waste, protection and versatility lie at its foundation. Having ran a fashion business before, I wrote a list of every step from design, scouring, production, packaging to distribution and asked myself how I could do this in a circular model, putting the environment first. I launched with a gender neutral anorak where one size fits all, sourced and made locally between the UK & EU, 100% made from single use plastic waste and 100% circular. Our hi-tech German engineered fabric is waterproof, windproof yet breathable. Our fastening handmade in London by household waste - 29 recycled bottles are brought into circulation per anorak. We are still pretty small but honoured to be asked to join the London Design Biennale at Somerset House this June for design innovation towards a sustainable future and excited to launch five new circular outerwear pieces including a trench and overcoat this spring! We are also in the process of becoming B-corp certified.
How has being Neurodivergent shaped the direction of your career?
When I was younger, I loved fashion because it was constantly evolving - the fast pace and high pressure all around creation was a perfect combination for my mind. I felt engaged and excited by what I was doing. Now after the shocking realisation about the role that the fashion industry plays on the destruction of the environment, I am passionate about being a part of the solution and developing outerwear that cleans up waste the more you create.
I worked to my strengths. Thinking three dimensionally, being able to draw well, being good with my hands, having a very active imagination and natural style leant itself perfectly to fashion design. Parts of my schooling were torture but when I finally made it to university and then onto my career I finally felt that nothing restricted me, I was free to run with ideas and execute them well.
Do you feel that your job/industry is a good fit for an ND woman?
Yes, and I think far more of my friends in the creative industry are Neurodivergent. When I was a kid, I knew only one other friend with dyslexia. I think from such an early age we work so hard in school to create little tricks to help us "keep up" that by the time we hit our working careers, we are pros at thinking outside the box and problem solving. We have been through so much already that we are not afraid to put ourselves out there, but this time we are doing it in something that comes naturally to us…using a well tuned creative mind!
What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?
Connect with your strengths and your passion. What brings you joy? I have met so many people in life that started down the conventional route because of what society or parents expect of them only to realise a decade or two later that they felt stuck and miserable in their career. I've seen people from marketing change to yoga teaching, an engineer in pharmaceuticals to woodwork, a journalist to an acupuncturist. Don't listen to the social norms or expectations, listen to yourself. What flows through you with ease? Go with it and flourish!