Winning the Wool4School competition changed the course of this designer’s life

Photography by Natasha Killeen
Words by Jasmine Wallis

Simran Prasad’s school side hobby is now her career.

I call Simran Prasad on a very big day for the recent 18-year-old. The Aspiring Category Winner of the 2020 Wool4School competition tells me she had a tour of her new school, the Whitehouse Institute of Design, before heading to the studio to get shots taken for this feature. 

“It’s something you don’t experience in your everyday life,” the teenager laughs warmly down the phone. 

A story of tenacity and following your dreams, Simran’s final opportunity to enter the annual student design competition provided her with a chance to change the course of her life. 

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Excelling in maths and science classes in high school, Simran used fashion design as a hobby to relax when not focusing on her studies. 

Then in year eight, the Aldridge State High School student entered the Wool4School competition for the first time. 

“Since that year – except for year 10 – I’ve entered and always gotten to the top three in Queensland. So I set a goal last year to be like, if I don’t get any higher, I won’t pursue fashion and I’ll go into medicine. But then I won and I came to realise that I might have the skills and potential to survive in this industry.” 

First launched in Australia in 2012, the Wool4School design competition has so far had more than 100,000 students worldwide use wool for creative design. It encourages innovative thinking, and to fulfil the 2020 criteria, entries needed to involve flora and fauna, and incorporate fibres that are gentle on the Earth.

Simran’s winning entry was inspired by the diphylleia grayi, also known as the skeleton flower. Found in mid-spring in East Asia, the petals turn translucent in the rain, but Simran wasn’t only inspired by their enchanting beauty. Her winning outfit also pays tribute to K-Pop singer, Kim Jong-Hyun, who sadly took his own life in 2017.

“My favourite singer wrote a song about the flower. It represents the depression and struggle he had in his life and it’s one of my favourite songs. I could really empathise with what he was going through. It’s like a tribute, in a way.” 

Simran’s entry includes an 80 per cent Merino wool mesh top to symbolise being open. There are bold high-waist pleated trousers, as well as an undercoat made from wool that is water- and wind-resistant, and represents the vines and petals of a plant. 

Finally, there’s the twill weave flannel overcoat with an elegant open back, and a woollen scarf accessory to top it off. 

Not a bad feat for a year 12 student learning the ropes of Queensland’s new ATAR system all while dealing with the COVID pandemic. 

“It was something that I was passionate about and even if I didn’t win, it was a tribute to the singer that I adore. I just fell in love with the process and design,” Simran says. 

Simran is one of four winners from last year’s competition. The talented young designers included Bridgette Veneris from Kilbreda College in Mentone, Victoria, who submitted a piece inspired by the whale shark, taking out the Junior Category. 

Varna Shetty from St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls in Western Australia won the Mid Category with her designs inspired by the Pompeii worm, and year 11 student Vivian Ly won the Senior Category with her traditional Chinese dresses inspired by bamboo and rabbits. 

It’s clear the Wool4School competition is helping and platforming budding designers. As someone who is a keen entrant, I ask Simran what she enjoyed about the competition.

“What I loved the most was the challenge of meeting the design brief and criteria. The restriction of being at least 70 per cent wool means you have to find other ways to think outside of the box. 

“They teach you so much about the wool fibres, processes and scientific methods. As a science student I found that really interesting,” says Simran.  

It was through Wool4School that Simran learnt more about textile pollution and the importance of young designers changing the way the (currently unsustainable) fashion industry is run. 

“I never thought fashion would be a major industry to affect the health of our Earth, until I started to learn about the apparel production in this competition,” she says. 

“There are heaps of fabrics and materials out in the world already and plenty that can be eco-friendly, like wool. Instead of mass-producing polyester clothing, we should be thinking about the scientific research going into the production and processing of natural fibres.” 

Simran believes it’s her science background that meant she finally won in 2020, after years of being a runner up.

“In this final design, it was my scientific research skills that I think pushed my ideas through. If it wasn’t for researching the different fibres and flowers through my science background, I don’t think I would’ve been able to have that type of thinking process,” she says, proving you don’t have to be a pure creative to excel in the fashion and design world. 

I ask Simran what she would tell other students wanting to follow their fashion dreams. 

“My parents said I should get a job in STEM and I thought I’d go into medicine because I’m good at it. But I kept fashion design up and through the years, I improved and developed and I broke through the boundaries that were set for me,” she says passionately. 

“Other designers who think they’re not capable enough should give it a go, let your creativity run free and continue to try and prove others wrong.” 

To read more about the Wool4School design competition, including how to enter, head here. 

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