Tell us about yourself

Embracing new and innovative ideas of what design and sustainability can be, Neha Rao is an MA Textile and Design student at University of Arts (London) from Bombay, India. She did her Bachelors in Textile Design from NID (National Institute of Design). As she prepares for her final show Neha took the time to speak to us about her project, her ambitions for the future and what she has enjoyed the most about Chelsea.

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Please tell us about your work over the last year

It has been a life-altering experience. My perception of design and sustainability has changed a lot. It has moved from aesthetics towards core concepts and innovative development

Please tell us about your work for the final show

My project is about connecting emotional durability and textile colorants. I am working towards developing a printing technique with an unconventional material ‘Soot’, an air pollutant.

How do you collect the soot?

Soot is found anywhere there is incomplete combustion of oxygen while burning.  The pollutant is collected in a big filter installed in industrial chimneys. These filters can be cleaned from time to time and that’s my source of collecting soot for the project.

How do you use it?

This waste by product does come with dust particles which I then filter with a fine sieve and then printed on fabric or paper.

How did you get the idea to start using the soot productively rather than seeing it as merely dirt or a waste product ?

I was exposed to the material soot and the colouring properties it posses since childhood. In India, soot was mixed with oil used as an eyeliner and for even tattooing purposes in olden times. This material does have immense potential, hence I wanted to explore it further with my skills and understanding of textiles.

What was your greatest challenge in working towards the degree show?

I think my biggest challenge was design decision-making in the context of sustainability.

What do you see yourself doing after you graduate, what are your career ambitions?

After my course, I will be exhibiting my master’s project across different textile conferences and exhibitions. I also wish to apply for funding to promote and take my project further.

What have you enjoyed most about studying at Chelsea?

Working in the studio spaces and experimenting in the different textile and material workshop were the most enjoyable experiences at Chelsea as they stimulated my artistic and creative mind. The spaces allow time with oneself to help find your inner voice.

The main college building is very picturesque. The people are very warm and welcoming, and the staff at Chelsea are very helpful and co-operative. Interaction with peers helped me to look at my project with a different perspective as well as my exposure to a wide variety of different projects.

What have you most enjoyed about the area around Chelsea? Any tips?

Tate Britain has a free entry for Chelsea students, so whenever I had a creative block, I could easily seek inspiration which was just a few steps away.

Tell us about your career path

After completing my postgraduate studies in London. I started consulting on projects that lasted for six months, where I headed the product development with Reciprocal Ventures, a UK based start-up. I worked on the initial concepts for an innovative range of sustainable belts, which also included helping implement sustainable practices from the choice of material, system design, packaging, shaping the brand ideology and more. The other short projects included developing a range of prints for a UK based swimwear brand Lucana.

I was a part of designing and managing an exhibition at Story of Space, a design and art festival in Goa, India, which is held in the month of November every year. I have continued to work on my final degree show project ‘Soot’ back in India in parallel with these projects.

What work/projects/exhibitions have you got coming up?

I have a couple of collaborations with brands and designers happening and I am currently working with a  fellow designer on a submission for an artist grant. I am now expanding and diversifying the application of this colourant made from industrial waste from fabric to paper.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about doing your course? Any advice?

I would advise them to think of what they wish to achieve by undertaking the course. As it is very much self-directed, one should be able to manage work and time. Textile Design is a skill-orientated discipline so having a basic understanding of techniques is important. Chelsea’s faculty helps every student to achieve their full potential, so my advice to the newcomer’s is “work hard”.