White T-shirt Stories is…
A series of candid conversations with creative and interesting people, uncovering their values and style.
Katherine Wildman is…
A photographer and wordsmith extraordinaire, based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
EON: Where is your favourite white t-shirt from and how long have you had it?
KW: The White T-Shirt Company, and I’ve had it for about a year. I love the quality and ease of care; even I can’t destroy it in the wash!
EON: A white t-shirt is a wardrobe essential. What other garments form part of your essential wardrobe?
KW: A black jacket, I have about six. I like a ballet pump, with everything. And I like a lot of black. It’s quite unusual for me to wear white, so if I do it’s got to be good because I feel more visible, you know?
My jewellery. I’ve got two bangles, one of which is from Egypt, the other is from Malta. I squished one inside the other on a Skype call to my friend Lily years ago and now I can’t separate them. I also wear a silver chain bracelet that I bought in Bali. It’s like a stress ball and I play with it incessantly.
EON: So you’re a copywriter…
KW: I am!
EON: You clearly love it. Why?
KW: Because I can’t believe I get paid to sit and write stuff. I can’t believe I get paid to be nosy. And I can’t quite believe that my working day is never the same.
I enjoy finding out the stories behind people’s businesses and what fires them. Many are still in awe of the fact that they can do what they love too!
EON: So you enjoy finding out the stories as well as the process of communicating that story to others…
KW: I enjoy the fact that I had a client in New York who said to me on Skype ‘Katherine, you don’t need to boil the ocean!’ Because you do. You need to know everything. You need to know everything from why the receptionist is doing that, to why a sales process is like this…
I’m doing some work for a big industrial plant in Berwick at the moment and it’s fascinating, because the resulting product is something that we all buy everyday.
I’m the daughter of an insurance underwriter. I like a hard hat and high vis. vest!
There’s always a story and it’s always about the people behind the business. Always.
EON: You have so much variety, do you have a particular industry you find more interesting than others?
KW: Everything’s interesting. I did a workshop this week with kids who are 15 and 16, and one of the projects they where working on was to do with social action and enterprise. One of their propositions was to end social isolation.
I also worked on a project in London recently that was aimed at tackling the problem of social isolation for the elderly. There’s a pioneering way of treating this called ‘self care’. People are encouraged to join classes and meet people as it’s been found that isolation leads to a wide range of emotional, as well as medical problems. If organisations can intervene beforehand, people stay well for longer.
So the kids I worked with are already on the ball for something that the NHS is instigating in a pioneering new program. When you tell them they’re doing something that the NHS is doing now and that they’re on the ball, their faces are just thrilled because they’ve got it right.
You walk round like a bit of an oracle really going ‘oh, I knew that was going to happen. I knew that was going to go turquoise. I knew it was going to be all about Rio this year…’ the insights I’m given fascinate me. No matter what the company I’m working with.
EON: So onto clothing… Other than the obvious, what function does clothing play in your life?
KW: When I try and explain tone of voice to clients, it’s the difference between arriving in a room with new people wearing a beautiful suit with your nails painted and your hair done and lipstick on, to arriving in the t-shirt that you’ve slept in and a pair of old jogging trousers.
You will give a different impression.
I work on the Fashion Communication BA at Northumbria University and I will sometimes buy slightly outrageous clothes that I wouldn’t wear in my life outside of university. It has to be trend-led pieces, mixed with the wardrobe basics, to give you an edge. I went to one session in jeans and a t-shirt and felt totally out of place - the students are so stylish, I check them out and find I take inspiration from them.
EON: How has your style evolved since you were a teenager?
KW: I was always a jeans and black t-shirt person. And a Marks and Spencer’s long cardigan. That was my uniform for years. Then I had my kids quite young and I think I lost myself having two kids quite close together. Your shape changes and your priorities change and everything’s got to be wipe clean. If you could have put me in a tablecloth I would have worn it. As long as it was a wipe clean one that would have been fine!
Then I lived in Singapore for a couple of years and really struggled because I find summer clothes quite hard. I’m much happier once it gets cold and I can do that whole layering thing.
So as I’ve got older and the kids are older – I’m rediscovering my own style. I’m much bolder.
I look at myself now and I look like the me from university, before I got married and had kids. It’s not a negative thing as I’m much happier in myself and I think my clothing is getting bolder to reflect that.
EON: Today, our consumptions levels have hit a peak. What are your thoughts on that?
KW: Being a single mum with a limited budget, I am more careful today than I have been in the past.
I try not to shop at Primark. Only when I’m skint, and there are weeks when I’m skint and my kids need clothes or Halloween costumes and then I go to Primark. I just do and it’s not something that I’m proud of and I try not to do it. By the same token, I will happily shop at charity shops.
When I go up to North Berwick – it’s full of golfers - I go to the charity shops and buy all the cashmere jumpers. So I have a great selection of woolly jumpers, all in various states of disrepair!
I love a charity shop. I think if something’s managed to make its way back onto the rails it’s obviously a decent piece of kit.
EON: How do you see our consumption habits, of clothing, evolving in the future?
KW: I think it depends on the economy. If you’ve got people who are trying to clothe kids on very little money, Primark is always going to survive. It’s often not a question of popping into town and riffling through the charity shops, because the cost of the journey into town is almost prohibitive to the buying of the clothes once you get there. So if you can go to Primark and clothe your kids in that one day – you’re going to do it.
I’m much more aware, since I’ve been a single parent, of how to spend money and where to spend money. In the past it was never even an issue, it wasn’t something that touched my consciousness.
So I’m a lot more careful in what I buy. I used to go in and just spend £70 on clothes for fun, whereas I don’t do that now. I don’t do it. I’m a lot more careful about clothes.
EON: I’ve seen you teach young people and you have a way of creating a comfortable and open environment for communication. What makes you comfortable in an environment?
KW: I think I very rarely feel uncomfortable. But I used to be a very shy teenager, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. What’s changed? I watched people who were good with people.
If you feel uncomfortable in a space, ask somebody a question.
If you’re at a party or if you’re at a wedding, ask a question.
Don’t wait to be asked. It gets the conversation going.
EON: If you could lend your voice to any company – who would it be?
KW: Somebody really bizarre, like Aston Martin.
EON: Are they bizarre?
KW: I think that’s bizarre! It’s a bizarre thing for a woman to choose.
Or possibly a company like Yorkshire tea, being a Yorkshire girl…
Or this place, the Tyneside cinema! Because they’ve worked so hard to make a beautiful and interesting space accessible to everybody. People can come in with their babies or just for a cup of tea and you get this lovely mix of people. The atmosphere is fabulous. I think it’s a very cosmopolitan space.
Interview conducted [July 2016] and editing for post by Eleanor O'Neill www.study34.co.uk