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Alumni Story: Nan Li, MA Fashion Womenswear, 2015

Portrait of Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl
Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl
Photographer: Mikey Asanin
After graduating from the RCA, Nan Li returned to Berlin to launch the label Namilia with fellow designer Emilia Pfohl. Their first collection ‘My Pussy, My Choice’ was selected for VFiles Runway in 2015 and was subsequently featured in Vogue Italy, LOVE Magazine, Dazed & Confused and i-D. Since then, their playful and provocative collections have debuted in runway shows each season at New York Fashion Week.

Why did you decide to come to the RCA?

I did a BA in Womenswear at Berlin University of the Arts. After this I did an internship in London at Christopher Kane and got to meet a lot of students that were doing an MA or BA in London. For me that just felt like the natural next step. For fashion, the RCA has such a huge reputation, alongside Central Saint Martins they are one of the best schools. When I had an interview at the RCA it just felt like it was the right place for me.

What was it like studying at the RCA?

It was tough, it was challenging, but it was definitely all worth it! You could feel that the tutors really cared about each student and they supported each student in their own individual way. You didn’t feel like you had to do something because it was the style of the school or what you were expected to do. I felt like you could really do what you wanted and explore your own design identity.

Namilia, Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl
Photographer: Anne Li
What was the mixture of students like?

I think that probably about half were from the UK and the other half international, mainly from Europe and Asia. It was really nice to meet people from different backgrounds culturally and also design-wise. Everyone has such a different approach to design, it was nice to exchange ideas. We were also a nice group, everyone was really friendly and open about their work. 

How did your practice develop while you were at the College?

The first year was really about questioning what you had already learnt on your BA. The tutors really wanted you to go back to your core and it almost felt like starting afresh. The second year was more about taking everything you had made in the first year and using that to find your true identity, and then work towards the final collection.

Namilia, Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl
Photographer: Anne Li

Do you have any particularly good memories?

The RCA bar! All in all it was a really nice time, the first year was so, so, so hard, at one point I didn’t know if I could keep going. But the programme changed a lot when I was there. Zowie Broach came in as the new Head of Programme and everyone was more motivated because there was a new teacher, which brought a new energy to the Programme.

Did you face any particular challenges at the RCA?

The RCA is one of the best schools in the world and there’s a reason for that. They expect the best from you, which in the beginning can be a bit challenging. They set the bar very high, which is good but that was a big challenge.

Namilia, Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl
Photographer: Anne Li

When leaving the RCA what were your thoughts for the future?

In the second year you’re asked to think about what you want to do after graduating. I knew that I wanted to set up my own brand with a friend, Emilia Pfohl, so it was agreed that we could almost use the second year as the first year of the company. This was really great because we worked on and approached things a bit differently. Now Emilia and I have our own brand, based in Berlin and are basically really busy working on building that.

How has your time at the RCA informed what you are doing now?

I think the RCA really opened up my view on everything, because there were so many people from so many different backgrounds. When you come from a smaller city, or a smaller university, your way of viewing things can be quite set and a bit narrow minded. Also, because the RCA is so close to industry and there are so many contacts and people coming in to talk to you about what’s going on, it’s a lot closer to the reality of the fashion industry studying there.

Enjoyed this story? Discover more alumni stories here.

Find out more about MA Fashion Womenswear and how to apply.