Please upgrade your browser

For the best experience, you should upgrade your browser. Visit our accessibility page to view a list of supported browsers along with links to download the latest version.

Amy Winters

PhD Textiles, 2013–

What were you doing before you started studying at the RCA?

I’m in my final year and have my viva coming up in a couple of months, so that feels like a long time ago! I did my training in Theatre Design at Central Saint Martins and then I started a wearable technology business, so I was working for about five or six years before I came to the RCA. I’d reached a point in my career where I wanted to reframe what I was doing.

The only feedback I’d get was from customers or the press, and it was always one-sided. I wanted to hear different viewpoints and to test out ideas, more than just customer-based work. I applied to the RCA for that critical input, as well as to develop my own materials. Another motivation was that I was dealing with a lot of academics working in the sciences, and I didn’t feel like I was quite at their level – I wanted to be on an equal footing to continue working with them.

Why did you decide to come to the RCA?

In some ways it was always a dream of mine. I really liked the idea of all the different disciplines here; when I was studying Theatre Design our department was quite isolated and I was desperate to work with other people, test things out and hear new perspectives. I put together a concept on soft robotic materials and brought this to the RCA.

I looked at Heriot-Watt and MIT, various places. In the end, I met the person who became my supervisor at an event, and then I met someone else from the RCA at another event and it just started to make sense.

What have you found to be the main differences between your expectations of studying at the RCA and the reality?

I always knew it would be a challenge, but it’s been really challenging – in a good way. It’s made me reassess everything in my life, not just my studies. It’s not a place that wraps you up in cotton wool, but it makes you into a really strong person. I’ve never been anywhere where everyone is so disciplined; everybody really cares at the RCA and the Textiles programme is developing a unique and exciting environment for future materials research. There are lots of Research students in Fashion and Textiles so we have a really strong community.

What’s been the focus of your work and how has it developed while you have been at the RCA?

When I started, I imagined I’d just be working on wearable tech, but then I went a different way that led me to develop lots of different types of materials. Coming from a theatre background, it was really interesting to be working in such a material-focused way. 

My initial idea was to develop soft robotics into wearable technology and now it’s developed into soft robotic materials. My PhD is titled Why Does Soft Matter? and it’s about soft, interactive, programmable materials. I’ve had to learn things like physical computing and the engineering behind it all, so the RCA has given me that chance and equipped me with the skills.

I’d always assumed I’d be working with a technologist where they’d do the tech and I’d do the design, and it would always be a collaboration. And, while the RCA is a very collaborative environment, they expect you to have the skills. I now do a lot of the tech involved in my work and that’s been really empowering and enabling.

What is the mixture of students like, and what are the benefits of being in a broad community?

One of the things I never expected to be doing was reading a lot of philosophy, and that’s come from discussion groups and theoretical design debates among the Fashion and Textiles research students. In the commercial world, that depth of thinking isn’t really relevant, but the background it offers is fascinating. It helps you consider why you are, or why you aren’t, doing something, and even retrospectively questioning your subconscious inclinations or tendencies. 

Although you don’t always mix with them every day, it’s also good to be situated among other designers; attend a few architecture lectures and so on, and you really start to see how all of these things mix together.

What have you found most rewarding about your time at the RCA?

Returning to studying has been hugely liberating, because I’ve had the opportunity to learn so many new things: I’ve learned film making, mould making, coding, all of these things which I could never do before. Previously I was always working at my computer and now I’m always making things, and that shift has been incredibly rewarding. It’s the RCA’s unique workshop mentality that enabled that, being able to use different workshops and equipment, drawing on the expertise and knowledge of the technicians. I hope that I can continue to be a maker and think through making in the future.

What are your plans for after you graduate?

I’ve been slowly building up my work in robotics and programmable materials, and I’d really like to pursue inventing these materials; at the RCA I’ve changed from being a designer to an inventor. Over the last four years I’ve enjoyed watching the MA students move away from calling themselves textiles designers and now thinking of their work as material designers – it’s been great watching that zeitgeist-y environment develop and being part of it. But I don’t want to narrow things down too much at the moment – I’ll see what happens in the next six months. 

The RCA offers lots of opportunities which bridge the jump from academic study to the next step, such as professional development, and I’ve had the opportunity to try convening some conferences and done lots of public speaking, and all those things that build core professional skills.

"I’ve been slowly building up my work in robotics and programmable materials, and I’d really like to pursue inventing these materials; at the RCA I’ve changed from being a designer to an inventor."
Amy Winters
Amy Winters