Courtesy of Lois Saunders

The graduate designer making football merch sexy

Counting Mowalola, Jazzelle and The Clermont Twins among her fans, 1XBLUE designer Lois Saunders creates sensual, sports-stadium-friendly fashion.

by Mahoro Seward
16 December 2020, 5:10pm

Courtesy of Lois Saunders

Whenever football scarves are mentioned, incontestably sexy womenswear is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. That was the case, at least, until the beginning of this year, when 22-year-old London-based designer Lois Saunders began taking over our feeds with the work of her label 1XBLUE, unlocking a latent sexiness in sports memorabilia with her form-fitting, upcycled designs. 

1XBLUE’s story stems from a chance happening upon a football scarf in a charity shop in Manchester, where she was studying a BA in Fashion Design at the Manchester School of Art before graduating this summer. Though it bore the face of Man United midfielder Nemanja Matić, you may be surprised to hear that it was neither the player, the club, or even the sport itself, that caught her eye. “It was more about my love of graphics and knitwear,” she says, a love first sparked during an internship with Matty Bovan during the summer after her first year. “I'm actually not a die-hard football fan, but I've always been quite a big fan of showing character faces within my work. That scarf had his face on it four times, and I just loved the colour combination, so I made a top for myself out of it.”

Humble as her intentions were with that first piece -- simply to create clothes that she’d like to wear -- friends reactions turned her on to quite how covetable it was. Accordingly, she began to broaden the remit of her practice, scouring the charity shops and the internet to source new scarves -- Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal memorabilia all became part of her expanding aesthetic vocabulary, the acrylic scarves translated into leggings and even tube dresses and tops with gaping lace-up closures that snake over and around the body’s contours. Recently, knits sporting Hello Kitty, South Park, The Simpsons characters have also featured, and she’s even started to create her own 1XBLUE scarf designs. Scanty bras and body-suits composed of artfully placed football gloves have also scored big.

At first read, it might seem a rather eclectic proposal. The thread that pulls together the different aspects and references she works with, however, is a sense of confident recuperation -- of taking things long considered sartorial signifiers of a boys’ club mentality, and creating clothing by and for women who find power in embracing and displaying their sensuality. Football “isn’t really represented from a female side as much, in the sense of bringing a sexiness to it,” Lois says of her work with sports memorabilia. “I wanted to bring together the graphics on the sports memorabilia that I love with the sexiness of the clothing that I like to wear. I think it’s really empowering.” Her audience agrees with her: look no further than 1XBLUE’s Instagram, where you’ll see fashion and pop cultural stalwarts like Mowalola, Jazzelle Zanaughtti and The Clermont Twins all wearing the brand. 

Without context, the range and scope of the work that Lois has developed since January -- not to mention the audience she’s garnered for it -- is already impressive. It only becomes more so when you take into account that she started the label while developing her final BA collection, and that lockdown set in just two months after she set up shop. This latter factor, however, turned out to be more of a blessing than a curse. “When I was still studying I couldn't really spend as much time on the brand,” she says, especially given that, even to date, each piece is handmade by Lois either as a one-off, or as part of an extremely limited run. “I was just working on it in my spare time, making one or two items per day. When we went into lockdown, though, it was great for me. I basically just spent all my time on it -- I was able to fully commit.” 

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It’s a decision that she hasn’t looked back on since. While Lois has always had the long term intentions of setting up her own brand, she hadn’t thought that the opportunity would arise so soon. It’s a situation that other Class of 2020 comrades of hers across the world have faced: though they, like Lois, may have started their degrees with vague plans of “going into the industry, maybe trying to do some internships somewhere and just getting a bit more experience”. But upon graduation, all have been met with hiring freezes across the industry, forcing this year’s cohort to be even more reactive, independent and innovative than previous classes. 

The sternness of 2020’s circumstances, though, hasn’t had much bearing on Lois’ outlook and approach to the work she continues to tirelessly invest in her young brand. Indeed, her closing reflection on this year expresses the same sense of fun, confidence and optimism you can’t help but feel when appreciating her work: “It’s just been really fun, and it feels so satisfying to see how much it's grown,” she says. “It makes me feel that if you do put in the work, it really does pay off.”

Image courtesy of Lois Saunders

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