As This Is The Uniform kicks off a month of events in East London, we speak to designer and founder Jenna Young about consumption, sustainability, and disrupting the fashion industry.
This Is The Uniform is a contemporary womenswear brand based in London. Drawing inspiration from the signs and signifiers of working class style (the tracksuit, the hoodie, the humble tee), its aim is to explore the cultural ideas around clothing; examining how our aesthetic choices affect our everyday lives and making some very nice pieces in the process. The brainchild of Blackpool native Jenna Young, This Is The Uniform takes pride in producing all its stuff in-house, creating limited runs that stand at odds with the usual mass consumption and promoting a more sustainable and engaged approach to fashion. Beginning tonight, they've curated a whole month of events taking place on the intersection of Kingsland Road and Shoreditch High Street in London and, to celebrate, we had a chat with Jenna to see what it's all about.
Hello Jenna. What's this event on Kingsland Road all about?
Basically myself and the team are spending the next month at The Old Shoreditch Station — and not just to drink! We've curated a This Is The Uniform space, which houses new collection pieces, archive garments, and a selection of workshops based on hand stitching and modern craft. We'll be there from Wednesday to Sunday each week until June 4 — and we'll be offering a complimentary hand stitched monogram service which can be applied to our trademark tracksuits, stitched on site. As a designer, I've always enjoyed all creative aspects of running the brand — creating a space and meeting my customers seemed like the next natural step.
You said in your nicely worded press release that the plan for This Is The Uniform in 2017 is to disrupt. What do you mean by this?
We decided not to take part in the traditional fashion week schedule in February for the first time in a few seasons. The brand has really started to take a different direction, outside of the wholesale route, and fashion week started to become something that wasn't really that beneficial or relevant to us. The industry is in flux, and it's harder than ever to survive in and, to be brutally honest, we have had to think on our feet to be able to survive.
We started to think about alternative ways to run things and how to reach our customer directly. The brand itself is based solely in London — with some production being done up north too (where I'm from) — and I talk directly with all my customers. I think people like that. I was told when I started that this way of working wouldn't be successful. That Amazon offered same day delivery and so should I. But, actually, our customers enjoy the experience of having something made specifically for them and our audience is a lot more aware of the production issues that fast fashion has created.
Has discarding the traditional fashion schedule changed your work at all?
It's allowed me more freedom to produce when I want to and to produce pieces I love. We can work with unusual, beautiful fabrics that there might not be much of — and make up limited runs and totally unique pieces. Some of the pieces we are showing tonight are one of a kind. I can also be extremely reactive as a designer, which I think is really important in this climate. We are selling what we are making that month. The freedom that comes with that is amazing.
You're also going to be exploring the connection between fashion, art, music, culture, and politics through a series of talks and workshops at the event. What would This Is The Uniform be if it was A) an artist B) a pop song and C) a political party?
I studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, and that has really shaped the entire brand. My work is always art based to an extent in that it comes from ideas, and the show we are installing for this month is really an extension of both my work as an artist and as a designer.
A pop song is harder. We have listened to some truly awful songs to get us through the late nights in the run up to the events . Everything from Peter Andre to Britney has been on our playlists. A lot of guilty pleasures — and the whole studio has seemed to know every lyric.
And political party... Well, I think the brand, and my work as a designer, is led by surroundings, people, culture, and political climate. And at the moment there are times when I think all the clothes should be black. As a northerner now living in London, I have an interesting view of what now seems like a clearly defined North/South divide — at least politically. Most of my family are still in the North, and I have recently realized I have a very London-centric viewpoint after spending ten years in the city that I now love. I believe London is the most amazing melting pot of individuals and it works incredibly well, but it is very hard in some areas of the North in terms of low aspiration and opportunities for young creatives. We can learn from each other.
What would your party manifesto be?
I think it can be very hard — working in an industry as heavily based on a capitalistic system as fashion — to be seen as a relevant voice. But I absolutely believe that fashion is completely indicative of its time and that creative practice as a whole engages with society and culture on a very relatable level. So, the This Is The Uniform manifesto would stand for feminism and the representation of women in an empowered, informed, and intelligent light.
What is your main aim for the brand as a whole?
At this moment, it is to be reactive. The industry that we work within is changing so much — and I think staying flexible in the way we work and how we run our business is our aim and to use this time of flux to our advantage. Because we don't have a huge production chain, and our team is small, we can see these changes as opportunities to explore possibilities and find new ways of doing things. This is the first of a program of events throughout this coming year and each will be different. I see This Is The Uniform as a way of engaging with society and having a voice. I want to explore this further.
Text Matthew Whitehouse