How was it working for Thom Browne?
It was great. I’m still friends with the team there. I really was doing everything at Thom. I was the right hand to the men’s design team, I went to Paris with them for the show, worked with factories on creating the samples for runway––most of the manufacturing was either in Japan or Italy. But then I left to try to figure stuff out. It might not have been the best decision because, right after, suddenly they were hiring, so I would probably have been slotted into a design job which would have been amazing. I did a freelance project for Theory and interned, but there was no position. It’s a great company, you get paid well, good hours, and healthcare, the whole deal, so people don’t tend to leave there.
Did you want to design for that more contemporary market?
By then I had started my brand but still had to work in retail and was again doing too much. I worked in the factory for Thom again as a freelancer. But I was really picky, didn’t want to work production, hellbent on getting a design job, and I interviewed at a ton of places but still didn’t get anything. Then Patrick Ervell popped up. He wanted me for pattern making which is something I love and I thought it was a great opportunity for me to learn and do what I do best which is sample development. After a year I restarted my brand.
Had it always been your intention to start a brand?
I think I wanted to work for someone else, but I had also worked so hard to have my product seen, to have my voice unfiltered in a sense. I’ve always had a hard time when people edit my work. I’ve gotten much better at receiving criticism––because I’ve had to!
Was there anything that you didn’t or couldn’t learn at school that surprised you about the industry?
Manufacturing, for sure. You don’t really learn that in school. You don’t learn how to deal with a patternmaker, how to manage trim schedules, manufacturing, sampling schedules. You learn time management at school because you have so many things going on, but I don’t think you learn the ways in which you communicate with manufacturing, how a sewer is interacting with your product. You learn what a tech pack is, but you don’t know what it means, if that makes sense. When you send out a tech pack, the edits can still get lost. You have to learn the ways all these people think: how a cutter thinks, or a sewer or a patternmaker, and to efficiently communicate your vision to them. I don’t think you can ever learn that at school.
Four years out of school, one fashion graduate’s story
Do you think you were prepared for interview situations?
I think so. We had a class in final semester which was preparation for the professional workplace with mock interviews and resume reviews which was very useful. Also helpful tips that might seem evident now like don’t point out the flaws in your work and don’t defend your work, but be confident in it.
Internship is like an apprenticeship, you’re following people, learning how this company works, picking up subtle tricks
How is the employment market for graduates right now?
it’s really tough as a kid getting out of school. As a professional it’s much more fluid. One thing my dad, who’s an architect, always said was that once you’re a designer you’re always a designer, it’s getting that initial job that’s the most difficult. Nobody wants to take the time to train someone new. The one thing I wish someone would have told me is, get an internship, stay there as long as you can and really grow with the company and don’t leave until you find a job elsewhere or until they hire you. It’s going to happen, people are going to leave the company. And be patient. So many kids leaving school are so eager––and I think it’s the fault of the parents and school sometimes, pushing them to get a job right now. In some ways getting an internship is like secondary schooling, you’ve learned all the skills, but an internship teaches you how to work in a workplace. Kids after three months are worried they should have gotten a job already, it really shouldn’t work that way. It’s an apprenticeship, you’re following people, learning how this company works, picking up subtle tricks, and eventually someone always leaves, typically within a year, either in production or design, and it can be easier to step into a job that way. Now I have people reaching out to me with jobs, but when I was fresh out of school I was emailing and contacting everyone and couldn’t find anything.
How did winning Joe’s Blackbook scholarship help you?
I would say the main way was in connecting me to the community. I’ve kept in touch with the other designers I met through the scholarship but Joe has always been super supportive and does as much as he can to put me in the best position to be successful. He offered me a space in his Soho offices to show my collection to buyers. The winnings helped me pay off my tuition––I went to FIT which isn’t ridiculously high––and I had a little bit of money left over to pay for machines and fabric. It definitely helped me push myself to have a great portfolio to show when I left school and to have the ability to talk to people. I remember being in the final round and both Gap and Urban Outfitters wanted me, one was throwing numbers at me but I was too fixed on getting a job similar to my Thom Browne experience.
Thom Browne is the stuff of dreams for many graduates and Gap the stuff of reality. Do you think there is a disproportionate ambition to work within the designer sector among fashion grads compared to the opportunities?
I think it’s a reality for a small few. Or for those who really truly want to be there and will sacrifice whatever it takes to be there. Or if you’re from a ton of money and you have all your necessities met and don’t need a large paycheck. When you’re a kid you don’t understand that sometimes working for Gap or in another big company you’re going to learn more. Sometimes in a small brand you’re a gopher. Then again, sometimes working for a romantic brand, they teach you everything: this is what a cutter’s must is for, how sampling works, but sometimes you don’t get any of that. Sometimes in a corporate company you just push seams all day, on Illustrator, but then again you might get a great experience, be thrown into communicating internationally with factories, working with tech packs, it all depends. Someone told me once and I didn’t understand: take the best opportunity you can get at the time that you think can sustain your growth.
Four years out of school, one fashion graduate’s story
Is it possible for a young designer to sustain themselves in New York City?
It’s possible but very difficult. And for international students, God bless their hearts, finding someone to sponsor your visa and getting a paycheck to allow you to live moderately comfortable is tough, especially for those that don’t come from money. But I don’t think anyone comes to New York to live comfortably. I think the whole point of moving to New York is to be put out of your comfort zone and really push your limits. It’s for people that really want this life and to challenge themselves.
What do you think your brand offers that isn’t already out there?
What I want to do is keep the celebration of craft alive. Why I went to Thom Browne is because I love the craft of tailoring and at the factories I got to see first hand how much work goes into those suits, and the difference between an almost entirely handmade garment versus a machine-made garment, how it feels, sits on the body, and that was so powerful. How I got into fashion was when my grandfather gave me his Burberry coat, and later I went into a Burberry store and it felt like home, like this is where I’m meant to be. I want to celebrate the human touch that goes into a product and ensure that the consumer is getting something really special they can’t get elsewhere, because he is someone who would rather save up to buy one great garment than nine not so great.
Does the tailoring of your experience come into your brand?
I would like it to be more so. It’s expensive and I”m looking into down the line. I’m talking to tailors about sampling costs. I want to do a forever suit: something iconic, comfortable, elegant. Every man want to dress like James Bond and that’s not going to change. I want to continue to mold and form the men’s dress code.
What is your demographic?
It’s mostly 20-35 so it’s definitely the young professional creative. With being a new brand Instagram has given me a vital platform to reach a lot of people who would otherwise never see the product. 75% of the stores for SS19 are in Japan, the rest in New York.
Why do you think your collections appeal so much to the Japanese consumer?
I think Japan as a whole is always open to new brands, because fashion is so big in Japan, especially for men––I think it is the biggest men’s market–– and they’re constantly looking for something unique. It’s a pleasure to work with them because they don’t accept anything but the best, and they don’t just follow trends but they also notice a great product––and they pay swiftly.
Do think craft and the power of Instagram are compatible?
I think that right now everything needs to grab your attention and be something that shouts, but that is not always the best product or the best imagery. I think for my brand what I try to do is offer a product that is timeless and allows the user to find its beauty and utility on their own rather than shouting it. I truly believe that simplicity is the best understanding of any medium and if you can refine something to only the core necessity and merge form and function, that is the best design. You’re putting the least amount of yourself into it, and just letting the product speak for itself. People are masquerading as innovators when they can’t prove to the rest of their professional community that they know how to do something, that they have the skills. But I think the layers of dead skin will fall away and people putting a well-crafted product out there will remain, it can’t just be fashion.
Four years out of school, one fashion graduate’s story
What do you hope will happen in the next 2-5 years for your brand?
Steady growth and to continue to build the product and develop a brand identity. But what I really want to plan is a unique show, something that hasn’t been done before, that will change how fashion presents itself, and to work with the art community. I do believe I have a very strong idea, offering a new perspective on showing clothes that’s conceptual, powerful, and interactive, but that’s all I’m prepared to say about at this time.
What do you need for that to happen?
Money. I’m in discussions with branding agents and with VCs. When I sold my first collection, it was way more than I expected to sell and it left me overwhelmed, but one investor stepped in and funded the sampling, production and my getting a little studio space. I think my vision and the right venture capitalist can work hand in hand.
Final thoughts as a member of the new generation of New York fashion?
I think why Europe and Asia is so well-regarded for new design is because they have the likes of United Arrows, Samsung in Korea, Kering and LVMH in France, Fashion East in London, programs that do such a good job at curating new talent, and giving them a platform. Sometimes I think New York could do a better job in fostering the new generation, and our big brands should participate. Why don’t they look for young talent to foster and invest in, share manufacturing tips, take pride in American talent and give it a voice which in turn would only make them look good. They have all the money, they could take all the credit, it would help elevate their brand as well as raise up the next generation of talent.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.