Close to perfect sustainable fashion for the unfashionable
Joe O’Neill is something of a contradiction; a recent fashion design graduate from Nottingham Trent University, he candidly states, I don’t want to design fashion, I hate using the ‘F’ word. Rather Joe is a designer who happens to be producing clothes – and rather good ones at that.
His graduate project, Zero Waste Menswear, does exactly what it says on the tin – a line of practical, stylish clothing which wastes no material in its production. A study in the complexities and technicalities of pattern-making, Joe’s line is certainly to be applauded for its efforts to make sustainable clothing a way of life rather than just another trend.
Read Joe’s interview below…
Joe, can you explain how your line differs from a normative graduate collection?
The purpose of my approach was to develop zero waste menswear that was usable and functional. With this sort of project there’s less focus on pure creative expression and more on solutions and creative thinking. The project was really about tackling a problem. I wanted explore the viability of technical, functional zero waste menswear that looked acceptable to the average bloke.
What drew you to this type of project?
I have always been very interested in how things work and go together. I love the outdoors and camping and I’m a total nerd for kit, so I suppose the two came together in their own way.
A lot of zero waste design can focus on the pattern cutting concept and neglect the actual functionality of the garments. This might be alright for a high fashion concept, but I wanted to show that it was possible to make democratic menswear without creating waste. At the other end, zero waste design can also dominate the aesthetic of a garment. I am aware that this is inevitable to an extent but zero waste will only truly work when it is aesthetically competitive with standard menswear.
Where did you gather inspiration for such a technical collection?
I looked at the work of David Telfer. His work was the closest to what I wanted to achieve in terms of aesthetic and the zero waste concept. I have also been inspired by very traditional garments. I researched a lot of German WW2 uniforms, especially parkas, because these designs define the style of that garment as we see it today. I was heavily influenced by things like pea coats, jeep coats and mackinaws.
They have a traceable lineage and a solid set of features that define their style. I tried to emulate these classics, to provide a point of reference for the consumer, so they do not get overwhelmed by the zero waste concept. Of course, a lot of the design also came from the requirements of the zero waste concept.
Can you explain a little more how it affected the design process?
Zero waste requires that all the pieces of one garment tessellate to fit on one piece of material. Developing the sleeve head was a big step in my development process. All my garments use the same sleeve head, so the design needed to be well resolved to pull the range together. It took a lot of tweaking to develop a sleeve head that gave adequate fit front and back, whilst remaining symmetrical to tessellate correctly. Getting that right was a massive turning point. It was one of the biggest technical hurdles and solving it allowed me to start working on the more aesthetic aspects of the design.
A concept like this must throw many problems like that; what do you think the biggest challenges were?
With the zero waste design process I had to get used to the fact that everything is connected and I couldn’t just change things at will. You have to be very careful about what you alter, or the whole design can go very wrong, very quickly. As I became more comfortable with the process I learnt to be more free with what I wanted to do, and could then look at the strong aesthetic core of the range.
You seem to have put a lot of effort into communicating about your work from a technical perspective?
A few were a bit disbelieving when I explained that my garments create no waste. This was the reason I produced a lot of the graphical work; to help show how it all works. I created the exploding diagrams, and collaborated on the Exploding Jacket, a 3D model of my waterproof shell.
These graphics were also invaluable when putting the pieces together. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the actual creation of the garments but I’m really glad I took the time to put a portfolio of images together. I realise now how important they are. I’m very proud of them.
You seem to have had quite a different experience to many fashion students, what would your advice be to anyone thinking of studying design?
Be clear and concise with what you try to communicate, and don’t overcomplicate things. I think it’s very important to be able to recognise a gut feeling about something. Don’t be afraid to just get on with it, rather than always seeking an opinion. My best memories are in the satisfaction of getting things right. It was nice to look at my work just before the final hand in and see how far I had come.