Posted on July 13 2020
The designer talks about his time in Australia, what the fashion industry looks like in the future and why he’s opening a new store in the middle of a pandemic.
Johnny Szymanski, founder and designer of his namesake label, is part of a new breed of fashion creatives doing it on their terms and pushing the limits. Insatiably curious and exploratory, he’s redefining how we think of streetwear, luxury and sustainability. We sat down with Johnny to talk about his upcoming launch and what his thoughts are on bridging the gap between fashion and other worlds.
GCH: You’ve landed back in the UK after 5 years in Australia where you were very successful. What was the stimulus to come home and start a new label?
JS: Well I'd like to give you a very profound answer but it was purely because I wasn't able to extend my visa. Setting up a new label wasn't the objective in the beginning. The idea was to do Shearer on the side and then find a design role at a larger, more established brand where I would be able to get more experience and then build my skill set within design and maybe production. But after being back I felt that a brand based on sheep wasn't going to have the same take up in the UK because it's not a big part of our culture like it is in Australia. So after playing around with a few different ideas, I decided that I would start a label under my own name. A label that takes inspiration from aspects of my life, places I've lived and experiences I've had.
GCH: What have you learnt from doing Shearer and does it influence your new label?
JS: The list of lessons is huge, but I would say the biggest thing I've learnt is to ask for help from people and to use the network of friends and contacts I have. I've never liked
asking people for help or favours but if you are going to succeed, you can't do it all by yourself. I'd go to events and things to network but I would never utilise the contacts I made. Now I've realised that most people would love to help and I'm more than happy to pick up the phone or grab a coffee to bend their ear, get their thoughts or see if they can help me with something.
In terms of influence, of course. Shearer was a big part of my life and my first foray into the fashion world, so elements of it, be them large or small will always be present. The last range that I designed for Shearer was never produced so a few pieces from that collection appear in the new label, albeit updated and adapted.
GCH: What is 'Johnny Szymanski' the brand all about? What are the aims for it in the industry? JS: Essentially the brand is all about making subtle statements. Making a statement without shouting would be the best way to describe it. The general aesthetic is very simple and subtle with the quality of construction and fabrics making all the noise. There will be the occasional bit of 'flash' and there are some really nice design details that will help boost that statement.
The main purpose of the brand is to produce great quality, casual clothing that feels great to wear and will last a long time. I wouldn't say I have any specific aims within the industry. We aren't looking to reinvent the wheel or be disruptive. I've just always loved creating things and when you see something you've designed on someone's back, the feeling is amazing. I just want to be able to produce a bloody good product here in the UK, a product that lasts.
GCH: Do you think that the fashion industry will change because of the pandemic? Is there a new approach to fashion on the way?
JS: The fashion industry and the consumer both have to change and I think that they both are. Even before the pandemic the call for more sustainable fashion and less 'fast fashion' was getting louder. The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters and producers of waste so brands need to address that in their production. It's not just the clothing, they have to look at packaging and what is really needed. There are so many eco-friendly alternatives available now that it really shouldn't be an issue. All my packaging is recycled or recyclable and I'm constantly searching for plastic alternatives. My clothing is all made from certified organic cotton that is milled here in the UK, just down the road from where the clothes are made. The quality of construction is incredible as these clothes are made to last. I want my customer to get many years or wear out of their pieces and many years of enjoyment.
The customer also has to do their bit by not buying the fast fashion items that they will only wear once or twice. They need to look for and demand quality pieces that they will get plenty of use out of. They also have to do their bit to support retail. The pandemic has caused so many shops on the high street to close and it's terrible. The internet is great for convenience, but getting out and shopping locally, shopping on the highstreet is even better. Finding those small independent stores where you can pick up great fashion, sometimes one off or rarer items.
GCH: You're opening a store in Frome; how important is that for you and what are the aims?
Opening a retail space in the middle of a pandemic, who would have thought! The space serves several purposes really. First as a physical retail space. Nothing beats being able to see and feel the clothes before you buy them. Frome has a thriving independent retail scene and my store are located in the centre of that scene. The store will also serve as a design studio where I can work on new products, produce samples and also make a limited range of bags and accessories that will only be sold in store. I'll also run my online operation from the store, processing orders and using it as a studio to create content for social media.
GCH: You're not a rule follower, you've got a rebellious side; what's the next move for you? What does the future look like for you and JS?
JS: I wouldn't say I was rebellious...but I definitely like to approach things differently. I've always been an "out the box" thinker and my work has been better because of it.
The first goal once we are up and running is to spread the word and build the brand awareness. Then we will slowly start to grow, adding new pieces as we develop and expanding our offering. Ideally I'd like to venture into womens wear, kids and expand on the accessories. My head is full of ideas for the future, the important thing is to take it slowly and not go too hard too soon. We have to build the brand organically and not force it. There's no rush.