Stefan Siegel is someone who's passionate about fashion innovation. Here's a quote from Not Just a Label (NJAL):
“Fashion finds its freedom in the art of individuals; NOT JUST A LABEL is a place for those who find their way off the beaten track, allowing them to express themselves in a community where everything goes...break the mold, redefine the expected, re-color the palette, inspire and be inspired.”
How did you become interested in fashion? Who inspired you while you were growing up?
I gather inspirations from many things and many people, however I cannot think of a single individual whom I would have to thank for making certain decisions in my life. I believe if you work on an idea, or try to develop a business from scratch, inspirations are something more abstract; you are inspired by people who swim against the current, individuals who perform under extreme conditions and pioneers who believe in their ideas.
You changed careers before you founded NJAL. What made you decide to change careers?
I believe careers have to be seen as one entire formation process. I saw many industries, I did not leave them because I was fed up or did not like them, but because they gave me the knowledge I needed to set up our own company: NOT JUST A LABEL. It's based on an idea that came to me and my brother when we realized that the Internet can be used to act as a networking platform for future fashion designers and those who are ready to present and sell their collections to the world.
What are the factors that led you to create NJAL back in 2007?
The industry lacked such a platform; we wanted recruiting and trend scouting for fashion designers to be carried out on NJAL without geographical limits…literally a global showcase.
There is also a strong business aspect within NJAL’s idea. Support for grassroots talents across creative industries these days is crucial. By helping to develop thousands of brands we have a strong impact on the future of the industry and the way it works.
The vibrant Jama Dress by Karishma Shahani of India - made of hand-dyed pink silk with hand embroidery
How do you identify the designers for NJAL and then decide which ones to feature?
Scouting designers is a process on three levels for us:
Physical talent scouting: we try to attend most fashion weeks as well graduate shows around the world. There are markets where we just don't have the human resources or financial capabilities to travel to, therefore we rely on a network of editors, bloggers and stylists who are really fond of the NJAL idea and act as scouts for us. And finally, thanks to hundreds of amazing fashion websites and blogs, we sometimes are able to source talents from our office chairs in London.
In a recent interview (Dossier Journal), you said that many of your designers produce locally, use fair trade or organic materials and try to preserve old production methods. Is this because locally made and/or handmade fashion is more creative or is it something else?
No. This is simply because young designers have to stand out and try to explore different ways of creating clothes and accessories. Traditional ways of producing fashion might not appeal to everyone, but with limited financial resources and the wish to create items, many of these designers produce collections in their studios or in the vicinity of their hometown.
D3 Cuff Shoe made out of leather by Feminine and Masculine of Mexico. The cuff front can be worn on the shoe (as shown) or as a cuff for the hand!
In that same interview, you also said that 'deceleration of fashion' is a key goal for NJAL - what do you mean by that?
With £23 billion spent each year on two million tons of clothing in the UK and 50% of this going to UK landfill, we must accept that something is simply wrong. Studies show that clothes bought on the high street are worn an average of only 4 times before being thrown away. The mainstream fashion industry’s reliance on global, mass-production and faster-than-ever-stock-turnaround is a threat to natural resources and human conditions.
Sustainability is now an issue that can no longer be ignored. It represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing, which maximizes benefits to people and communities while minimizing impact on the environment. I hope it is the end of the €2 T-shirt; fast-fashion retailers have nurtured too long on consumers’ demand for cheap designer rip-offs and their distorted views on value.
Leather capelet with asymetric twisted braided neck and jersey frill by Neurotica of London
As curator of the Wearable Art Blog, I'm happy to see that so many NJAL designers are doing handmade work. How did you decide to focus on what seems like a niche: handmade work?
Despite the ongoing financial crises and the implications for the economic climate, I am convinced that brands focusing on authentic luxury will continue to grow and prosper, resulting in one of the greatest creative opportunities in decades. Yesterday’s profligacy is a distant memory. Tomorrow seeks authenticity and sustainability.
Who are some new designers on NJAL doing some interesting handmade work? What is it about their work that stands out?
I would have to mention all 5,627 designers currently represented on the NJAL platform.
Earth #2 Ring made out of leather and Brazilian stones by Camaleoa of Brazil
What do you see as the role of emerging designers focusing on sustainable production in today’s fashion industry?
Luxury used to be purchased only to display status and prestige - now, the market has seen the emergence of new, more complex and sophisticated motivations. Individuality is on the rise. Consumers no longer need to validate themselves by owning recognized brands - they are independent and more individual. Renewed calls for exclusivity, deeper brand experiences and a heightened awareness of social and environmental responsibility are the key issues for the industry. I am convinced that emerging designers will play a leading role in these exciting times of transformation.
To what do you attribute the increasing interest in emerging fashion designers?
Consumers are turning away from mega-brands to micro-brands and niche companies. This newfound interest will also be reflected in the way consumers shop – products need to have a meaning and a story to tell. NJAL’s young designers recognize the responsibility in creating such fashion, items with a story, an experience they want to share, money well spent....
Bag made of bridal leather and brass by Jane Williams of Williams Handmade of London
How might NJAL evolve given the new interest in emerging fashion from online shops and social networks?
We have pockets full of ideas and are excited that the mass market is finally recognizing emerging fashion. We couldn’t be in a better position. 2011 will be a tough but hopefully also rewarding year.
I appreciate that Stefan shared his expertise and insights, and I'll soon feature more conversations with designers from NJAL. Watch this space for more details…meanwhile, you can see the works of some very talented emerging designers at Not Just a Label.