Whilst this blog has done its itsy bitsy teeny weeny bit to support the many MANY young designers and graduates that have comes up over the last decade, Not Just a Label has taken what is essentially the simple act of spotlighting young designer talent to new levels. It’s a showcasing platform, a directory, an editorial site, an e-commerce site, jobs board and an all round invaluable resource for young designers and anybody out there interested in pure raw creativity.
Their website has just had a massive facelift and specifically I wanted to hone in on the e-commerce part, which NJAL have had in place since 2009 but it hasn’t been the main component of their site until now. In yesterday’s post about my visit to Vestiare Collective HQ, I only gently mentioned the BBC2 This World Rana Plaza documentary. I forgot to say that I watched it twice and I cried uncontrollably each time and found it extra pertinent when the young female survivors from the collapse of the factory were contrasted with young female YouTube haulers showing off their latest Primark/Forever 21 purchases.
After a long Twitter conversation with one of the YouTube video bloggers filmed in the documentary, it seems that what the majority of the public really need are choices and alternatives – eco, hybrid, vintage, past-designer – they’re sources that are worth considering, at the very least in tandem with whatever you buy on the high street to alleviate the quantity bought at that end of the scale. If we’ve established that price alternatives to the likes of Primark don’t really exist then it’s about establishing a slower fashion cycle. Therefore as a a neat follow up to my visit to Vestiare Collective, where the resale cycle of clothing prolongs their life and bags you a better quality designer bargain in the process, NJAL’s relaunch reminded me about what Orsola de Castro said when I interviewed her – that making purchases from young and independent designers where the chain of production is more often than not short and traceable and where you can have direct dialogue with said designer is definitely a positive step towards side-stepping unsound labour practises. More often than not, young designers are already working with “sustainable” methods just by the small nature of their business, without calling themselves a sustainable designer.
First thing I noticed when browsing NJAL’s online site was Katie Jones’ brilliantly upcycled knitwear available for sale. NJAL’s USP is that they’re not buying stock from designers. They’re a conduit to enable designer to connect with consumer directly (they take 30% of all sales with prices set by the designer) and in the case of Katie, where for instance sizing might be irregular because of the way she uses second hand aran jumpers to upcycle, the dialogue begins as soon as you make your purchase. It’s Etsy thinking applied to progressive fashion design and for NJAL, marries well with the way they foster independent design.
NJAL isn’t for your fairweather fashion consumer though. Not all designers necessarily offer a range of sizes and with varying lookbooks uploaded as images on product listings and limited search facility, this is for more of a hardcore fashion-head who is bothered to comb through NJAL to find hidden gems. Combing. Hidden gems. Two of my favourite things. As with most clicks on NJAL, I normally learn a few new names. The London-based This is The Uniform being one of them. They do lovely things that are sheer, shiny, with poppers and based around the humble trackie suit. Fancy mooching-around clothes basically.
I apparently clocked in the first purchase on NJAL’s new site this morning when I fell in love with this “wave” sweater and matching skirt by Indian label Morphe, designed by Shenali Sema. With India’s know-how and proximity to brilliant textiles and embellishment, I fully expect more designers to emerge from this country and with this purchase of the one and only Indian designer in my wardrobe, I clock in a first of my own. Each piece is made to order and it will take three weeks (it states whether a product is immediately available or not on each listing) but it looks worth the wait!
I’m also mighty tempted by these voluminous pieces by London and Bulgaria based label Evgenia Popova.
As the unrest in Ukraine rumbles on, it feels even more heartening to see Ukrainian fashion designers making strides. I spotted a trio of them on NJAL’s e-commerce alone and the wave seems to be growing thanks to the higher profile of Kiev Fashion Days. Tvortz, Yulia Yefimtchuk and Lake all have varying takes on maximal/minimalism elevating codes of sportswear and casualwear in their own ways.
The one thing I would say about NJAL is that every designer’s profile page doesn’t necessarily provide the whole picture. Not every young and emerging designer is on the same level as one another and as NJAL doesn’t link out to designers’ external websites, you often have to do extra bit of research to get a better idea of who the designer is. The e-commerce store is offering a lot of stock by Korean designer Cres E. Dim and it turns out the brand is well established with a mainline and a diffusion line. Nothing wrong with that of course but it goes some way to explaining the relative affordability of the pieces and why they have such a larger range of product on sale.
Great to see a new Hong Kong designer face pop up and I love the dip dye colours of this Wai by Lamkayan outfit.
Japanese but Florence based Yojiro Kake also caught my eye with his interesting approach towards textiles.
The easiest thing to buy into on NJAL are the accessories and jewellery of which there is an abundance of. I love the lookbook styling and utilitarian feel of these Matter Matters bags (originated in the UK, but now based in Hong Kong) but like I said, when you click away from NJAL, you’ll find that Matter Matters actually has a far more comprehensive selection on their own Big Cartel website. In this way, I would liken NJAL’s young designer aggregator to Clippings.com – my interiors shopping site of choice where you find all kinds of independent designers but if you want more product or larger ranges, you have to go beyond the site to the individual designer’s own websites.
Always great to see Sarah Williams aka Williams Handmade products actually out there for sale but if I had the dosh, I’d definitely go for a complete bespoke commission from Williams… say a custom-made clothing trunk?
These cut wooden clutches by Tesler and Mendelovitch from Israel are another example of meticulous handcraft featuring heavily amongst young accessories designers.
Innovative materials seemed to pop up frequently when looking at the footwear offering too. Cork sandals with treads from Spanish brand 5AM, tuna fish skin shoes made ethically in Sri Lanka by Swedish waste-conscious label Khogy and boiled wool soft shoes made in Latvia by Woolings that are water repellant.
As somebody who enjoys a thorough hunt and the process of discovery, NJAL’s new site definitely offers that. Search through the whole site and you will find yourself incredibly interesting designs at mostly contemporary price points (that middling category below designer). With NJAL adding over 100 products every week, even if you’re not a natural online hunter, it’s definitely worth a check back every now and again, with the extra side bonus of learning about young designer fledglings.