- Words Solly Warner
Welsh designer, Adam Jones, is upcycling beer towels to create pieces inspired by the Great British boozer.
This is Pushing Fashion Forward, a new interview series championing unique talents within the rising world of sustainable fashion. Whether it’s a small team running an independent brand or a young creative upcycling old material in their bedroom, we want to show how small businesses can offer so much more than their fast fashion counterparts, encouraging a realistic approach to sustainable style.
Growing up in the small village of Froncysyltte in north Wales, Adam Jones spent his early fashion days inspired by his grandmother. Playing dress up and being taught how to sew, Adam’s eye for all things retro and kitsch really started inside his grandmother’s house; a place where it felt like being stuck in another era. At sixteen, his mother tried to convince him to study French and English at college, but he instead opted for a course in fashion from which he honed his pattern-cutting skills before moving to Manchester for university.
After graduating and working for the designer Christopher Shannon for two years, the now late Judy Blame; a legend of London nightlife and subculture, also took note of the Welsh designer’s creations via Instagram where Adam was able to pick his brain for advice. Now 30 years old, Adam lives and works in London, making clothes made with a clear pub influence.
Old man boozers are a big source of inspiration for Adam, with the Welsh designer’s work celebrating a pure sense of Britishness with iconography and references to working-class Britain. Most notably he creates his now signature pieces, such as sweater vests, scarves and tote bags, using upcycled beer towels branding all your favourite cheap pints of larger. Whether its Tetley, Guinness or John Smith’s, Adam ties everything together by playing with faux fur, football kits and pub artwork, creating a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is equally smart and luxurious in its own way.
Adam currently operates on a small-scale, finding materials, pulling textiles apart and creating his designs by hand. Despite gaining some funding by supplying concept stores in Seoul, London and Berlin, he continues to work in an intimate and accessible way, allowing people to buy directly from him via Instagram, with most products offered on a limited quantity and made-to-order basis. Now that the pubs are re-opening and its finally time to, in the words of BoJo, “cautiously but irreversibly raise [many] a pint of beer to [our] lips”, there’s no better clobber to wear whilst walking through the doors of that deeply missed safe haven.
We caught up with Adam to discuss how the pub aesthetic became his signature, why he chooses to work with found objects, and why people should support small, independent and more transparent brands.
What are some of your earliest memories of fashion growing up in North Wales and how did that obsession begin?
There wasn’t really “fashion” as such growing up, but clothes felt exciting to me, dressing myself, when I was at an age where I was getting pocket money and birthday money, saving up to buy clothes. I vividly remember non-school uniform day where you could express yourself on that one day a year. My grandmother was my only fashion education or inspiration, she would teach me about the history of dress through old films and her old clothes she had hoarded for years, items that were passed down to her from decades ago. She had dressing up boxes in her conservatory and I used to get excited to visit her after school. I felt free at her house to dress up and put looks together from all sorts of old things, and then draw them with her.
How did your relationship with fashion differ between school and university?
At School there was no fashion as such for me, it was art, then at college I decided I had to study fashion at the age of sixteen where I was the favourite, I took it very seriously, I was a big fish in a small pond. Then moving to university age eighteen/nineteen I was a small fish in a big pond, I was surrounded by all these new people with a wild dress sense and confidence which was so exciting if a bit intimidating, especially coming from the countryside to a big city. But I have always had a confidence in my work if not myself, but here the tutors didn’t really understand or appreciate my work. But I believed in it so I persevered, doing what I wanted to do, I had no interest in grades.
What challenges did you face when leaving education and how did your first body of work come to be?
I found it very difficult at first, I had always gone to university with the aim of having my own brand, but all of a sudden you are left with nothing to do every day and looking for work was what you were expected to do. I felt the pressure, I was a graduate now, how was I going to be self-sufficient?
I am very old school in my working style, I am pretty much computer illiterate it’s not something I enjoyed, working with computers, I am more hands on, so getting a job within the industry was impossible for me. I had been taught to pattern cut and sew and that’s what I wanted to do, make things come to life, not sit behind a computer. I spent perhaps a year submitting applications, going for job interviews, and getting nowhere, so I decided if I wanted to be a part of the fashion industry, I have to do my own thing as I should have done from the start, as it’s what I wanted really. I moved home to Wales, got a job in a local sewing factory making fancy dress costumes and gained a tiny studio near my home. I went there every night after work to begin a new collection, my first since graduation, I finished the collection a year later and moved to London to show my work off schedule during London Fashion Week.
Why are pubs such a huge inspiration for your designs and how did the beer towels become your signature?
Accidentally really, I have always spent a lot of time in the pub, it’s just something you do in Wales especially. Unlike the kids around me and most young people I didn’t drink until I was 18, there was no Lambrini on park benches for me, so as soon as I legally could I was in the pub and fell in love with the place. I have always enjoyed going for a pint alone, having that time to think, so my surroundings were bound to inspire me, then the pub across from my studio was having a refurb and I found some old towels in a skip outside, then I came across more in a local car boot sale, and they were just an obvious material to use.
Where do you source your fabrics and what are the best and most difficult aspects of using found objects in your work?
Sourcing fabrics is 90% of my job, its research, my designs and the collection as a whole depends on what I can get hold of. I obviously have an aesthetic and know what I like when it comes to patterns and colours, I just have to spend a lot of time looking. The materials I find will dictate the aesthetic of the collection. It usually happens that I find something at a junk yard or charity shop and then I will hunt down more of what I have found on ebay, Etsy, Gumtree, Facebook marketplace etc. I wait until I have numerous of the same towel for example until I put it into the collection, as I want to be able to provide stores and my customers with what I show. I find it very stimulating to work this way, I don’t know how many of each style I’m going to be able to reproduce and when. It gives the brand an air of luxury and desirability, these pieces are limited quantity, you have to buy when you see it in stock otherwise it might not be back for a few weeks or even months. It can be frustrating obviously as I could make much bigger profits reproducing these original finds, but that is not interesting to me, as I may as well go and digitally print any image from google myself, the materials available tell me what and when I can make what I do.
How have your views changed towards where you want to sell your work and what are your hopes for the future fashion landscape?
My views or aspirations have changed a lot over the last few years, last year in particular. The industry is changing now, people say slowly, but I think over the past five years things have really changed. People are now willing to buy from smaller designers, to buy up-cycled clothes, to buy direct from designer using Instagram. There’s a trust there now, and a value placed on these special pieces. I definitely want a lot less than I used to, or what I consider “success” has changed as the industry has changed. I already consider myself successful, I make clothes and people buy them, shows and shoots are just fun. One thing I really want to do is have an open studio where my studio almost becomes a shop, an experience, where you can book a slot to pop in for a beer and shop, try pieces on, have a piece custom made or customised. In the future I hope that the industry also re-thinks what success is and does more to support smaller brands, to update their ideals for what a successful brand looks like to them and give us the support we need and deserve.
Why do you choose to work with younger people when promoting your designs, whether that’s with the likes of Mia Regan on Instagram or lending out pieces to students in Manchester?
I don’t necessarily work with Mia, she just bought a piece from me and posted it on Instagram and tagged my page, I really appreciate that genuine desire for my product she had in order to part with her cash, it wasn’t product placement. As for young photographers and stylists I am always willing to work with unknown young creatives with zero following, because there is incredible undiscovered talent out there, and the shoots I get back from them are often way better than some of the shots I get back from top magazines. I know how hard it is to be seen, it’s important for me to take a risk on someone, to give someone else a tiny leg up, and you can get the most exciting results.
Where are you looking to take your brand next? How do you want to expand?
I want to continue working as I am, slowly but surely, producing one collection a year designed and made entirely by myself. For production I may start outsourcing specific elements of the collection to others as sales are becoming a little overwhelming albeit exciting, as I do want to expand the product range i.e knitwear. I would love to dabble in homewares. I want to make more jewellery, and to work on an art installation would be fun.
As someone who makes one-off, made to order and upcycled pieces, is reducing waste and promoting sustainability in fashion important to you? If so, can you tell us why?
It is important to me now, or is becoming more important as my business grows, it’s something I am learning about, as it wasn’t talked about when I was studying. I always say sustainability was never the driving force, or I wouldn’t have started a fashion label. Let’s be honest, there’s enough clothes in the world, we don’t need another designer, sustainability is not my passion. My brand just so happens to be predominantly sustainable through my choice of materials, and the method I apply to sourcing materials, my method of designing by chance almost, using what I can find, the fabrications I am interested in are second hand unwanted materials which make my brand sustainable by default.
Why should people support small, independent and more transparent brands?
I want people to buy my clothes because they like them first and foremost, as a designer that’s the goal, to create a desirable product, which in itself is sustainable. If it’s something people are going to treasure and hold onto for years to come, to fix when it breaks, it does not matter what the piece is made from. Shopping with these small independent designers is exciting, you get something special, that very few people will have, and most of them myself included are closer to our customers. There’s more access to the designer, to find out more about the brand what the pieces are made from, you can develop a relationship with the person who is making your clothes.